Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is the first big life simulator launching in the wake of Animal Crossing: New Horizons‘ incredible success. It’s also the latest in a long line of Bokujo Monogatari games, originally known as Harvest Moon in the West. Given the pedigree of the franchise, and the ample expectations inadvertently placed on it by Animal Crossing, Pioneers of Olive Town had a lot to live up to. But if you were hoping for the next smash-hit life sim success, unfortunately you’ll only find glimpses of it here.
Pioneers of Olive Town is a mostly relaxing game with simple mechanics and the classic Harvest Moon gameplay we all know and love. You start off inheriting a farm and spend your days fishing, collecting, farming, mining and making friends with the local townsfolk. As you go along, you forge deeper relationships, uncover wild secrets in the heart of the town and help gentrify Olive Town to bring tourism to the area.
But while the game’s mechanics and freedom to explore are quite fun, gameplay is severely held back by major performance issues.
Several patches have been released to combat it, but the game still suffers under the weight of its world. Every time you load into your farm, the first few moments are incredibly janky and the screen will mini-freeze between each step forward. Crossing fields also yields the same major frame rate drops and makes travel a pain.
While the team is currently hard at work on a fix, it feels like the game could’ve done with a smidge more time in the oven. They could also have fixed the game’s incredibly strange and surreal loading screens, which feature odd close-ups of the town’s residents:
The strange choices here all make the game seem less like the fun AAA farm sim it should be.
And it’s a real shame because beyond the lack of polish, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town has real potential.
For the first 20-odd hours, I was enraptured by the game. Unlike past Harvest Moon entries, Olive Town has a distinct structure which guides players forward and encourages daily gameplay. While the ‘goals’ of the game aren’t set out like in Stardew Valley, they unfold on a daily basis and as players explore and unlock more of their farm.
To kick off, you’re tasked with cleaning up a basic farm patch, repairing buildings, exploring the local mine and establishing bridges to connect with neighbouring properties. Each day requires you to look after your animals, harvest goods, chat with the townsfolk and gather items for the local museum (which functions similarly to Animal Crossing).
The more materials you gather, the further you’re able to explore until you unlock the furthest caves with the best resources.
This process takes several dozen hours because some buildings require rare ingredients or items that need to be crafted with special machines. I found the best way to mainline your way through these repairs is to establish a farm of 10+ machines per resource (specifically focussing on wood and ore) so you can nab the required resources ASAP.
Once the main upgrades are reached the game does stagnate a bit, however. You can spend your days exploring mines and discovering new things the further you go down, as well as romancing your chosen villager (I went with Damon, the edgy punk kid), but after the major upgrades are achieved there’s a major lull in gameplay.
Every few days, there’ll be a new event or development in the town for you to address, but after the 20-hour mark you’ll settle into a fairly unexciting, very grindy rhythm.
Wake up, pet your animals, gather resources, romance your eventual spouse and then go explore the caves. Rinse, repeat until night falls or your stamina runs out. Each day lasts about 20-30 minutes in real time so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to make progress while it’s light out.
Life goes on in Olive Town at a fairly nonchalant pace. There’s no real urgency behind the game outside of the occasional tasks provided by the mayor and while it makes the whole experience more relaxing, it also means it’s difficult to stay engaged once you establish the major upgrades. With the added frustration of poor performance and frame rates, it’s enough to turn you off the game for good.
At some point in the future, Pioneers of Olive Town may receive the patch that irons out the remaining kinks with the game for a more streamlined experience. But as it stands, the lack of gameplay longevity and performance issues mean the game is more frustrating than fun.
There’s certainly plenty to do in Olive Town but your mileage with the game will depend on how much you love farming sims and if you can ignore the game’s major bugs and flaws.