Plowing Through the Backlog with Story of Seasons and Shantae

Welcome to Save State, where we make poor allegories. You see, we’re all getting older- it’s inevitable, and the largest constant on earth. So you work yourself to near exhaustion to make the money necessary to earn the things you love, only to discover you no longer have the stamina to enjoy them. I’m talking, of course, about farming games, where the best form of escapism is playing a game about the daily workforce grind, only to discover that you’ve been working so hard lately that you fell asleep on the couch before you finished brushing the cows. The first game up this week is Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, where you can also work until you pass out.

The Story of Seasons series is one of the longest running franchises in gaming, though it did have a name change within the last six years in western markets. The games were originally called Harvest Moon, but due to a falling out with the North American publisher the series needed to be completely re-branded. If you were someone who had previously enjoyed Harvest Moon 64, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, etc., then the series you would be looking for nowadays would be the Story of Seasons games. With that out of the way, if you had played any previous Harvest Moon, you’d grasp the plot of Pioneers of Olive Town quite quickly: Your grandfather passed away, leaving his dilapidated farm to you, and it’s your responsibility to revitalize the farm and bring about a new era of prosperity for Olive Town.

Games like Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town will generally have you grow crops, care for animals, speak to townsfolk to increase friendship levels, mine, fish, and more, then repeat. This particular entries has a literal ton of things for you to do each day, like many of the previous Story of Seasons games, but also fits in the ability to craft a large number of items, and customize how you want your farm to look like, as if a nod was made to Stardew Valley’s more open farm layouts. The customization of the farm isn’t as high as Stardew, but you can still place your crops, buildings, paths, storage chests, makers, etc., wherever you want.

The farm area you have access to is huge, and later in the game you unlock the ability to have fields set in specific seasons, so you can always prioritize certain crops for some late-game optimization. For the most of the game, however, you will be tilling your land and planting crops that are in-season to make your money. Crops like cucumbers, pineapples, and sweet potatoes are available to plant and harvest in different seasons, and you can also make money planting fruit trees, and you can even grow mushrooms from spores, flowers, and care for livestock. Some animals that appear on the farm can be domesticated, such as chickens, cows, sheep, even goats, rabbits, and alpacas can be tamed.

Caring for livestock is similar to past Story of Seasons games: You need a facility to hold the animal, so you need to fix up a worn down chicken coop or barn, after which you can also move said facility anywhere you want on your farm (strangely, by stuffing it in your pocket just like you would a chest). You can also acquire pets of different types, like a dog or a cat, and can find mounts to ride like horses, or even more majestic creatures like wolves or a unicorn.

Beyond that, you can mine for ore and rare jewels, fish, and develop relationships with the people in town to expand what the town offers. Each day in-game is reasonably long, which is useful considering that you’ll need to monitor your growing crops, care for your animals (milking, shearing, feeding, even walking and allowing them to graze), talk to villagers, craft new items, and continue developing your farm and placing things where you like them. Each day in Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is completely packed with things to do at a relatively constant clip- there’s always something to do, something to improve, or money to make somewhere.

If there’s any one negative that can be cleanly said about Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, it’s that there’s too heavy of a reliance on “Maker” type items. There’s over forty different makers, including the giant types that produce more of a good. Makers are pretty simple to understand- insert logs into a Lumber Maker to create lumber, which gets used in upgrading your farmhouse, repairing facilities, and more. Then you’ve got your Thread Makers which will produce threads from various grasses, which you can then feed into your Textile Maker to create cloth from the previously produced thread. In older Story of Seasons games, you could effectively rush for the seed maker and then make money a non-issue early on, but what makers you can craft is dependent on your individual skill levels, which you increase by performing your various tasks, such as reaping with your sickle, caring for animals, and mining.

Pioneers of Olive Town has some very large areas, and there’s really only a load time going from the farm into the town and vice-versa, but once you get a lot of things going in one particular area (a bunch of makers, for example), the frame rate can tend to dip pretty consistently, though this has dramatically improved via updates after the game’s release. While sterling performance isn’t exactly necessary to enjoy a laid back farming game like Story of Seasons, it’s still appreciated when it can manage to produce a reliable frame rate, though the game still isn’t quite perfect in this regard and some slowdown will occur.

That being said, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a great addition to the longstanding Story of Seasons series, and is a bit more laid back than the Friends of Mineral Town remake that came out last year, since this particular entry is a little less restrictive with how much you can do in any given day. If you’ve played a pre-2015 Harvest Moon game, or a previous Story of Seasons, Pioneers of Olive Town stands up pretty well alongside the upper echelons of the series. Trio of Towns is still my personal favorite Story of Seasons game, but Pioneers of Olive Town is extremely close in every possible regard, so I greatly enjoyed my time with this particular entry, and will be checking back as more DLC gets released for it in the future.

