I remember spending hours upon hours playing Harvest Moon on the SNES. Despite not once in my life ever actually wanting to be a farmer, the actual farming experience itself translated surprisingly well to a video game. I’ve played the countless sequels that have followed and whilst the series has evolved (even in name, now being known as Story Of Seasons) it’s always remained the same – you run a farm and live out your life fairly peacefully.
What a fantastic idea it was then to cross the farming gameplay of the Story Of Seasons series with the adventure elements of PopoloCrois, the charming RPG from developers Epics. The amalgamation of the two has given us Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale. We’ve seen countless successes with cross-over titles over the years but this is certainly an unusual mixture, albeit a welcome one – Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale is a charming experience that will entertain both RPG and farming simulator fans, even it does slightly dumb down the mechanics of each genre.
Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale follows on from the story players have experienced in previous PopoloCrois titles, thought fortunately it isn’t compulsory for you to have played those in order to the understand the plot.
You’re cast as Pietro, the young adventuring Prince and saviour of the kingdom of PopoloCrois. Whilst PopoloCrois has seen somewhat peaceful times as of late, there’s been a sudden emergence of black monsters throughout the Kingdom. The King invites Marmela, an ally from a faraway Kingdom named Galariland, to PopoloCrois to seek her assistance in defeating these evil black monsters and she suggests sending Pietro to her homeland in order to grant him the abilities to take on the foul beasts. Of course, everything goes wrong when it is revealed that Marmela is actually a villain and the cause of the black monsters. It’s too late though and Pietro finds himself stranded and imprisoned in the Kingdom of Galariland. Thus begins his adventures to return home to PopoloCrois and save the land from the evil clutches of Marmela and the monsters she has brought with her.
Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale sets up its story well, introducing a variety of characters as well as offering a decent amount of back story to each location you visit. The story expands further as you progress; there are plenty of twists and turns as Pietro looks to bring peace to Galariland as well as his own homeland. One thing Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale has in abundance is charm; something that’s you’ll witness plenty of during your adventure throughout the land.
One of Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale’s greatest successes is with the character interactions in the game, something owed to both a colourful cast along with a well written script. Fans of PopoloCrois will recognise a few familiar faces on their adventures, though there’s plenty of room for some new ones too. Either way, each different character brings with them a unique personality and appearance – sure, the game is guilty of featuring a few RPG stereotypes such as an ever-loyal Knight or a spunky teenage boy, but each character is likable and the interactions they share are always a pleasure to witness. There’s a good blend of humorous and serious moments too, all tying together into a story that is both charming and entertaining right until the credits role.
The bulk of your time spent in Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale will see you venturing through location to location, completing dungeons and helping restore the farmlands of Galariland. There’ll be plenty of battling to take place along the way though, so it’s fortunate the game has an enjoyable albeit simple battle system.
Taking place from an isometric view point, battles take place on a tiled battlefield akin to a tactical RPG. Your party and the enemies will take it in turns to attack, each being able to move a certain amount of tiles per a turn. As long as you can get next to your opponent you’ll be able to hit them with a standard attack, though you do have access to a variety of stronger skills that can afflict damage within a certain area of effect too. As your character levels up through the game they’ll unlock new skills, level up existing skills as well as extend the range of movement they have access to. There’s a few other thing to look out for too, including status ailments like darkness (which makes your accuracy really low) or sleep (that makes your character miss their turn), though these ailments disappear at the end of each battle so there’s no real lasting effect with them.
Whilst battles in the game are enjoyable, the battle system in general feels a little dumbed down compared to those in similar RPGs. The game won’t require a whole lot of thinking from you – it’s generally just a case of constantly attacking the enemy until they die. There’s no need to really think things through or use different tactical options throughout. Boss battles do provide a sterner challenge, though with so many healing items available as well as characters with healing skills you’ll never feel that much at risk of defeat.
