A JRPG & farming combo.
Beginning life as a popular Manga, the PopoloCrois series of games had a solid following over in Japan. For English speaking gamers however, the only real release was 2005s PopoloCrois on the PSP handheld, so you would be forgiven for not really knowing much about the series. All of that could be set to change now, as Marvelous release Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale for 3DS.
Taking on the role of young Prince Pietro, players are first introduced to the land of PopoloCrois, but won’t be spending much time there. During his birthday party, he finds that his land is coming under threat from black beasts and corrupted soil. Traveling to the nearby land of Galariland, which is also being devastated by the same threat, Pietro finds himself unable to return home, at least until he has gotten to the root of this threat and saved the lands.
Return to PopoloCrois offers a charmingly old school JRPG experience that certainly seems to have a more casual edge. Pietro, along with his party of friends, explore the region and relatively simple dungeons, some of which involve the party being shrunk down to make a dungeon from a plant, for example. The story is fairly straight forward and gives the player easy objectives to follow as they play, and there is even a hint system should they ever get stuck.
When it comes to encounters, they are random in nature. This does lead to a certain amount of grinding to progress, but Return to PopoloCrois even allows the player to adjust the frequency of these random encounters should they want less action in the game.
The combat is simple and intuitive. Set on a grid, the player can move their characters around and choose actions in a turn-based style. Characters can use basic attacks or special moves to combat enemies that are within range, and special team-up moves are available to mix things up. There is not a huge amount of depth to the combat, but that seems to fit in with the easy-going nature of the game, keeping the encounters quick and enjoyable. Tweaking the difficulty is an option, should the player want more of a challenge, but the game has a stress-free nature that makes it so much fun.
As is revealed in the games’ title, Return to PopoloCrois is not just a JRPG. The cross over with A Story of Seasons, the new name for the popular series of farming games Harvest Moon, makes a very definite mark on the game.
As the player explores, they will come across plots of land which they can then work to grow crops and the like. The farming side of the game is a much more simple take on the Harvest Moon formula, with very little chance of failure. Crops grow in real time during the gameplay, and players will find themselves fast traveling between farms to water and harvest these crops, although without any day/night cycle or essential time management to mess with the crops, the laid back nature of the core game comes through to the farming as well.
Caring for various animals and mining for ore also make an appearance, allowing the player to raise money or find ingredients for the various crafting recipes that they find through the game. Another aspect that comes from A Story of Seasons is the relationships that Pietro can build with certain young ladies. Purely platonic in nature, these relationships grow through talking with the characters and giving gifts. What young lady can resist a vegetable?
Visually, the cel-shaded style creates a whimsical world for the player to enjoy. The colours are quite bright and characters are well defined. The environments are varied but stay within the rustic overall theme. The soundtrack is nice and relaxing, and the voicework is of a high standard, which is always good.
The problem is that Return to PopoloCrois is a very simple game. The RPG side lacks the depth that JRPG fans have come to expect, while the farming and other A Story of Seasons aspects are not involving enough to be considered a core feature of the game. In fact, the farming and the like can mostly be ignored if the player chooses. Return to PopoloCrois is a jack of all trades game, but master of none.
But this doesn’t mean that there is no enjoyment to be found in Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale. The game is easy going, relaxing, and the perfect antidote to many of the more stressful games that are around now. Perhaps more aimed at the younger audience, Return to PopoloCrois is a charming game that offers a lite RPG and farming experience.