Return to PoPoLoCrois Review Impressions
Story of Seasons (or Harvest Moon, as it used to be known) remains one of gaming's most effortlessly charming franchises. Even if the idea of farming sounds incredibly dull, it's hard to a resist a series that's so dedicated to making players happy.
The same is true of Return to PoPoLoCrois, a crossover with a little known JRPG franchise that never had much presence in the West and faded away almost entirely after 2005. The idea that this game exists at all is almost bizarre, but I’m glad it does.
Return to PoPoLoCrois feels like something straight from the PS1 era, in a good way. It's a simple game, but one that uses that simplicity to its own gain.
Return to PoPoLoCrois is joyful and innocent. The story about a young prince named Pietro trying to return to his kingdom and the girl he's in love with after being spirited away isn't anything new, but it's told with a refreshing refusal to bow to cynicism. It's the kind of game you could easily use to get kids into the genre, and considering what a rarity that is, I appreciate it a great deal.
I loved that vibe, but sometimes, it feels a little too relaxed. It's the kind of game that wants you to stop and talk to everyone who's wishing you a happy birthday before you move the story forward. Return to PoPoLoCrois is always pleasant, but it definitely comes at the expense of the pacing.
The gameplay is largely as traditional as JRPGs get: the standard turn-based combat and dungeon exploration all works well and keeps things snappy. Encounter rates for the random battles are adjustable and auto-battle options are present, so if you just want to focus on the story, that's totally OK.
I just wish the game had a bit more focus on the Story of Seasons side of things. It takes hours before you have a farm that you can do much on, and with the game having ditched the day/night cycle seen of the rest of the series, managing your farm barely feels worthwhile until you eventually unlock more facilities.The dating sim elements of those games has been replaced with four girls who you can become friends with, as Pietro already has a girl he loves. It's cute, and these interactions were a highlight of my time with the game.
But when all is said and done, PoPoLoCrois is an RPG first, and a Story of Seasons game second, and it often leaves those aspects feeling more than a little bit tacked on.
But I'm honestly OK with that. Like Pokemon Conquest did for Strategy RPGs before it, this game exists largely to get a younger audience into genres they might not have tried, to the point where the game's director says he hopes parents will play it with their children.
So while it's not the most exciting game around, I'm sincerely happy that we're still getting things like it. Rune Factory, another Story of Seasons RPG hybrid, was ultimately more successful at repackaging farming into something more palatable for wider audiences. But PoPoLoCrois has a cute, innocent charm that makes it worth a look for anyone into the idea of totally idyllic fantasy.