You’re actually able to turn on ‘auto-battles’, having the AI dictate your party’s attacks. I’ll be honest; there were times when I used this function, especially when my party were destroying most enemy encounters with ease. The battles are enjoyable enough, they just aren’t very challenging.
Unfortunately, a lot of the dungeons in Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale don’t require too much thought to complete either. They typically all feature maze like pathways, some that will lead you to your objective or some leading you to treasure chests. There isn’t a huge variety of environments on offer either – it’s typically either the Honey I Shrunk The Kids-esque farm locations or a shrine design that gets repeated but with a different colour palette. The game would’ve great benefitted from some puzzles just to keep the player engaged – there were times when I’d get frustrated working through a dungeon with nothing to keep me occupied except for the constant stream of random battles. Fortunately, there are some dungeons in the game that do vary up the visual style a little offering a breath of fresh air for the player, especially towards the back end of the game.
Whilst I had some issues with the repetitive dungeon designs, the world itself is beautiful. Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale features a huge variety of locations – you’ll be venturing through enchanting forests, icy mountains, underground caves and even volcanic landscapes. Whatever the location, the game always looks great with vibrant colours and fauna that really bring the world to life. Each town you visit in the game feels unique too, with inhabitants nestled in intimate locations that actually feel lived in. Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale is certainly one of the more visually appealing games I’ve played on the 3DS and the fact the world is as engaging as it is attractive really makes it a pleasure to explore.
Of course, the RPG elements offer just half of the Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale experience – there’s also the thoroughly enjoyable farming elements of the game. Players have access to their main farm where they can grow vegetables and crops, look after animals and then sell their produce to amass a fortune. Whilst there is the one main farm that’s treated like a sort of home hub, you’ll also unlock a variety of other farms as you progress through the game. These farms are typically smaller, though there are some vegetables that will only grow in specific farms, meaning you’ll have to balance your management of them all if you’re going to be a successful farmer.
The farming elements of the game are completely optional, but they’re thoroughly enjoyable so you won’t be able to help but indulge in the art of vegetable growing. It’s great that the farming element doesn’t feel just tacked on either – it’s actually integral to the plot of Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale. Admittedly, there’s not as much of a variety of farming tasks to perform as you might find in a stand-alone Story Of Seasons game, but there’s enough there for you to enjoy. Don’t worry though, farming studs – you can still romance females and bring some welcome bonuses to your farm.
Besides the main story and farming, there are plenty of side quests for you to complete in Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale. They typically consist of farming certain items, defeating a certain amount of enemies or finding a rare item. There are also bugs to capture, ores to discover and recipes to synthesise, offering plenty for you to enjoy in the game.
Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale’s soundtrack is great, offering tunes that seem to fit every situation perfectly. As I’ve said about many things in the game, it’s charming – everything piece of music feels so upbeat and positive that you just can’t help but to smile as you play the game. The voice acting is great too, offering both the option for English or Japanese voiceovers. I’ll admit though, it was slightly unusual that not all of the lines in the game had voice acting – there were moments when a character would say something that had voice acting, then the next sentence wouldn’t have voice acting, then the next one would. It’s not game breaking, but it was certainly unusual.
I managed to complete Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale in just over sixteen hours. I’d spent a good amount of time farming and levelling up my party in this time, but I didn’t complete a whole lot of the side quests or find every discovery in the game either – there’s certainly an incentive for me to return to the game.
Some cross-overs work, some don’t. Fortunately Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale is nothing but a success story, offering a combination of the enjoyable RPG gameplay of PopoloCrois working blissfully with the farming simulation of Story Of Seasons. Admittedly, you’re given simplified versions of each genre, but there’s still plenty on offer for fans of both franchises to enjoy. If you’re looking for a charming handheld experience that’ll keep you absorbed for hours, look no further than Return To PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale.
– A great mixture of RPG and farm simulation gameplay
– A charming story and characters that keep you entertained until the end
– Fantastic visuals that really bring the world to life
– Plenty of side quests and discoveries to make in the game
– A lack of challenge in the battles
– Not a whole lot of variety with dungeon design