Return to Popolocrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale – 3DS

Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Season Fairytale, is as you’d expect, a cross over between two video game franchises. PopoloCrois is a niche RPG series originally adapted from Manga, whilst Story of Seasons is an off-shoot of the famous Harvest Moon series of farming simulator games. So here we have a collision of two genres. A JRPG farming simulator.

After a brief retelling of previous PopoloCrois games, the story begins on Pietro’s 13th Birthday. He’s sneaked out of the castle to go and give a gift to a witch called Narcia who he appears to have a not-so-subtle crush on. Like many JRPG’s it begins with a cold opening, a task or situation that’s of little consequence to the overall plot.

With murmurings of dark forces in the area it’s not long before the story really kicks into gear. In an attempt find a solution to the impeding problems Pietro is willingly transported to another world although not everything is as it seems. Pietro is now trapped alone in a foreign world with even bigger problems than his own. The evil forces are infesting the fertile lands, preventing crops from being grown and leaving the population in a perilous position.

After being rescued by a heroic blue wolf (it makes sense later) and aided by two boys with mysterious pasts, Pietro embarks on a quest to not only save his own world, but also to save this new one too.

The story overall is very harmless. It doesn’t break any ground nor will it tug at your emotions; it’s simple, cheerful and enjoyable. The whole plot moves at a fast pace, moving from place to place to bring fertility back to the land and hopefully stop the nefarious plans of the Dark Lord Gryphot and his sycophants. It harkens back to a simpler, more innocent time which I thoroughly enjoyed. The corny, yet often funny, dialogue and the colourful cast of characters meant it was a welcome respite for me, although I can see this being a negative for others.

As soon as you begin to move Pietro around you’ll feel a slight awkwardness. Despite the circle pad, your movements are based on a grid of small squares meaning you can only move in eight directions. Due to the style of the game and those that have come before it, it always feels clunky and somewhat off as you can’t even walk in a circle correctly. It’s not a major complaint at all, but you’ll definitely notice it.

The battle system is interesting even though we’ve seen it before in other games. Instead of stationary characters lined up and giving out attacks, you can move your player around the battlefield on a grid. If you move close enough to an enemy you can attack it. Like the story, it’s actually a refreshingly simple battle system, maybe too simple for some, but I kind of enjoyed not having to think too much about different mechanics.

Of course you can do your normal attack, or utilise each character’s unique skills that they can learn as they level up. They range from magic attacks, more powerful physical attacks and even a team up attack between two characters who share a bond. Like most JRPG’s moving into the modern times, there’s an auto battle feature, and it’s a fast one to boot! I found this very useful when re-treading grounds I’d already passed and knew I could easily handle the monsters in the area.

Another modern JPG element is the implementation of being able to adjust the encounter rate on the fly. I found this useful too. On the rare occasion I didn’t feel like fast travelling to a nearby village, I’d ramp up the encounter rate and put on auto-battle; it was grinding without feeling like grinding.

Not that you’d ever need to grind. Return to PopoloCrois is quite possibly the easiest JRPG I’ve ever played. On the normal setting I didn’t have a single character get knocked out until the final boss battle, and that was due to my blind overconfidence from the previous 20 hours playing. Personally I enjoyed not having a taxing time playing the game, but it’s definitely something close to JRPG fans’ hearts. For those wanting some kind of challenge I recommend you choose the hard difficulty from the start (you can change that on the fly, too).

You may have noticed from the rather long title, that there’s a whole other aspect of the game to uncover. Story of Seasons can probably be described as the spiritual successor to the well-loved Harvest Moon series, with a focus on crop growing and animal rearing. While it may take the side-kick role to the JRPG story, there’s definitely the core gameplay here.