That being said, it’s time to get gentrified and move away from the farm for our next game for this week, Shantae and the Seven Sirens. Another entry in a longstanding series, Shantae and the Seven Sirens sees the protagonist and some of her motley crew from Scuttle Town go on a tropical island adventure on Paradise Island. The mayor of Arena Town comes up with an idea for a Half-Genie Festival, which is sure to bring in tons of tourists and revenue, but something goes terribly awry and Shantae is left to save both the day, and her half-genie compatriots.

The Shantae series is known for both its Metroidvania-style gameplay with a strong emphasis on platforming, as well as its cute titular protagonist. The fluid animation of both Shantae and her enemies lets you know exactly what’s going to be an attack, and what won’t, so combat goes quite swimmingly. Your primary attack is a hair whip performed by simply pressing Y, but you can buy magic spells like fireballs, spiked balls, or even a homing rocket launcher. The money you collect while exploring can largely be spent on upgrades and potions to recover health, though the game is easy enough that you likely will have no need to buy potions since enemies drop healing items quite often- in fact, enemies drop healing so often that it’s kind of detrimental to the game’s difficulty unless you choose to not use what the game freely gives you. Boss encounters are fair and quite forgiving, giving you reasonable openings to whip your hair back and forth.

There’s a wide variety of things to collect in Shantae and the Seven Sirens. Killing enemies has a random chance of dropping a Monster Card, and each card has an ability that upgrades something of Shantae- whether it means a spell dealing more damage, costing less magic, or letting you draw in collectable items from a larger distance, or something of that extent. There are also Heart Squids which give you a new heart container for every four you turn in (sounds familiar…), and Nuggets can be found all over the world which you can turn in for very valuable Boss Monster Cards, and more.

Almost every single room in Shantae and the Seven Sirens has some kind of secret, or something you’ll need to return later in order to acquire. The backtracking and exploration in Seven Sirens has been dialed up to 11, in comparison to Half-Genie Hero, so expect to retread older areas to find new things quite often. As you progress through the story of Seven Sirens, finding the other Half-Genies will award you with special dances, like the Seer Dance which reveals invisible objects, and the Quake Dance, which can shake rocks loose so you can find valuable items or collectibles.

One note that was made in my Half-Genie Hero review was that game was overly reliant on dances, which typically interrupt the flow of gameplay considerably in comparison to Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, which let you use pirate gadgets for smooth, quick exploration. Seven Sirens actually blends these ideas- dances get used considerably less compared to the previous game, Half-Genie Hero, but you can get Fusion Coins from the half-genies which let you transform instantly, without a need to dance, so there’s no need to dance and transform into a mermaid before jumping into water: You can just touch water and press down to instantly begin swimming as a frog. This more fluid gameplay is a godsend given how much Seven Sirens will require the player explore old locations for new goodies or key storyline items.

The primary boss den locations feature challenges that are surmounted by acquiring a specific power in the dungeon, and those particular locations are the most visually distinct in the entire game. Most of your time will be spent in the connecting passages that comprise the vast majority of the overworld map, as those are also the locations where you will most commonly be backtracking once you acquire a new traversal or power up that lets you bypass something previously locked away, such as not being able to dig through dirt until you acquire a drill power up that easily allows you to do so. There are underground volcanic regions, a ghost ship that sank deep beneath the waves, etc..

The largest disappointment with Seven Sirens is that the OST is a kind of generic chiptune for a lot of locations. There are a couple catchy tunes here and there, but given the undersea aesthetics for much of the connecting zones, a lot of the tracks in Seven Sirens kind of blend together, rather than forming anything unique or memorable. This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate chiptune music- Shovel Knight has one of the most amazing and memorable soundtracks in recent memory, and I love things like Pink Sand by EX-LYD, but the complexity or energy that would make a song memorable for me just isn’t present in Seven Sirens, and that’s effectively me justifying one big nit-pick, but hey- that’s what this column is for!

For the most part, Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a wonderful Metroidvania with great world design. Outside of an OST that isn’t to my tastes, and a difficulty curve that’s far lower than usual for the series (though this may have to do with Seven Sirens originally being a game for the Apple Arcade), the series usual competencies shine through very well and the incorporation of Fusion Coins to let you instantly assume animal transformations for the purposes of traversal gives this entry fluid exploration closer to Pirate’s Curse, so even with the reduced difficulty, Seven Sirens is an extremely entertaining Metroidvania, especially if it tickles your collector’s impulses.

That being said, this week’s Save State is now coming to a close, so it’s time to save and quit. Look us up again in a couple weeks when some new couple of games will howl from my backlog for some form of representation!

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