By Leif Conti-Groome / March 7th, 2016
|Title||Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale|
|Release Date||March 1, 2016|
|Genre||RPG / Farming Simulator|
|Age Rating||Everyone 10+|
The entire universe of Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale hangs from the branches of the aptly named ‘World Tree’. The tree ends up being the perfect central image not only for the story itself but also the many different aspects of this crossover title. One major branch contains a fantasy RPG series that itself splits into smaller segments that that are comprised of the series’ history, characters and battle system. The other major limb represents a farming simulator series and branches out into resource management, friendship maintenance and crop upkeep. This really is an impressive sight, as the many disparate branches proudly hold up their multicolored leaves for all to enjoy. But, much like the World Tree in the game, something has infected the roots of this mighty oak and some of the extremities are withering on the far fringes of the canopy.
Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is a combination of PopoloCrois and Story of Seasons. Being the traditional RPG with an ongoing story, PopoloCrois’ characters take the front seat during the crossover game. Story of Seasons is more about a specific world and mechanics of that world, and that’s what gets brought over to the mix. This is mostly a smart decision except for the fact that only one PopoloCrois game has been released in the West, so many won’t be familiar with the eccentric personalities from the franchise.
The game takes place in PopoloCrois on the day of Prince Pietro’s 13th birthday. The Prince has already saved the kingdom a number of times and is better suited to be an adventurer rather than nobility. He slips away from the castle to try and send a gift to Narcia, a forest witch and not so subtle love interest. The two finally meet, but not before Pietro begins to hear about the mysterious ‘black beasts’ that are polluting the very earth and are slowly making the kingdom barren.
A beautiful traveler from Galariland, Story of Seasons’ world, has come for the Prince’s birthday as a consultant to battle off the black beasts. Pietro is then chosen as a diplomat to travel between worlds so he can learn the Galariland-ian methods to combat the evil tainting the land. Through a series of misadventures, the Prince is left stranded in the new world with only a beautiful blue wolf as a guide. He bravely sets off to meet new friends, reunite with old ones, start a farm, and save not just Galariland but also PopoloCrois.
The narrative of Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is quite entertaining. There are some emotional moments throughout and a few twists to keep things interesting. The colorful cast is really what makes the story shine, especially the ones from PopoloCrois since they’ve had multiple games to be fleshed out. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the White Knight or Gami Gami, the Devil King. The former lives up to his namesake as a chivalrous warrior who protects the innocent with his blade and his grandiloquent manner of speaking. The Devil King is the polar opposite; he’s a wannabe dictator/evil inventor with delusions of world domination. Even Gami Gami’s minions are fun when they show up. The levelheaded Black Baron, complete with pencil-thin mustache and supervillain outfit, is the perfect straight man to both his boss and other minion Trixy, a sadist who just wants to attach drills to everything.
This isn’t to say that the main characters found in Galariland don’t hold their own. Early in his journey, Pietro meets the orphaned brothers Nino and Rue, and the garden fairy Connie. The three play off each other nicely, as the quieter Rue inevitably ends up waiting for his moody brother to stop fighting with the hyperactive fairy.
The characters and story stand out due to a pretty strong translation from XSEED. The characters maintain a lot of the innocence and humor that Story of Seasons (and I assume PopoloCrois) is known for. The fact that most of the cast are just barely teenagers dealing with complex issues of love, friendship, destiny and duty makes the localization even more impressive because it does feel like you’re surrounded by the vigor and naivete of youth.
On the same branch of translation is the smaller limb of voice acting. Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale has an impressive 3 voice tracks to choose from (1 English and 2 different Japanese ones), and to prepare for this review, I cycled through them for the first bit of my playthrough. To my rusty ears, the Japanese voices sounded very similar between the two options whereas the English one was well done. In the end, I stuck with my native tongue. While all three tracks used wacky accents to highlight the eccentric cast, some of the choices for the English option were distracting. For instance, Prince Pietro’s guard and friend Gomer (Ben Pronsky) chewed his lines in what sounded like a Bostonian accent. And Christina Valenzuela used an annoying drawl of a Southern Belle for a few of the minor NPCs. It should be said that Christina voiced a number of characters and was quite good with the energetic ramblings of Connie.
