Packed with random encounters, a straightforward story and plenty of charm, Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale manages the tricky task of mixing ingredients from two unique series in order to create a refreshing new experience that, for better or worse, feels like a return to classic gaming.
Mixing a JRPG like PopoloCrois with Story of Seasons (Formerly known as Harvest Moon) is basically a no-brainer at this point. Role-playing mechanics have already been blended with farm management in games like Rune Factory, so it makes sense that the tradition would be continued with a known property like PopoloCrois, a light and fun RPG romp that fits the themes and tone of Story of Seasons perfectly.
Return to PopoloCrois isn’t without its faults but, after all of the bullets and explosions I’ve been subjected to lately, this Story of Seasons Fairytale entered my life at precisely the right moment.
Our adventure starts with a young Prince Pietro in training to become the ruler of the PopoloCrois kingdom. He’s currently courting his witchy friend, Narcia, and otherwise living a carefree life.
Unfortunately, Black Beasts have started popping up around the kingdom, despoiling the fertile lands. A mysterious woman from the distant kingdom of Galariland arrives just in time to offer a hand, explaining that Prince Pietro must travel to her home and learn unique skills if he is to help rid his own kingdom of this new threat.
Once a few narrative twists lead Pietro to Galariland, he discovers that a pretty big task stands before him. Before he can ever hope to save his homeland, he must first help save the people of Galariland, too.
Pietro’s adventure will unite him with companions new and old, with a rotating party constantly introducing fresh faces as well as PopoloCrois mainstays like Gami Gami Devil and the legendary White Knight.
While in Galariland, Pietro learns that he has the ability to cleanse the land that has been ruined by the Black Beasts, which can in turn be utilized to grow produce. That’s where the Story of Seasons elements come into play. Unfortunately, it takes a pretty long time for the gameplay to actually reveal itself here. You’ll spend the first several hours of Return talking to people and running small errands. Even when you get to Galariland, you’ll need to put in a bit of legwork before you uncover the second half of the game’s focus, the farming.
But while the proceedings take a bit longer than expected to get rolling, at least the characters and story are whimsical and engaging enough to pull you along. I’m doing my best not to use the word “charming” over and over again, but it’s a characteristic that’s crammed into just about every aspect of this delightful little 3DS adventure.
I was about five hours into Return to PopoloCrois before I felt like the game had finally opened up a bit and unleashed me on its world. That’s actually about par for the course for a JRPG, which is one of the many aspects that make me point out how being so firmly rooted in the classic genre can be something of a double-edged sword. If you’re not picking up what this game is putting down right off of the bat, you might not be willing to stick around for the experience to really open up.
The adventuring side of PopoloCrois is JRPG through and through. You’ve got a straightforward path to follow, with new areas becoming available as the plot progresses. You’ll run around pretty but extremely linear maps, with random encounters pitting you against enemies aplenty. Even the dungeons are extremely direct, with short mazes leading to bosses without a lick of platforming, puzzle solving or the like to change up the pace.
As for the combat, again, you’re looking at old-school turn-based throwdowns here. You and your party will square off against enemies on a grid-based field. Your options are to move and attack, activate an ability, use an item or, if you get into trouble, flee. That’s pretty much the extent of your options. Positioning on the map can be important in a few of the tougher fights and abilities might change based on who is in your party, but don’t expect to have to dig too deep in the area of combat here.
The farming simulation is similarly streamlined, which is actually a positive in this case. I adore the Story of Seasons series, but those games can put me into a panic trying to manage all of my chores on a daily basis. In Return to PopoloCrois, you’ll be able to tend your farms, catch bugs, mine rocks, synthesize items and forge relationships, but the game never really puts an emphasis on time. When your crops need water, you can head over and take care of it when you have the opportunity. You can fill up your feeding trough and let the animals basically take care of themselves, and all of the resource gathering takes place at fixed locations you’ll come across naturally in your travels.
If ever I felt the dungeon crawling was getting a bit too repetitive, I could break up the grind by visiting my farms and managing a few chores. But you’re never left feeling like you have an impossibly long list of tasks that need to be finished before sundown.
So while the PopoloCrois side of this package sticks to classic JRPG tropes almost to a fault, the lighter Story of Seasons elements do a nice job of complementing the questing while breaking up some of the monotony.
What we’re left with here is a classic case of peanut butter and jelly. Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale takes two great tastes and mixes them in a way that creates a third, equally delicious concoction. Add on a stellar soundtrack and nice touches like the ability to choose between English and Japanese, as well as the frequency of random encounters, and you’ve got yourself a solid, brisk adventure. If you need a break from all of the dark and serious RPGs that are more common these days, then this will provide you with a nice, heartwarming palate cleanser.
This review based on a 3DS copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB: Everyone 10+