Return to PopoloCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale is a 3DS role-playing game based on the Japanese comics created by Yohsuke Tamori. The franchise has inspired a handful of JRPG titles, although I believe that Return to PopoloCrois has the honour of being the first release from the series to reach European shores. The game stars thirteen-year-old Prince Pietro whose kingdom is presently being plagued by an upsurge of Shadow Beasts. Shortly after celebrating his birthday, Pietro is duped by the mastermind orchestrating the Shadow Beast infestation and banished to the distant kingdom of Galariland. Stranded, in a foreign nation, players must aid the young prince in finding his way back home before the malignant demon responsible for his exile succeeds in consuming his country.
Just like Ni No Kuni, PopoloCrois is a twee RPG designed with younger players in mind. The cast of playable characters, which include a virtuous white knight and a devious moustached tinkerer, wouldn’t look out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon. Storytelling wise the narrative may be geared towards kids, but the gameplay itself will feel familiar to adults who gamed during the eighties and nineties. What we have here is a vintage RPG complete with level ups, four man parties, random encounters and turn based combat. It’s all good fun, although I suspect that ADD youngsters may struggle with the early chapters due to all the tedious walking. Thankfully things improve once Pietro’s party acquires mystical fairy dust, which allows them to teleport to previously visited locales faster than you can say “beam me up Tinker Bell.”
PopoloCrois’ battles remind me a little of Adventures to Go. When a random encounter triggers the action switches to a tiny arena containing Pietro & pals on one side and the enemy monsters on the other. Characters can be ordered to move/attack during their allotted turn in addition to using items. Apart from regular attacks it is also possible to cast a variety of spells by consuming MP. Combat is far from challenging, but if you aren’t confident in your tactical acumen it is possible to both adjust the game’s difficulty on the fly and set battles to automatic. Compared to other titles, I was impressed by how competent the AI is at managing your units. It does a good job of healing injured characters and it doesn’t exhaust MP by needlessly spamming special attacks. Computers are so brainy these days… I fear the time when Skynet enslaves us all is drawing near!
My rating for Return to PopoloCrois is three stars. Like other titles in the Story of Seasons series (formerly branded as Harvest Moon) PopoloCrois allows players to partake in farming, even if the agriculture on offer is rather simplistic. Growing crops simply requires that you till the fields, plant seeds, water the soil and wait. After a while I gave up on farming, as it was too basic for my tastes and I disliked having quests interrupted with constant pop-ups notifying me that my turnips were ready to reap. Like other Harvest Moon spin-offs, PopoloCrois also allows players to woo a bevy of ladies. Maxing out a girl’s friendship meter will reward you with certain bonuses, but be aware that you cannot marry anyone. Pietro is much too young after all and the adulterous little git already has a girlfriend.
Ultimately my first impression of a PopoloCrois game is good, but could be better. Although the gameplay lacks the depth I expect from a modern JRPG, I did find the cell shaded graphics and brief animated sequences to be charming. Audio wise the background tunes are suitably cheery, if not particularly memorable. For the most part the English voice acting is fine, albeit lacking in enthusiasm during moments when characters yell out the name of their special attacks. Thankfully the option to toggle the original Japanese dub does exist. If you seek a portable game that blends JRPG action with farming my first suggestion would be Rune Factory 4. PopoloCrois is however a good alternative for younger gamers or anyone who prefers shorter RPGs (if you focus exclusively on mainline quests the story can be completed within fourteen hours.)