In 2015 I had a chance to play, and fall in love with Story of Seasons; the first game in the re-branded Bokujo Monogatari franchise. This was the third “Harvest Moon” game that I had played. It quickly became my favourite! This being said I was elated when I heard the announcement for Story of Seasons: Return to Popolocrois. More importantly I became aware of another franchise that I had entirely missed. Apparently Popolocrois is a long running and beloved series in Japan. It even had a fairly quiet stateside release. I had no idea. This new game would mix the farming elements of Story of Seasons with the fantasy/ adventure of Popolocrois. I couldn’t wait!
This story follows Price Pietro on his latest adventure. In the first few minutes of the game new players are brought to speed with a small bit of back story. Pietro is not only the Crown Prince of Popolocrois, but he is also a local hero. When evil is afoot, Pietro has a tendency to nip it in the bud. This go round his kingdom is under attack by mysterious black beasts. Marmela, a sorceress from the Kingdom of Galariland has come to advise the King on the problem. The land from which she hails has powerful spells for dealing with these monsters, so she recommends that Pietro visit and learn the magic to save his people. While in Galariland Pietro learns that their world is being drained by a looming darkness. On his quest to get back home with a means to rescue Popolocrois, the Prince also hopes to save Galariland.
Honestly this game feels like a throwback RPG based on a children’s storybook. It is charming and whimsical. As you travel across Galariland returning light to the land you make new friends that are happy to help you on your journey, as well as cute girls that you may befriend for bonuses. The dark lord has trapped the fairies of light inside of the farmland. As long as they are guarded by the black beasts crops will not grow. With a little bit of magic from your own fairy companion your party will shrink down to the size of a bug, defeat the creatures, and bring peace to the fields. It is at this point that you may start using that beautiful clean soil to your own means. Your crops can be fed to your animals, given to the village girls, or sold for profit. The story is linear and easy to follow. I found it to be a pleasurable little romp.
Many of the characters return from previous entries in the series.
Of course there is Prince Pietro, our young veteran hero.
Narcia, whom is Pietro’s childhood friend, and crush. (Technically I think these people are all Pietro’s childhood friends.)
GamiGami the self proclaimed super villain…(with a secret heart of gold) makes his return.
And the White Knight returns to butt heads with GamiGami. The dynamic between these two is pretty amusing.
There are a few new faces added to the roster as well.
Blue Wolf is the first party member you meet in Galariland. She was pretty cool, unfortunately she can’t speak.
You meet Pumpkinhead, a strange man with a vegetable head. He is very forgetful.
There is also the tough, but loyal and loving Nino. He makes sure to always do right by his little brother Rue.
Little Rue has a green thumb, and a poor constitution. He really knows how to get the crops growing. He was my personal favourite character in the game.
The side characters are pretty cool too. The Mayor may not have been going about it the right way, but he was trying. The bloke with no honor made amends, and GamiGami’s sidekicks were always there right where they weren’t needed. Need I even mention Gomer? I really liked this guy, even though he broke my cardinal rule early on.
The villains are pretty cool too. I won’t say too much for fear of giving away more than I already have. The main trio is pretty solid. They put up a good fight and each have a reason for doing so.
The fights are played on grid maps that the characters move across. If a monster is out of range you simply move closer to attack, or move to a more strategically sound position. The grid also shows your special attack range, since each technique is different, this can be really handy. Depending on who is in your party your special moves will change. Characters pair off for stronger attacks. This being said certain party members are incompatible. Pietro can pair with anyone, but GamiGami can’t pair with Rue. The game is aware of this though, so who can be in your party is set. For the end battle you choose your mates, but even then it is relegated to compatible pairs.
The only knock that I have against the gameplay is that the game felt easy. I played it on normal mode, and didn’t feel challenged. I even breezed through the end villain. I highly recommend that you play on a harder difficulty, or make sure not to overgrind. I walked all over everything at level 43.
Each region has four farms that are tainted by darkness. After those four mini dungeons are cleared you gain access to the regional dungeon. The pattern is easy to follow, and getting lost is pretty much nonexistent. After each bigger dungeon you unlock a new region. I always liked this part. Exploring is always nice. Despite the repetition of gameplay, the story and characters keep it from getting boring.
If you are interested in the farming aspect then you may be let down. Throughout Galariland you will unlock several new plots of farmland. Each area boasts its own crop specialties, which is really cool. The problem is that farming is almost entirely optional. I farmed just enough to feed my livestock. I had 5 animals total. I never really felt the need to expand. I thing the looming goal of going home made it feel like a low priority to me. It does add a nice touch to the overall life/ land theme of the game!
The soundtrack of Return to Popolocrois is bubbly and energetic. While playing the game I enjoyed it a great deal, however after completing the game I didn’t think about the music much. It wasn’t super memorable, but it served its purpose rather well.
The voice acting is charming at best. The voices often sound like the over the top acting found in 80’s Saturday morning cartoons. I was a pretty big fan of the dub, but if you are more keen on the refined voice acting of a Miyazaki flick you may not be impressed.
In closing if you are looking for a fun, casual gaming session this game might suit your needs . If you are looking for the next badass challenge to hang on your belt this is most certainly not it. This game does harken back to the good ol days of classic RPGs. Pietro and company never left me bored, and there was never a point where I wished that I didn’t have to have “that” character in my party. The characters and story are the reason to play this game.
Overall Enjoyment: 7/10