Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town was a bit of a mess at launch. Unlike its predecessor, the remake of Friends of Mineral Town for Switch, PoOT was just a bit lacklustre, with an empty world, zombie-like NPCs, and a crafting system so slow that you'd save time pressing coal into diamonds yourself with your bare hands. Add in the long loading screens, framerate issues, and a sprinkling of bugs, and it just wasn't a game I would recommend to people, farming fans or not.
But six months on, we're now on patch 1.0.8, and a lot of the more egregious issues have been either fixed or improved. With Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town free for a week on the Nintendo Switch Online service, you might be asking: is it good now? Or, at the very least, is it better now?
The answer is a cautious and gentle "sort of". A lot of the issues are still present, such as the extremely boring, bare-bones museum, where fish are merely shadows in a tank, and the woman who "appraises" the treasures you find while mining still makes you hand them over one by one. Likewise, the town is still dull, and the villagers still don't seem to have much to say beyond mere pleasantries. Cutscenes, even with potential partners, are short and end abruptly, and that includes the DLC characters.
But let's focus on the DLC for a little bit, because many of you — like me — may have been hoping that the new characters (who are actually fan-favourite characters from older Story of Seasons games) would inject a little bit of much-needed spice into the game.
For me, it was Ludus — my husband from Trio of Towns — that enticed me into getting the DLC, but sadly, PoOT's take on the blue-haired beauty left him just as lifeless and unblinking as the rest of the Olive Town inhabitants. Without character portraits, it was hard to read any emotion into his idle animations, although patch 1.0.7 added expressions and something called "Chat Camera" as a feature that could be turned on, which displays a close-up of the villager you're talking to.
As you may be aware from interacting with real-life people, emotions and expressions are a huge part of socialising and growing to like someone — so it was pretty hard to connect with this Ludus-like cardboard cutout, even after we'd been married in a previous game.
Ludus' home of Twilight Isle, which looks like a re-colour of my own farm, is also entirely separate from Olive Town — you have to take a boat to get there, and no one ever leaves. It's basically just a holding area for future marriage candidates.
Windswept Falls and Terracotta Oasis are the same: although each of the new locations have fishing spots, there are no new items to forage or interact with, no new animals, no areas to explore... nothing new, in fact, except the characters, who wander around aimlessly and never leave to visit Olive Town, not even for festivals. There's little reason to visit these DLC areas beyond finding someone to marry, and whisking them away from their boring existence to live on your farm.
The DLC also offers costumes, which let you dress up the protagonist and the marriage candidates in fun outfits, but — and this really is a massive but — the DLC marriage candidates can't wear the costumes. Considering that the DLC candidates are the main reason someone would buy the DLC to begin with, it's quite the oversight.
To get the protagonist's outfits, you'll need to head to the atelier and request them to be made, and you'll have to do this one by one — opening the menu, selecting the one you want, having Karina tell you it'll be ready tomorrow, rinse and repeat. The outfits are mostly cute (and free!), and even though they're labelled as "boys" and "girls", you'll be able to wear them all no matter what gender your character is. However — and this may be personal preference — the cats and dogs costumes are hideously creepy, and the fact that you can't choose which one your partner wears (for some reason, it's pre-determined) just makes it worse.
There are some welcome changes, of course, like the fact that recipes now vary in the amount of time they take to cook, but you still can't cook more than one dish at a time. You can also dump way more materials into the Maker Machines, which is easily the best change of all, as it takes a lot less time to turn your 999 ore into ingots when you can chuck 50 into each machine and just forget about it.
But, honestly, these changes should have been in from the start. Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town may not have been quite as awful as Harvest Moon: One World, which came out at around the same time, but it was still lacking in a lot of the charm and soul that previous Story of Seasons games had. Adding DLC of old, beloved characters only serves to remind us of the fact that this is a pretty underwhelming instalment in an otherwise great series.
But, listen: if you've played a bunch of Story of Seasons games already, and you don't mind dropping 40 or 50 of your country's version of bucks on this game (plus 20 more on the DLC) just to give it a try, then go right ahead. Likewise, if you played the free demo and had fun, then that's great too! But, if I had to recommend a Story of Seasons-style game on the Switch, I'd recommend Friends of Mineral Town, Garden Story, Slime Rancher, Kitaria Fables and Cozy Grove before I'd recommend Pioneers of Olive Town.