"Fans of the series will love the chance to experience another adventure with Pietro... while PopoloCrois newbies are likely to find a 90s-style JRPG that features simplistic but fun mechanics."
Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is a new entry in an older RPG series that has previously graced the PS1 and PSP consoles. Return to PopoloCrois is a rather different take on those memorable, though not well known, classics, but still retains the charming characters and whimsical style the series is known for. Prince Pietro returns at the main character, but he's thrust into a world far from his own where no one knows of his kingdom or royal lineage. He and his friends are tasked with reviving a dying land under threat of dark forces. It's a classic JRPG story, but Farm Story looks appears to tackle it like a traditional fairy tale, where even knowing what to expect does not make the story less enjoyable.
Unlike what you may have assumed from the previous press releases and media, Harvest Moon-style farming is actually only a small part of Return to PopoloCrois. While you can engage with planting, watering and harvesting crops, they provide little benefit aside from additional gold or synthesis materials. There are no seasons in the game, but different locations are in perpetual cycles to provide different crops and growing conditions. The crops don't die either, instead they provide less materials or are worth less gold. I didn't get a chance to see the item synthesis in action, but materials can also be obtained from monsters and chests around the world.
The world of Return to PopoloCrois looks quite sizeable, made up of a large overworld and just under a dozen towns of various sizes. Combat is a major part of Return to PopoloCrois, and fans of the original RPG titles will quickly feel at home. All battles are turn based, and you have 4 party members engaging foes at a time. There's a wide range of unique abilities for each character: ranged magic, healing, buffs, debuffs, elemental attacks and weapon-based powers. Some have unlimited range, while others require you to close in on your target. You have a limited range of movement each turn, but there's no grid, and you can freely move within that range restriction. It was comfortable to use and allowed for a range of strategic options, especially when some arenas featured unpassable obstacles.
The overworld includes large and varied locales, though I spent most of my time traversing marshlands and lakesides. The visuals are charming, vibrant and colourful, but not technical masterpieces. Still, it's easy to enjoy the graphics as you run down dirt paths and through sparse forests. Dungeons are quite common too, though most are part of the story. Shrunk down via magic, you enter them through various plants and crops. They're self-contained locations that, at least from the one I had time with, are cleared by finding the correct path and defeating the boss at the end. Random encounters are fairly common both in dungeons and on the overworld, but combat is enjoyable enough that it was never a hassle in my time playing.
Fans of the series will love the chance to experience another adventure with Pietro, alongside returning characters Narcia, Gami Devil and White Knight, while PopoloCrois newbies are likely to find a 90s-style JRPG that features simplistic but fun mechanics. Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale will be coming in 2015 for North America, but XSEED currently "have nothing to say" in regards to a European release.