As Pietro begins to come to terms with his situation he stumbles across an old abandoned farm which he will soon call his home from home. It’s a quaint little place at first but will gradually open up to a decent size. It’s here you will do all the things you’re used to in a Harvest Moon game. You have plenty of fertile land to plant crops and modest barn to house chickens, cows and even alpacas. Because everyone loves alpacas. The last Harvest Moon game I played was A Wonderful Life on the Gamecube, so I don’t know how the mechanics have evolved over time, but they’re definitely a lot simpler than when I last played them. The farming is a very passive aspect of the game. It’s fun and cute, but for the game as a whole you don’t need to worry about it if you really don’t want to. It’s actually a more of an end-game activity, indeed, it’s the thing to concentrate on once you’ve finished the main story.

One interesting feature of the farming is that as you gradually cleanse the world of evil, you gain access to more farms in different locations, albeit much smaller than your home farm. Each farm you gain can grow different produce; in fact I’m pretty sure some of them are based of seasonal things. One farm will grow summer type produce, another will grow winter vegetables and so on. All in all there are six farming locations to manage, a healthy number.

In order to cleanse the world you and your gang must travel the world and free the fairies that protect the farmlands. It may sound ridiculous, but your fairy companion shrinks you down to a tiny size so you can go in the undergrowth and destroy the monster that is causing the ruin of each field. Doing this to all the fields in one area gives you access to the ruins, which in turn gives you access to new farmland and an imprisoned fairy. It sounds rather long winded but during play it’s very simple. These ‘undergrowth’ sections and ‘ruins’ are actually what you’d say are the dungeons of the game. They’re also the worst part of the game by far. They’re only long corridor mazes with nothing interesting in them at all. There are a lot of these kind of dungeons, dozens in fact, but for the most part they are only one floor and don’t last long at all. It gets pretty repetitive to be honest which is a shame. When there’s the odd dungeons that’s actually like a proper dungeon, the game really picks up a lot and it’s a shame there wasn’t more like those ones.

Like any farming simulator worth its salt, Return to PopoloCrois let’s you do the whole dating-sim thing. Even though you practically have a girlfriend already and are very much in love, the game still let’s you cringe at the awful flirting by giving gifts to cute girls in every village. If you give them enough presents, over time they will like you more and more until eventually they ask if they can live on your farm. “The more the merrier!” Pietro expresses with a twinkle in his eye. To be honest, while it’s all cute and innocent I feel the dating-sim part is over simplified. There’s no depth to it which makes it a little superfluous. Turning up at their village once in a while and handing them a spare turnip has no satisfaction to it at all.

There are still plenty of better things to do however. Around the world you can go bug catching, mine rocks and you even have a synthesis machine in your home where you can fuse things together to create better items. I actually really enjoyed this part and it proved useful for getting some awesome weapons. Even after I finished the game I still wanted to carry on synthesising and find all the recipes.

There are also plenty of side missions to be getting on with. Wandering through a town you may see some folk with a green face above their heads. This indicates they will have a mission for you to do. Sometimes they can be simple and mundane things like killing five of a certain monster, delivering an item to someone or even grander missions that involve solving mysteries and such.

So all in all, while the main story stretches just over the 20-hour mark, you can definitely extend that if you so wish by doing the many things available in Return to PopoloCrois.

Visually it’s nice and colourful and in the over world, every place has a unique look to it. As mentioned though, the dungeons are either repetitive or just completely bland and boring (i.e. the ruins) which tends to suck the life out of it a little. The music for the most part is good with lots of variation between different tracks. Unfortunately many of the tracks seem to have repetitive five-second melodies and don’t really develop into anything.

Overall, Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Season’s Fairytale is a simple experience with plenty of things to do and enjoy. It combines two franchises seamlessly as though they’ve always been this way with a very fun cast of characters and an enjoyable story. It may be overly simple for some, which is understandable, and dungeons can be a bit of a downer, but I really enjoyed playing through it and I plan to keep on playing to get all those pesky recipes.

Good points

– Simple, old-fashioned story

– Plenty of things to do

– Funny dialogue

Bad points

– Superfluous dating aspect

– Most of the dungeons are dull, though thankfully very brief

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