Return to Popolocrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale review

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 3DS
Publisher Xseed Games
Developer Marvelous Interactive
Release Date Mar 1, 2016

Return to Popolocrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale tries to be two things at once.

Although it’s a standalone game, Return to Popolocrois is based on a long running series of Japanese novels, television shows, and previous handheld/console installments. Popolocrois was the first title published in the west, and Return is the second game in the franchise to see a North American release. This game is a Story of Seasons crossover, which is a franchise that focuses on farming, getting married, raising a family, and taking care of animals.

By combining the turn-based strategy and dungeon exploring elements of Popolocrois and the leisurely farm-tending of the Seasons games, Return to Popolocrois suggests a particular kind of appeal. But developer Epics’ implementation is less than seamless, undermined by haphazard mechanics.

The story begins with Prince Pietro, who is tricked into being transported away from his kingdom of Popolocrois and to the unfamiliar world of Galarliand. Galarliand has been rendered barren, its farms unable to yield crops due to corrupted soil caused by the Lord Gryphot and his underlings. Pietro decides to help the citizens resurrect the tree Galariel by traveling to each region, defeating the black beasts that have corrupted plots of soil found in each region of Galariland.

Return to Popolocrois' main cast makes it easy to become invested in the end goal because the characters are just as passionate about helping Galariland as Pietro is. Some are new, such as Nino who is stubborn and goes out of his way to hide how much he admires you; Or the White Knight and Gami Gami Devil, who are introduced briefly but don’t join until later. The dialogue is silly and cute, which is great because there is a lot of it in this game. The interesting storyline made it easy for me to wish for Pietro to return to Popolocrois, and was enough for me to look past the faults of the game to see if the cast were successful with their goal.

That said, Return to Popolocrois' title is somewhat misleading for agriculture fans looking for something like Story of Seasons. Farming advances the plot. But my desire to plant seeds, harvest crops, and go back to pick up the eggs my chickens laid every 10 minutes was undermined by boring mechanics.

Seeds are either bought or received in battle and can be planted in designated plots. Since there aren’t any seasons (each town you encounter is stuck in one season as opposed to a cycle) or concrete passage of time to indicate when a harvest would be ready, crops are grown in real-time. This may be logical, but it makes farming dull. Each square of land must be tended to individually. and any crops I managed to grow didn’t sell for much. Food can be consumed during combat, but it didn’t compare well to a stamina potion.

Other factors sound small but felt large. For example, adopted animals provide produce, but I couldn’t brush them, show them affection, or move them outside. These are staples of the Story of Seasons games. Being able to form relationships with your animals was appealing to me, because showing them affection and having that devotion rewarded through higher quality products made me feel as though I were doing a good job. Taking away that element makes the experience feel superficial.

Meanwhile, the townsfolk that you encounter in every region have no personality and repeat the same piece of dialogue over and over again, giving only some side quests in exchange for gifts and gold. Farming does provide gifts to give to the townspeople, at least.

When you’re not farming and not-petting your livestock, Return to Popolocrois is spent wandering from region to region colliding with RPG-standard random encounters. Combat takes place on a grid, with turn-based options to attack, use a skill (equivalent to magic) or run away. Utilizing the grid system to strategize how to move around the battlefield when planning out how to defeat an enemy — experimenting to see what skills worked against monsters with unknown immunities — was the fun part of combat.

But once I learned what worked in battle, fighting in Return to Popolocrois became less demanding. The game allows you to change its difficulty settings, which I hoped would make things more challenging, more interesting. But that only made the boring combat harder.

This is made worse by encounters that are far too frequent. This can be tweaked from Return to Popolocrois' menus as well, which I discovered after becoming annoyed with monsters attacking my party every 15 seconds. Later I found an item that would temporarily keep beasts from coming near me. But even with the lowest encounter rate possible selected, getting from point A to point B was still irritating, and it made the boring combat that much more of an issue.

Even after acquiring different members of the main cast into your party to switch things up a bit and employ different tactics, I found it hard not to become passive. When every battle started to blend together, it was hard not to engage "auto" mode instead of having to manually control grind through the motions. This sense of repetition spreads throughout Return to Popolocrois. Dungeons and ruins recycle the same design and roaming around to find the black beast happen at random, leading to dead ends that force you to backtrack and continue the search.

Wrap Up:

Return to PopoloCrois is rich in character, but crucial mechanics fall short

It’s surprising that ambition isn’t Return to Popolocrois' biggest problem. Epics has a great cast of characters and an interesting premise that strain to hold everything together. But the game’s repetitive, tedious combat and lackluster farming present an awful lot of weeds to pull, and this Story of Seasons offshoot just isn’t up to the task.

A physical copy of Return to Popolocrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale was provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here. Editor's Note: This review was originally published with a placeholder score. We regret the error.

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