I was six years old the first time my grandfather passed away and I uprooted my entire life to restore his farm back to its former glory, and by 27, I’ve undergone this process at least six more times. Well, in farming simulators, that is. Just as we’ve come to expect to find our hero of time fast asleep at the start of each Legend of Zelda game, there is an unspoken rule in farming simulators involving the loss of your grandfather and subsequently undertaking the quest to reconnect with nature and live a simpler life—the kind of life he’d have wanted for you. I’ve lived a lot of simple lives between the ages of six to 27, though the one I got back to the most is that first one I created in Harvest Moon: Back to Nature—the one that shaped how I view them all.
There’s a festival in Harvest Moon: Back to Nature called the Harvest Festival, which takes place in mid-fall. During the festival, all the residents of Mineral Town gather ‘round as each one of you throws an item into a deep cauldron to create a stew for the town to share. Each person in the town makes slight allusions to their contributions—Karen, my go-to wife and town lush, has been known to add chocolates and jam—and depending upon what’s added or excluded, you’ll get one of three reactions from the town: joy, contentment, or disappointment. In every farming simulator I’ve played since Back to Nature, I’ve examined what elements each new entry in the genre throws into the pot to feed us hungry townsfolk, and Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, the latest farming simulator from Marvelous Interactive Inc., is no exception.
As a whole, Pioneers of Olive Town makes for a pretty solid stew, with some of the ingredients working with one another to create an entirely new flavor that pushes the genre forward. However, it’s undeniable the game does have its own jam and chocolates tossed in there somewhere, which keep it from reaching the heights it might have. Here’s a list of the parts of Pioneers of Olive Town that make the game something truly special, as well as those that keep me from wanting seconds.
Story of Seasons, I just want to talk. Why, on my pastoral paradise, do I want an entire section of my land designated to housing vending machine-sized processors I am required to have dozens of to advance in the game? In previous games, you could place your makers—the mechanisms used to convert milk into butter, eggs into mayonnaise, and so and and so forth—in the buildings your animals inhabited for convenience. In Pioneers of Olive Town, you are forced to place them outside, where they clunkily sit next to one another. And, as if having one of those bad boys isn’t enough, they operate so slowly—yet are so vital to the game’s crafting system—that it is completely ineffective to only have one of two made and processing materials throughout the day. This leads to having what can only be described as a fleet of vending machines running in one section of your farm 24 hours a day.
I recently started playing Stardew Valley on my PC again, and have given myself permission—as someone who has beaten the game repeatedly—to use a fair amount of mods to make things easier. I was absolutely delighted to note that in Pioneers of Olive Town, so many of the tiny quality of life changes I’ve made to Stardew through mods are now merely staples of the game. No longer am I hunting people down or desperately trying to remember what time a certain store closes because all that information is available on the map in my menu. No longer do I have to try my hardest to remember what gifts certain folks like because as you build up your relationship with them, the journal in your menu takes note of what they’re into. Tool upgrades are now instantaneous, meaning I don’t have to time out the day I upgrade my watering can to a three day rainy period so my crops don’t go unwatered. You’re also able to use either resources or money to advance in certain ways in the game, which is great for those of us who tend to have an abundance in one or the other rather than both.
Pioneers of Olive Town is a prettier game that the Story of Seasons title released last year, but it unfortunately is not a better running game. When too many items are on the screen (see above vending machine complex on my farm), the game begins to struggle to keep up. In addition, the game features a photography aspect to it, but the quality when you look through the viewfinder isn’t much better than Pokemon Snap. Like, the 1999 Pokemon Snap. This mixed with slow loading times makes for an experience that can be a bit frustrating, though it’s not so intense that it drastically hurts my experience with the game.
This right here is one of the best things Story of Seasons has done, and I sincerely hope we see more of this in the farm sim genre. You see, in most farm sims, you are given a massive plot of land you slowly work through. At the start of Story of Seasons, you are given a small chunk of land that contains a small mine, a dilapidated coop, one wild chicken, a small strip of beach to fish on, and a rundown bridge. To get to the next area, you must repair the bridge using resources gathered from this first area (or money), and once you do you are given a larger mine, entirely new resources and foraged goods, a ruined barn, a new stretch of ocean, and both a wild cow and sheep to tame and raise—as well as a path that needs clearing before you get to the next stretch of land. This concept gives the game a greater sense of progression and achievement, as well as incentivizes you to get to work uncovering this frankly massive property you’ve obtained.
