This game had been on my radar long before it released, as I’m a huge fan of the Harvest Moon and Story of Season franchise. It is a crossover game between PopoloCrois and Story of Seasons, which I found intriguing. I’ve never played PopoloCrois, but based on the synopsis and screenshots, Return to PopoloCrois reminded me of Rune Factory, but with a stronger focus on the plot and characters. I think the game taps into two fanbases without alienating either. This is going to be a review from a person who has no knowledge of PopoloCrois, or attachment to the characters (I’m on Team HM and SoS). Also, I will try my darnest not to include spoilers. Story and Battling: Return to Popolocrois is a casual RPG with a farming sim option. You play as Pietro, the prince of PopoloCrois, and will travel and battle in a team of 4 for most of the game. It’s turn-based fighting is reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics, in that you move on a grid and have a range of movement and attack. I say it’s casual, not because of how light-hearted the plot or characters are, but because the monsters and bosses are so EASY. You can choose to play on 3 modes, and you can also choose the monster encounter frequency. I played on Prince (normal) the entire time, and had the frequency set to Low. Normally, I would worry that by doing this, I wouldn’t level enough to beat bosses, but that was never an issue. I never felt like I needed a strategy or to re-equipt my characters to play against a boss’s weakness. Another thing to note is that you can put your characters on Auto during battles (but from what I saw, the characters on auto pilot didn’t really make smart choices).
Farming: The farming in this game is also low-maintenance/key. Unlike in Harvest moon or Story of Seasons, doing any farm-related activity doesn’t lower health or energy. At first I wondered what the point of it was! There’s no accountability for wasting energy, time, or inefficiency! Similar to HM and SoS, your initial farming equipment sucks (a single plot at a time), but through questing and continual farming, you are offered upgrades (always nice). Farming is optional in this game, as it doesn’t have any effect on the progression of the game. Farming comes into play for completion of subquests and getting certain achievements. The HM/SoS fan in me gets a sense of satisfaction from upgrading my farm tools, getting the achievements, and completing my “notebook” of completed quests and discovered recipes, materials, and bugs.
Characters: As a HM/SOS fan, I was disappointed that the game didn’t carry over the character personalization and the potential bachelor/bachelorettes. As Pietro, you get to “cultivate” “friendships” (/air quotes) with girls blessed by the realm’s goddess. Honestly, to me it looked like Pietro was collecting a harem of swooning young women. I get that canonically Pietro has a love interest, but then why make the NPCs you can give gifts to ALL GIRLS? Regardless of this, most of the characters are pretty endearing. I chose to play the game with Japanese voice acting, because I prefer Japanese voice overs to the English (Always). The Japanese voice acting in the game is pretty good too! Post-game Playability: I completed the game at level 50, logging 30 hours. I consider this a short amount of time. There’s no real objectives post-game, and the player is meant to Take in the sights, enjoy the crowds, and bask in all the subtle joys of farm life”. I guess, at this point in the game, you would want to complete your note book of subquests, recipes, crops, ores, and bugs, explore the optional dungeons, collect souvenirs, befriend all of the ladies, and upgrade your tools to max level. Pros
- Turn-based fighting, similar in style to the Final Fantasy Tactics games.
- Encounter frequency and game difficulty can be adjusted.
- Characters and graphics are charming. The characters are likeable, and the towns are fun to explore.
- The optional aspects of the game (farming, subquests, collecting) are also fun and a great way to take a break from storyline progression. The subquests give NPCs more depth, and these activities often trigger achievements in the form of snail mail.
- Low character customizability.
- Missing key elements of Story of Seasons, such as the romance and farming as the primary source of story progression and money-making.
- It’s a pretty short game. Also, there’s a lot of repetition in the main quests.
Despite how critical I sound in my review, I really enjoyed this game. I liked that I was able to play at my own pace, without feeling like the game was forcibly directing me toward story progression. The game is low-key, and I didn’t at any point have an “oops” moment (ex. In Final Fantasy VIII, I forgot to pick up a magazine in a flashback sequence, and so in the end of the game, I didn’t have one of my character’s best weapon available.). If you have a completionist/collector’s personality, you will definitely enjoy this game. The game kept me entertained, and I even played it outside of my commute and lunch times (my normal playing hours).
Also, I have to say, if this sounds like a game you’d like, I think you’d also like Recettear and Adventure Bar story.