Pleasant isn’t a word you hear very often, is it? Unfortunately, most tend to say it when they want to say something nice about someone, but can’t find anything more specific. “What do you think about Meredith?” “Oh, Meredith? She’s pleasant.” It’s a shame, because it should always convey a sense of general satisfaction and contentment. Something that makes you happy simply knowing it exists. Because then, it would lend much more weight to my saying Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is a most pleasant game.
Really, there’s no other word I can think of to describe this lighthearted, enjoyable, simple and upbeat endeavor besides “pleasant.” It always gives you warm fuzzies. Return to PopoloCrois is the video game equivalent of being walked over to a playpen filled with puppies and told you can cuddle with them for fifteen minutes. You don’t have to think too much about it, it isn’t taxing or terribly exciting, but it invariably makes you smile.
I put “fighting” before “farming” on purpose, as Return to PopoloCrois is first and foremost a JRPG.
Return to PopoloCrois is the story of Pietro, the 13 year old prince of PopoloCrois. On his birthday, he learns that another kingdom, Gariland, is in trouble. The land is growing dark and infertile. He personally agrees to check it out, because that’s the kind of guy Pietro is. He’s a kind, sweet boy who wants to help others. Granted, this decision gets him stuck in Gariland, forced to drive back evil and restore the goddess Galariel, but again, that’s fine. Pietro isn’t the sort to protest. He rallies his friends, then heads out to do some fighting and farming.
I put “fighting” before “farming” on purpose, as Return to PopoloCrois is first and foremost a JRPG. It’s a plain, enjoyable affair. You can determine encounter rates and difficulty at the beginning, but even the most challenging option won’t get you down. This is a very easy game, with the only difficulty spike coming at the very end. Even then, it isn’t so much a spike as a sudden hill; it’s easily managed if you haven’t avoided any fights throughout the game.
Except that might happen. Return to PopoloCrois has plenty of personality in its localization, with quaint characters happy to interact with Pietro, but the actual dungeons aren’t very engaging. There aren’t any twists, turns, surprises or puzzles. Each one is straightforward and looks much like the rest. Eventually, you find yourself running through each one as quickly as possible, because the enemies and bosses bleed together.
Which is a shame, because the battle system is quite lovely. Each encounter is turn-based with some minor strategic elements. You arrange your four-player party on the field on each of their turns, using standard attacks and skills against every foe. There are even environmental effects to consider, depending on the terrain. It’s probably the best part of Return to PopoloCrois.
As Pietro goes around regions, he’ll also get the opportunity to tend animals and crops. There’s one farm that’s pretty much a home base, and others near additional villages. This is a solution to what could have been a potential problem otherwise – the passage of time. Return to PopoloCrois doesn’t force people to follow a schedule in the way Story of Seasons does. There’s no day/night cycle or seasons to consider. You plant crops as you wish, getting an alert when they are ready. They won’t spoil. Different farms each have certain kinds of crops tied to them. You can go ahead and ignore farming completely, if you don’t plan to make recipes from extra dungeons.
Return to PopoloCrois is about going on an adventure where you know eventually everything will be okay.
This lackadaisical approach to farming perhaps proves to be Return to PopoloCrois‘ critical flaw. It’s a JRPG with farming elements, rather than a game that equally represents a farming and adventuring lifestyle. There’s a large audience for the game as is, but people who were looking at this as a Rune Factory replacement won’t find that same strong connection between the two fields. It’s possible to focus entirely on the RPG storyline and ignore the farming, but you can’t swap and make farming your primary focus.
This also diminishes the replay value, which is always an important part of a Story of Seasons game. You can play Return to PopoloCrois once, probably for 20 hours, and be done. A few additional events, quests, and cosmetic souvenir options exist after the ending, but there isn’t the same drive with this additional content. With Rune Factory and Story of Seasons, there’s a sense of longevity; neither are ever really, truly over.
The game is designed to be simple, and it revels in that. The story isn’t too deep. You don’t have to worry about crushing bosses or complicated dungeons. Return to PopoloCrois is about going on an adventure where you know eventually everything will be okay. Things are going to be fine. Pietro and his party can handle anything thrown at them. The world may be bleak and dark now, but color and light will return.
Perhaps that’s exactly why someone would, and should, play Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Season Fairytale. Sometimes, you need to play a pleasant game and know that everything is going to be all right. You’re fine, Pietro and his friends will be fine and you can take everything at your own pace. Smile, enjoy the people and world around you, and relax with something that might not challenge you, but will make you happy for a little while.