When I first saw that the title of this game was Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale, I decided to look up some info on the first game. After all, it is called "Return to PopoloCrois." What I didn’t realize is how big the franchise is in Japan. While this is only the second game released in the U.S., Japan not only got a couple of other games, but a manga and a couple anime series as well. What's even more interesting is that this game is a crossover between two series: PopoloCrois and Story of Seasons, formerly known as Harvest Moon. So hey, I’ve finally played part of the Harvest Moon series, in a way. Anyway, how do you do a crossover between a role-playing game and a farming simulation? PopoloCrois shows us how.
The story begins with Prince Pietro turning 13. As he joins his birthday festivities in the castle, a diplomat from Galariland named Marmella arrives news of her land being in danger and being overrun by creatures known as black beasts which are contaminating the soil making it impossible to grow any crops. She’s. She’s looking for someone who can learn the type of magic needed to permanently dispel the beasts and save Galariland. Seeing as how Pietro has already saved PopoloCrois in the past, he opts to be the one to save Galariland. Marmella thinks he’s the perfect candidate. Not everything is as it seems, however, as once Pietro arrives in Galariland, a bigger threat emerges. Now, Pietro must save not only Galariland, but PopoloCrois once again.
The game begins with some story--and a lot of it. During the story, however, you’ll get the chance to learn how the battle system works. The battle system is similar to tactical RPGs such as Final Fantasy Tactics, but instead of moving square by square, each character has a certain range of movement represented by a blue grid. As they move, you’ll also notice a red grid underneath them. Once you’re done moving, you can target any enemy that’s within the red grid. But the act of moving and attacking seems a little strange at first. You can choose move/attack, which lets you move to your desired spot, and, once confirmed, if there’s an enemy to attack, you’ll choose which one to attack. If you confirm your movement but back out of it before you choose an enemy to attack, you’ll reset your movement position, which can kind of mess with your mind if you’re not expecting it.
Furthermore, if you choose skill and pick one that lets you target an enemy or a particular range, you’ll get the option to move beforehand, and the movement/targeting/retracting your choice rules apply as above. But if you want to use a skill that doesn’t target, such as a healing skill or a "pair skill," you can’t move beforehand, which is really off-putting, as it means if the character you’re healing with is next to an enemy, you can’t back off before using their healing skill. Once you move for your turn and confirm your spot, you can’t use any skills for that turn.
By the time you get the battle system down, that's when the bulk of the game begins. Essentially, the main villain wants to take over Galariland by contaminating the soil so no one can grow any crops and produce, starving everyone. You’ll come across these contaminated fields and will have to shrink down in size to go into them and take out the black beasts within. This not only removes the darkness within them, but also allows you to plant your own crops in some of them. This does have a purpose, though, beyond just allowing you to grow crops. You’ll come across items called flambeaus. After obtaining one you’ll clear out other contaminated patches of soil to gather light for it. Once you have enough, you’ll be able to enter a structure that’ll eventually lead to a Garden of Light since dark vines cover the entrance to it from the front. Once you make your way into the Garden of Light you’ll take on a more powerful black beast and once it’s defeated, you’ll purify the Garden.
Meanwhile, down on the farm, you can raise animals and grow crops. You’ll grow and gather said crops as well as other items that you can sell for money. Growing crops works in real time so once you plant the seeds you can go about your quest, then after a while you’ll get messages that your crops at a particular location are either ready to harvest or need attending to. You’ll eventually gain access to more than one field to grow crops and some crops can only be grown in a particular field. You can then sell the crops to make a bit of profit or occasionally use them as part of an active quest.
However, there’s quite a bit more to do than just the main story. Towns will typically have at least a couple of people wanting you to do something for them such as gather a certain mineral or defeat some enemies and they will reward you for doing so. Once you get to a certain point in the game you’ll get the ability to fuse items together to make new items. Towns will also usually have a certain girl you can meet and befriend, and occasionally visiting them and giving them gifts can help grow your friendship to where they will occasionally give you something. If there’s a girl to talk to that you can befriend in the town, one of your companions will likely call it out to you, while quest givers will have an icon above their heads in a thought bubble to make it easier to locate them.
In terms of difficulty, a lot of the combat can be rather easy, but it does throw a huge curve at you sometimes. You can adjust the difficulty and encounter rate, though I’ve been keeping my game on normal. I breezed through most of the early battles without any issues, only occasionally having to use a healing spell to keep myself alive. Then I get towards the end of the first Garden of Light scenario only to encounter a boss that does massive damage to all nearby characters. I ended up having a character die on me and he didn’t receive any experience points after the battle. But after that, I went straight into a major black beast boss battle and had hardly any issues with it. It was pretty much the definition of a difficulty spike where it starts out easy, has a near-brutal moment, but then goes back down to mildly easy, more so than a typical RPG will do. Thankfully, though, your HP and MP do recover fully whenever you level up.
So where do I stand on a game that’s a cross between a genre I love (RPGs) and a genre I don’t really play all that much (simulations)? For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed it and only have minor nitpicks aside from the combat difficulty. The main nitpick I have is with the voice acting and the cut scenes. It’s not that I think they’re done badly, but they're inconsistent. During a single conversation the characters will go from saying what is being displayed in the text box to just giving off random “Hey”s and “Okay”s and so on. There are also occasions in which an animated cutscene will play out, which is nice, as coming into this game I didn’t realize there was a PopoloCrois anime in Japan. However, these scenes don’t last all that long; sometimes just long enough for a character to speak a single sentence and that’s it.
As for the farming, these types of simulations aren’t normally my cup of tea, but at the same time I had never played a Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons game before, so this was a new experience for me. That being said, I didn’t mind it all that much. The equipment you might have to buy at stores to help you on your quest can get a tad pricy at times, so growing and selling crops kind of supplements your income in a way. Plus, it’s nice to just take a bit of a time out to grow onions and carrots and not have random enemies attacking you.
In the end, Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is an enjoyable game and a nice blend of the two genres it represents. The difficulty can be a little easy at times, even on normal difficulty, but at least you can change that during the game itself. The characters that join you in battle have their own skills, using various elements. The pair skills, while doing massive damage, are used well and balance out by requiring a lot of mana, meaning you can’t just spam them every battle. Difficulty-wise it can be a bit on the easy side with the occasional annoying spike, but it’s still enjoyable and not so easy that I’m getting bored. While this is the first PopoloCrois game I’ve ever played, I’m looking forward to more games coming out in the U.S., with or without the ability to grow your own crops.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.