In this latest in a long line of farming-life games, you are once again thrust into the role of a young person who leaves the big city for an idyllic life of agricultural self-sufficiency, growing crops, chopping wood and integrating yourself into small-town life. Olive Town tries hard to integrate the lessons of its newer, scrappier competitors, most notably the mega-hit Stardew Valley; there’s more exploration and crafting, with a seemingly sprawling wilderness for you to reclaim and redevelop. But it’s hampered by technical issues that impact the game’s gentle vibe.
Both technically and artistically, Olive Town’s visuals have taken a leap forward from last year’s Friends of Mineral Town remake, and it looks just as good from both overhead and first-person views. This is best exemplified by the game’s loading screens, which showcase photos taken by other players – a great idea that deserves to be adopted by games with fancier photo modes. You’ll be seeing quite a lot of other player’s shots, because loading screens are both lengthy and annoyingly frequent, introducing unwelcome friction into the game’s otherwise laid-back flow.
As the days pass by, your farm will sprawl out over the landscape like some twee industrial blight. Being able to lay down paths, buildings and fencing on your farm is a welcome change from the limited template customisation of past games, but there are strange restrictions that would drive any serious homesteader to distraction. Weird space restrictions guarantee a strangely geometric estate that can’t incorporate your farm’s natural features, and to upgrade your hammers and hoes you must plop down dozens of aesthetically-jarring maker contraptions to help process your raw materials into something usable. It doesn’t help, either, that the game’s framerate nosedives as you add more decorative flair.
Much of these games’ appeal rests on their characters, and Olive Town has a pleasingly large and diverse cast. It’s rare to see explicit nods to real-life cultures in these games, so florists Linh and Grandpa Nguyen and the surf-shack family headed by Emilio and Manuela really stand out. But it takes a long time to make friends, so you’ll be stuck at the bland nodding-acquaintance stage until you figure out precisely which gifts to bribe them with as part of your everyday routine. The writing is pleasingly quirky, but a bit light, lacking emotional weight or drama – not that we necessarily need that from a cute farming game.
It’s disappointing that for a game about pioneering, there isn’t that much exploration or development. Once you’re done unlocking the areas of wilderness in your backyard, it’s hard to find longer-term goals that you want to work towards. There is the option to contribute materials towards town development, but this is superficial – it’s difficult to even see the difference in the new town hall’s facade, or to care about whether the road is brick or cobblestone.
Without the drive of something new and promising on the horizon, the daily grind just doesn’t have that one-more-go appeal that is key to the farming-sim experience. There have been big improvements to the game’s presentation and accessibility, and it remains warm, cheerful and inviting, but between the technical issues and the aimless design it’s difficult to recommend highly – even if it’s better than the newer Harvest Moon games.