Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale - Review  

I Don't Want Any Damn Vegetables
by Sam Wachter

20-40 Hours
+ Fantastic localization
+ Great for RPG newcomers
+ Interesting use of Popo and SoS franchises
- ...that feels less than the sum of its parts
- Boring dungeon designs
- Too simple, even on hard
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   Once upon a time there were two beloved franchises: a turn-based RPG series about "the crossing of people" known as PopoloCrois, and an adored farming-sim franchise that has spanned nearly every console generation: Bokujo Monogatari, also known as Story of Seasons here in the West. In 2015, a great marriage of the two franchises came together in the form of Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale, however to say it's an equal marriage is up for debate.

   Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is the story of Prince Pietro, a kind-hearted thirteen year-old boy who ends up being whisked away to the realm of Galariland by an evil ambassador named Marmela. Having been tricked by Marmela and sent to a new world, Prince Pietro must figure out a way to return to PopoloCrois, while also tilling the lands and removing the darkness deep within the world's rich soil. Accompanied by a plethora of adorable friends from the PopoloCrois universe, it's up to Prince Pietro to find his way back home and stop Marmela's nefarious plot.

   While this is a fairy tale that has been written and rewritten in numerous ways, there's something in the way that it is presented that makes Return to PopoloCrois's story enjoyable to engage with. While it's not deep or even original, the game is filled with tons of delightful characters who are accompanied by whimsical dialogue. The standout in this game really is the localization work produced by XSEED Games, as even reading NPC dialogue is pretty entertaining. There's a lot of quirky charm to the game's storytelling, and the localization does a fantastic job enhancing these feelings further, making an unoriginal tale feel somewhat fresh again.

Cutest prince EVAR. Cutest prince EVAR.

   There's also a freshness to the game's graphical work, which, when coupled with the writing, is simply fantastic. Everything in the worlds of both PopoloCrois and Galariland feels completely full of life, making exploration stimulating for the most part. Even the game's soundwork, be it random people greeting the Prince or Blue's realistic wolf whimpers, infuses a lot of personality into this game. Topped with the game's enchanting and adorable soundtrack, there's a lot to love in terms of the game's overall presentation. These aspects alone provide and enhance the perfect fairy tale setting, and make for a vibrant world to discover on the surface.

   But here's the problem with Return to PopoloCrois: while its fairy tale setting and story are delightfully captured, it struggles in terms of figuring out its true identity. Since this is a marriage between two franchises that have extensive history, one would assume both parts would feel equal. The reality is that they don't. Players really can completely ignore all of the Story of Seasons farming simulation content and focus entirely on the PopoloCrois-style storytelling. In fact, this game is very plot driven and while there are breaks between the plot, the game doesn't provide a strong enough incentive to play with the Story of Seasons content, which is a shame and something that could have been integrated better considering this game is a crossover of two beloved franchises.

   On top of that, there's no challenge in Return to PopoloCrois. Zero, zip, zilch. The game offers an adjustable difficulty setting and encounter rate slider, but even playing on "Hard" players really can't die unless they simply aren't paying attention. Without a real challenge, it makes battles feel dull and just there for the sake of being there. There's no drive to battle enemies given that they can have their butt handed to them in the blink of an eye. Despite the disdain for how easy the game is, it is great for newcomers to the RPG genre, or those who love a leisurely-paced game, but those seeking a challenge will be sorely disappointed.

Prince Pietro knows how to woo all the ladies. Prince Pietro knows how to woo all the ladies.

   Unfortunately, the battle system doesn't help this at all either. Return to PopoloCrois sports overly simplified battles with grid-based movement with the occasional obstacle thrown in. Characters can Move, Attack, use a Skill or Item, or simply run away. The one element that makes the battles at least mildly interesting is the fact that each character has paired skills, meaning that characters can use the same skill together at the cost of one character's MP. Each character has different skills with other characters, so it's worthwhile to experiment with the different abilities that each pair can have. Otherwise, there's not much else to the battle system that hasn't been seen before.

   While exploring the larger world in Return to PopoloCrois is enjoyable, the same cannot be said about the game's Field Dungeons. Field Dungeons are how Prince Pietro must purify the soil in Galariland. By jumping into these Field Dungeons, Prince Pietro must navigate through uninspired pathways to get to a miniboss and defeat it. There is little to no effort in the dungeon design in this game, and it's very frustrating given that there's nothing to spice them up, either. The fact that you have to complete at least five of these bland dungeons is painful enough, but what's worse is that there's little to no change in the patterns either.

   I actually adored my time with Return to PopoloCrois, despite my complaints. It's one of those games, however, where I kept hoping that it would balance the two franchises in way that felt equal, but unfortunately it never truly comes together on that front. Even with the game's shortcomings, I feel like Return to PopoloCrois is best enjoyed by those looking for a more leisurely-paced role-playing experience, and who like strong writing over gameplay. Simplicity is great, but if there had been more variety and a challenge, I do think Return to PopoloCrois could have been a real winner.

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