The PoPoLoCrois series is a series that, outside of a PSP remake of the first and third games released in 2005 in North America (a year later in 2006 in Europe), has been relegated exclusively to Japan. Originally starting out its life as a manga series decades ago, it eventually became a multimedia franchise that's generally been on the PlayStation family of devices.
So here we have the latest entry in the franchise, which just so happens to also be making a Western release. But this time it isn't just a normal PoPoLoCrois title, as it has been crossed over with the Story of Seasons franchise for its fittingly long title, Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale. So how does a title that has its roots in Japanese RPG mechanics mesh with the long-running farming franchise? That depends on what you're looking to get out the title, actually.
The game begins as the hero, Prince Pietro, is celebrating his 13th birthday. He learns about an issue of mysterious black beasts that are ravaging the farmland of his country. After finding a means to fight back against them, he sets out to find them but ends up falling into a trap and gets transported into another world called Galariland, where the beasts have already ravaged the land. So it ends up being tasked up young Pietro and his newfound friends to save both worlds and find a way back to his home world of PopoloCrois. It's a pretty simple and down-to-earth storyline, but it fits well with the whole fairytale motif the game has going on and is quite charming at times.
Similar to the old-school and more simplistic roots of the storyline, the battles in Return to PoPoLoCrois are your random, turn-based encounter variety. The twist is that your party member can move around a small field during their turns, with their skills and attacks having different ranges depending on their abilities. Most fights in the game are generally easy, though, save for a few fights near the end which some players may find themselves needing to utilize the game's difficulty slider. Thankfully there's an auto-battle option to fly past some of the more mundane battles.
And in terms of the dungeons, the game amusingly plays into the Story of Seasons angle by generally falling into the following pattern. You gain access to a new area on the map, which eventually leads to a new town. From there you'll generally find corrupted farmland that you'll shrink down and essentially "beat up" what's ailing the crops. This plays into the game's length nicely, as the core storyline only took me around 17 hours or so to complete without much padding at all to speak of.
Of course, though, this being a Japanese RPG and being tied in with the Story of Seasons franchise, there's going to be side-content available if you wish to partake in it. Prince Pietro can grow his own crops and maintain his own farmland in the game, selling the crops for money or synthesizing them for a chance at better items. Influences from the Story of Seasons franchise also comes in with additions such as bug catching and mining.
The latter is welcome since there isn't a stamina gauge present in this title like there normally is in Story of Seasons, where as with the former the crops grow as you're progressing through the game. None of this is necessary for completion as you'll make more than enough normally, but it's a nice extra for fans of the Story of Seasons franchise.
One thing carried over from Story of Seasons that feels quite odd in this title is the "romancing" option. Although since Pietro's relationship with his longtime friend Narcia takes precedence, it feels more like a fan-service inclusion in Return to PoPoLoCrois than anything else. Pietro can build his relationship with the five girls by giving them gifts and talking to them just like in Story of Seasons, but there's no real bonus outside of satisfaction of internally checking off that you did it.
Graphically, the game plays well into the storybook aspect it has going for it, heavily favoring a pastel-inspired look. There's an option to enable or disable the black outlines around the characters, which was a nice option to give to the player. Alongside the English dub is two different Japanese voice tracks, so fans of both languages should be happy. The music isn't exceptionally noteworthy, but it did fit in with the game's overall theme and didn't feel out of place.
Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is a game that fans of either genre will find a lot to like as a cross-over title. But due to the Story of Seasons content feeling essentially like additional content instead of meshed into the PoPoLoCrois framework, there isn't as much to entice newcomers who may be turned off by a more simplistic Japanese RPG.
|Story of Seasons fans will be happy that their game's aspects are carried over into this title.|
|The ability to change the difficulty and enable auto-battle is a welcome feature.|
|English dub and Japanese sub fans will be happy, as you have your pick of either in this game.|
|The romancing aspect carried over from Story of Seasons feels more like a fan-service inclusion than anything else.|
|Generally the game can be quite easy unless you ramp up the difficulty.|
|Even though the Story of Seasons content is good, it doesn't feel truly integrated with the rest of the game.|