On paper, the union of a farming game and an RPG might sound strange. In practice, the combo works unexpectedly well. Return to Popolocrois mixes the Story of Seasons franchise with Popolocrois’ unique setting to make something better than the sum of its parts.
Though the Story of Seasons monicker is relatively new—it was just introduced in last year’s Story of Seasons—in Japan, the series has deep roots under its original title, Bokujou Monogatari, or Farm Story. Before last year, Bokujou Monogatari games were released in the U.S. under the Harvest Moon label, but that has since changed.
Popolocrois also has a bit of a lengthy history of its own. The first Popolocrois title was released in 1996 for the original PlayStation, and never made it out of Japan. The only game in the series to make it to the states was released in 2005 for the PSP. The Popolocrois series is a group of RPGs following the young prince of the game’s titular country and his traveling companion, a young witch named Narcia.
The premise of Return to Popolocrois is that it’s a fairy tale in the Story of Seasons world. The world of Popolocrois feels like it’s ripped from the pages of a storybook. The world is bright and colorful, and the characters are modeled in such a way that they resemble illustrations from a children’s story. Pietro has big, glassy blue eyes and an outfit that belies his heroic nature.
Adults are portrayed as caricatures, almost like how a child might see them. Pietro’s father is basically a giant nose and mustache. Knights are little more than a pair of eyes or a big mustache in a suit of armor. Even the monsters are approachable and friendly in appearance.
I never thought I’d be writing about a battle system in a Story of Seasons game, but here I am. Return to Popolocrois’ battles are a simple, turn-based affair. If you’ve played a RPG before, then this will feel immediately familiar. Everything about it feels distinctly old school.
Return to Popolocrois doesn’t do anything new, but that’s not a bad thing, really. You can take a party of up to four characters into battle, each of whom has their own unique skills and abilities. Each character has link skills with other team mates which are unlocked as soon as the two characters are in a party together.
When your turn to attack comes around, you’ll have the option to select to attack or use a technique. Each of those choices brings up a grid in which you can move. It’s a nice little twist on the standard turn-based formula that feels a bit more involved than most, without going all the way to the Action RPG route, like Fantasy Life.
Like any good Story of Seasons game, the plot of Popolocrois is centered around farming. At the outset, Pietro is transported from Popolocrois to another world which is plagued by darkness. Early on you discover and free a farm that becomes your base of operations, with the idea that you should sow seeds, tend your garden and head out to quest for the rest of the day.
Unlike Story of Seasons games, however, Return to Popolocrois puts the farming in the backseat somewhat in favor of questing. If your crops need water or to be tended to, you’ll get a notification on your screen to let you know, so you don’t need to needlessly check your farm. Similarly, if you want to sell your wares, you can drop them in the delivery box and get cash for them.
Return to Popolocrois isn’t a Popolocrois game or a Story of Seasons game. Instead, it’s something better. A cute, charming RPG with simple graphics, a no-frills battle system and a fun world to explore. If you like old-school RPGs, or are a fan of the Story of Seasons franchise, this one is for you.