Preview: Return to PopoloCrois is really a return to Rune Factory

It’s okay to be flummoxed by Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale. It’s a pretty confusing game. From the unexpected resurrection of a classic JRPG series, to the whole Story of Seasons/Harvest Moon affair, it’s easy to wonder what exactly is going on with this entry. Let’s make it easy for you. Return to PopoloCrois is a lot like Rune Factory.

Let’s start with the first curious part of this odd equation; let’s talk about PopoloCrois. The first game, PopoloCrois Monogatari, was originally released on the PlayStation back in 1996. It eventually came to North America with PopoloCrois Monogatari II as PopoloCrois for the PlayStation Portable. Each story follows Pietro, the prince of the Popolocrois Kingdom, as he goes out on quests to protect people he loves, make friends, and save the world. This is usually done with his sort-of girlfriend, a young forest witch named Narcia.

While some of the series’ later stories can be somewhat dark, they’re usually relaxing, colorful, bright adventures with a hero who genuinely cares about everyone around him. A good-natured, innocent boy sets out on a low-key adventure that’s lighthearted and heartwarming. Think of it as being similar in tone to Ni no Kuni. Return to PopoloCrois is set between the first and second “books” in the PSP release.

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With Return to PopoloCrois, Pietro learns another kingdom is in trouble on his 13th birthday. A representative from that kingdom, known as Gariland, came to the celebration. Once he heard of the plight people were facing, and how Popolocrois was starting to suffer the same ill effects, he volunteered to visit this other land to do what he could to help. Once he arrived, he finds he’s unable to get back.

Once Pietro arrives in Gariland, the Story of Seasons elements shine through. (Or Harvest Moon, if you’d prefer.) The Goddess Galariel is nowhere to be seen, and Pietro and his allies are the only ones capable of bringing her back. Think of her as the Return to PopoloCrois equivalent of the Harvest Goddess. This is accomplished by conquering dungeons to reclaim and save contaminated lands, while also enjoying some light farming.

Don’t worry; farming isn’t the real focus. Pietro does get his own place, where he can grow plants and raise animals, but there are limitations in effect. You only have access to chickens (cuckottes), cows (sumoos) and alpacas (pacapacas). Also, his home and the other farms he can tend are tied to specific climates and seasons. This limits the kinds of crop that can be grown.

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Relationship building isn’t as extensive either. Instead of one village’s worth of people to befriend, there are a number of heroines to visit in each town. They’re each blessed by Galariel, and while I haven’t become close enough to any to see what kinds of boons result from making friends with them, Pietro will enjoy benefits by becoming close to these specific characters.

Not that he has to. As mentioned earlier, it’s best to think of Return to PopoloCrois as a Rune Factory title. The farming is incidental. The products you can end up crafting with your crops and money you end up making from farming the land certainly help in your quest, but they’re a supplemental bonus. The primary focus is defeating bosses to Gariland fertile again. You can get the levels and equipment needed to save the day just through dungeon-crawling.

The battle system is different from what Rune Factory fans have come to expect, however, This is a strategic, turn-based JRPG. Four party members will join Pietro in battle, with each taking turns to attack or use skills. You’re able to see each one’s attack range in a fight, making it easy to determine how everyone should be situated.

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Still, any similarities are welcome. Neverland Co. Ltd, the developer of the Rune Factory series, filed for bankruptcy in 2013. While Marvelous AQL hired the team behind the Harvest Moon/Story of Season spin-off, they last worked on Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven. Return to PopoloCrois could very well be our only means of enjoying an adventure that allows us to fight and farm at the same time.

Return to PopoloCrois isn’t all that unusual, once you break it down. It’s more familiar than you’d expect. It’s essentially Rune Factory with a different battle system and more rudimentary farming system. The similarities to Story of Seasons are clearly there, to help make people more comfortable, while the PopoloCrois trappings add a sense of purpose. It’s more familiar than you’d expect.

Return to PopoloCrois will come to the Nintendo 3DS on March 1, 2016.

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