Having only ever heard of PopoloCrois’s outing on the PlayStation Portable back in 2006, I’ve never actually been acquainted with the series until now. I’m glad I didn’t overlook this new addition to the PopoloCrois series as it has been enjoyable and at times addictive, little title.
PopoloCrois began life back in the 80s as a manga series by Yohsuke Tamori and has since been adapted into various anime and games, most of which have not seen a western release. The newest game in the series, Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale, is a crossover with game series Story of Seasons from Marvelous. Story of Seasons itself is essentially a Harvest Moon game without the Harvest Moon title due to licensing issues. The game itself blends together traditional JRPG storytelling and gameplay with a simulation element.
Prince Pietro is set to celebrate his 13th birthday and all the citizens of PopoloCrois have come out to join him. Joining the celebrations is a special guest from the kingdom of Galariland, Marmela, who unfortunately is there for more pressing matters. Shadowy creatures have been appearing in PopoloCrois and corrupting the soil preventing crops from growing. It just so happens that these creatures have already ravaged Marmela’s kingdom but they have found a way of fighting back. She has travelled to PopoloCrois to help them out of their plight by returning to Galariland with an ambassador who can learn their ways to defeat the creatures. Who better for this task than Prince Pietro? No-one it seems, so off they go back to Galariland but not before things start to seem a little off and, gosh-darn-it, it turns out to be a trap. Marmela and her family are the ones controlling the shadowy creatures and have imprisoned the Prince. It’s not long before you manage to escape, however, and with your newfound friends you set about resurrecting the Goddess Galariel to repel the darkness and return to PopoloCrois.
Upon starting the game there is a short opening movie that quickly chronicles the past adventures of Prince Pietro and his friends but it doesn’t really give much background knowledge. If you’re interested in learning a little more of the backstory before diving into the game, then XSEED, the North American publisher, has made available the original manga for the first time in English via the Return to PopoloCrois website here! I highly recommend doing this, as, firstly, it’s free, and it’s a great little manga that helps you get to know the characters.
Gameplay at its core is still largely a JRPG complete with a linear storyline and random encounters. In an age where random encounters have become rather tedious, Return to PopoloCrois employs a feature that allows you to tweak the encounter rate. Like Bravely Default you can set the encounter rate to none, normal or high with each option having its advantages throughout the game. Combat follows a traditional turn-based formula but uses a range and movement mechanic much like the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. This can allow for some strategy but ultimately you’ll spend your first few turns just trying to get close to the enemy.
If Epics were to leave the game at that it would be a fairly decent JRPG with some good mechanics that could keep you occupied during travel. Thankfully though, there’s more to the game and the farming simulation element can get very addictive. Planting crops and harvesting is very simple, thankfully so, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Crops can be sold for money or used to acquire new items. You’ll come across a range of different types throughout the game, each with their own requirements for growing. You can also hunt, mine resources and feed animals and juggling the two aspects of the game couldn’t be easier. You’ll never be shackled to one for too long so it’s really up to you how you want to play the game.
The game features a charming isometric view with a great 3D effect, this was one of the things that hit me initially was how great the game looked. Some of the landscapes later in the story are very impressive. Aside from the charming visuals, the game features two different Japanese audio tracks and a fairly decent English offering.
Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale clocks in at around 30 hours of core story but features a lot of side content and a fantastic farming simulation that you can easily pour hours into. There’s a good range of things to do within the game given its hybrid nature. Really fitting the pickup and play style this game is perfect for short bursts or extended sessions.