As stated in my opening, the gameplay of this game branches out in all different directions (for better and worse) due to the fact that this is a crossover of two complete different titles. For the prologue of the game, you’re introduced to the RPG mechanics while in PopoloCrois with just a hint of the farming mechanics shown. This is rather smart, as it got me accustomed to the battle system that I’m not familiar with. Combat seems deep at first with a movement/attack based grid akin to the Grandia series as the battleground with Chrono Trigger like single/dual skills to keep things moving. While there are nice additions like area-based attacks, it still doesn’t take that long to find a groove where you use the same strategy. There’s also an auto-battle option which is quite handy for those moments where you just need to grind. You can also switch the difficulty on the fly, and even on the hardest difficulty (King), there’s little need to do a massive amount of leveling.
However, the grind comes from the farming sim aspect of the game. When I first heard that you would be able to use agriculture in an RPG, I was excited, especially when I heard about the famine-bearing black beasts. I envisioned the farming being utilized in tandem with the RPG elements like having to clear a field while you plow it or something like that. The reality isn’t as interesting; you can grow vegetables, milk cows, and mine rocks like other farming sims but the effects on the RPG side is minimal. Sometimes you’ll need a certain vegetable or mineral to advance the story but often all the sim activities are completely optional.
The game doesn’t treat the farming aspect as an afterthought, though, as it ties heavily into the story, the environments, and the HUD. There are multiple farms around Galariland that you need to free from the black beasts. Once you save them you’re free to start growing crops and moving your animals in. If managing a few farms seems a little daunting, don’t worry since there’s a notification every time anything happens on your farm. From needing to water your plants to eggs being ready to collect, you’ll be reminded constantly. And if you’ve got 2 or 3 farms going you’re going to see a lot of notifications. Unfortunately, while farming can be fun, it’s definitely not a necessity.
A few chapters into the game you get the ability to combine (synthesize) two items. This is where the farming items come into play; you can mix two vegetables together to create meals with special properties. You can also fuse together your minerals to create new weapons or armor to boost your stats. With very little introduction you’re thrown into the fray. There was little incentive at the beginning to play around with combining items, and I only started doing it later in the game. It’s easier when you have more of the rarer minerals to play around with. I found that most of the items I did create were weaker than the gear I had acquired. Since the game isn’t that hard anyway, getting fused equipment wasn’t that important. There is a recipe menu that shows all the synthesizations that you’ve discovered which will be addictive to completionists. The menu did keep me from wasting even more time trying to make an object that I was sure was a mineral. After I had fused all the different types of gemstones on the list, I discovered that this item that I needed for a side-quest was actually a random drop from an enemy. I never did end up getting that golden mallet…
If you listen to the wind rustling through the leaves of the World Tree, you can hear the quaint melodies of the game. Most tracks are suited to the farming theme with string instruments accompanying your plucking of veggies. And while the battle music does get old after the hundredth time you’ve heard it, the rest of your quest is peppered with a wide assortment of pieces to stave off boredom. Actually, the theme for the Dark Tower near the end of the game was one of my favorite melodies with a driving electric guitar and foreboding chords.
You can hear the beginning of my favorite track in the above video
To accompany the calming sounds of the World Tree are the whimsical shapes of the leaves. Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale combines the chibi-esque designs of PopoloCrois with the colorful yet blocky nature of Story of Seasons. The characters look great (even if they are sclera-less) and ooze with personality. For instance the rainbow colored Connie sways back and forth in the air when she gets riled up. And the art team must have spent weeks working on the blushing in the this game since Pietro, Narcia and host of girls glow a bright red from time to time. The few cutscenes in the game are animated nicely but have a tendency to cut off rather abruptly. This is most apparent in the introduction videos that appear when you first meet the girls that are part of the ‘friendship’ sim throughout the story.
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