By Leif Conti-Groome / March 7th, 2016
The different areas and environments of the game are well detailed and varied to make Galariland feel like a lived-in world. There are towns on top of mountains and burnt out volcanoes and your rundown farm that slowly grows into an impressive piece of real estate. Unfortunately, the design becomes stale with the dungeons in the game. There are major dungeons that end up just being branching linear paths over a boring explosion of color underneath. The field dungeons don’t fare that much better. You shrink down and jump into different gardens in the game to banish the black beasts within (ie kill the boss). While you see a few variations of these at first, it becomes boring crawling through the same vine garden or mud tunnel. This is especially noticeable during the bonus field dungeon crawl: as you have to go through 10 of these mini dungeons to claim the unique item at the end. And there are 5 stages of these with increasing difficulty.
Speaking of additional content, there are a lot of side missions to tackle in Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale. Most of them are helping out villagers by bringing them x vegetable or killing 5 of x creature. The prizes are usually seeds or something else equally useless in the grand scheme of things. The more you tend to your farm, the more psuedo prizes you’ll get. The best ones are the upgrades to your farming equipment. After planting dozens of vegetables it’s nice to get a watering can that can hydrate more than one plant at a time. There’s the bestiary to fill up and the aforementioned recipe menu to discover. You can find decorations for your synthesis shop at different villages in the game, and you can even get gold items in the end game. After you complete the main quest you can continue on to finish up the side-quests you might’ve missed or try and fuse some crazy gear while grinding for hard to obtain items.
This is not the tallest Tree for the RPG species, weighing in about 25-30 hours if you just focus on the main quest. I decided to climb a bunch of different branches and it took me just under the 40 hours. This trek included a fair amount of the side quests, the main game and a bit of the end game tasks. This is definitely a title aimed at younger audiences so it’s kind of like a lite version of an RPG and a farming sim. The difficulty is very manageable and while you can be overwhelmed with all the things you have to keep track of on your farm, if you start just ignoring the notifications it will have little consequence for your quest.
I also want to talk about the bizarre part of this tree that is the friendship simulator. There are 5 girls roughly Pietro’s age scattered among the villages of Galariland. These girls are blessed by the world tree and securing them as BFFs will bring the goddess’ bounty onto your farm. For instance one of the girls helps your crops grow faster. This whole section of the game is weird to me. It definitely fits within the Story of Seasons framework but the way it’s handled here is both refreshing and a little unnerving. You still are trying to win over these girls’ hearts but just as a friend. Most of these youngins will start to fawn after you when you’ve brought them enough gifts (usually in the form of vegetables). The weirdest part is that Pietro already has a beloved in Narcia. This isn’t an unrequited love either since both characters can sense the emotions that they feel for each other. So you’ve got these other 5 teenage girls awkwardly flirting and blushing when Pietro’s around. However, the goal is never to romance them but to add them to your friend’s list. You can even have Narcia in your party as Pietro is being chatted up by one of these stereotypically themed girls. It’s nice that the romance element isn’t the end goal like a lot of dating sims but it’s just odd that you still win these girls’ affections. Their hearts literally become an item in your special inventory, and they come live on your farm to help you out. Once again, these girls are just hitting their teens, and they’re still shacking up with a Prince from another world to provide free labor on his remote farm… Yeah… It’s messed up if you think about it too much.
While the Tree that holds together Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is not as long as other trees of the genus RPG, the branches have grown-out to far reaches. The branches that stay close to the trunk are the strongest and represent the largest portions of the game. The characters, plot, battle system and simulation elements are all sturdy. But some of these branches keep on extending outward, splitting into smaller limbs that are weaker and prone to the infection growing within the base of the tree. The farming distractions are the best example of this as they are so far away from the base that they wither and the furthest ends if you look hard enough. However, this mighty tangle of wood proudly holds up two series in its crossing branches. If you look up both PopoloCrois and Story of Seasons look gorgeous through the sunlight piercing the tree. It makes me want to trim this tree just a little and trace back the two saplings that were combined to make the giant plant before me. And, hopefully, the leaves and buds will fall and create new trees that will continue to push both series forward on Western shores.
This review was based on the 3DS e-shop download and was given as a review copy.
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