While I’m only in the first year of Pioneers of Olive Town (which still equates to over 40 hours played), I’m incredibly disappointed in how little furniture is available and how limited you are to placing it. As of right now, I have six squares located to the left of my front door where I can place things, two of which are counter tops. Home customization isn’t something I play these games for, so I’m not severely bummed, but it seems strange for Story of Seasons to even slightly lean into this feature when it’s nearly non-existent.
Farm sims have a real problem with being real white and, for the Story of Seasons games, real straight. In fact, up until last years Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, gay marriages were refered to as “best friend ceremonies.” However, even when compared to Stardew Valley—which is hailed as being a more progressive farm sim—Pioneers of Olive Town shines by actively bringing more diversity to the genre. Linh and her father Nyugyen, Iori, and Iori’s caretaker, Dosetsu, are all East Asian characters. Manuela, Marcos, Emilio, and Raul are all Latinx, and speak Spanish back and forth at times. And lastly, Sydney, her daughter Laura, and Karina are all Black women. Furthermore, all of the romance options are available to you regardless of your gender, meaning you really can love who you love in Olive Town. While I’m still waiting to see better body representation in games such as these, this is a major start.
Aside from the whole makers thing at the beginning (sorry, still shaking it off), I think the dialogue is what bothers me the most in Pioneers of Olive Town. What makes it worse is the tangent I just went on before this point about how interesting this town is and could be. There are several ways to play farm sims, and I happen to focus a lot on the social aspect of the game. Every day, after I’ve finished maintaining my farm, I head up to town and make sure I say hello to all the townsfolk I see, doling out gifts when I have them. Saying hello daily is the simplest way to max out relationships over time, and generally the conversations you have are interesting enough to merit the trip up. In Pioneers of Olive Town, however, this habit of mine has grown a bit depressing. Even though I am currently dating a man in town, his dialogue remains mostly unchanged. The growing relationships you have with people are barely acknowledged, and for three days leading up to any festival, as well as the day after, all the characters regurgitate are the same couple lines about being happy about the festival. Genuinely hoping this is something we see fixed with coming updates, because I really do believe it’s this game’s biggest issue.
When you manage to chug through the stale dialogue to reach new cutscenes with people in the town, they’re extremely worth it! All the characters’ various quirks and charms shine through in their heart events, which give you a better glimpse into their personalities than their unenthusiastic “heys” as you bop about town. You get to see how characters relate to one another, witness strange stories unfold (I’m dating Iori and still don’t really get what’s happening), and watch the town come to life. It’s just a shame that the content in the cutscenes is so infrequently referenced outside of them.
So far, I’ve only been to three town festivals, but all of them have been a bit lacking in excitement. The mini-games are short lived and not particularly interesting, and the first holiday—a play on Easter—didn’t even have one. In addition, generally festivals serve as a way to make the player feel as if they are part of the town, but in Pioneers of Olive Town they somehow make me feel less involved. When I’m doing community projects and in cutscenes with the various villagers, I feel like they are thrilled I’m a part of the community now. When I’m at the festivals and walking up to folks to get that daily relationship boost, I feel very separated from them and their respective friends and family units.
This change sits right next to the land progression I previously mentioned as one of the biggest game changers in Pioneers of Olive Town that I truly hope is here to stay. Whereas your goal as a farmer is to create a thriving business, the goal of Olive Town is to attract more tourists, and the town needs your help. The mayor will periodically give you quests in which you must deliver materials to him to create visible changes in the town, such as upgrading the streets or benches. This results in a visible growth in tourists as well as a more beautiful town, which is so satisfying to watch. Furthermore, the game now has a museum that works very similarly to the one in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. When visiting, you can donate your nature photography, aquatic life, and fossils to the museum who will put them on display for the town. While not as impressive as the museum in Animal Crossing, it shows an exciting glimpse of what could be coming and what I’ve wanted for years.
Jessica Howard is the managing editor at gaming site
and a freelance writer with works published at Paste, UPROXX, Collider, and more. She enjoys loud music, hot coffee, and games with romanceable NPCs.