Oh man. Oh man, oh man. I can finally talk about it. I can finally talk about the game I’ve been working on these last two and a half months in secret. You guys have NO IDEA how hard it’s been for me not to say anything… not to spam links, or drop hints, or run up to the rooftop shirtless and howl at the moo– err, yeah. You get the idea.
But finally, the cat’s out of the bag. Return to PopoloCrois: A STORY OF SEASONS Fairytale is coming. On 3DS. In English. Translated and edited by me. And it’s no exaggeration to say that this is more or less a dream come true. Some of you are probably raising an eyebrow at that… but those of you who’ve known me for a long time, be it in person or online, know that I’m dead serious. Actually being able to associate my name with something PopoloCrois is both an honor and a privilege, as PopoloCrois quite literally changed my life and made me who I am today – no joke!
We’ll save that story for another time, though, as it’s… long. This time around, I think we should cover the basics, since I’m sure most of you aren’t as familiar with the name “PopoloCrois” as I am.
PopoloCrois is the brainchild of a man named Yousuke Tamori, who started the series as a humble manga in 1985 – one story out of several in a sci-fi compilation called “Fire Dog.” It went on to become a storybook fantasy serial centered around a young prince named Pietro Pakapuka who was born of a human and a dragon, along with his three persistent companions: a sweet forest witch named Narcia with a love of nature and a deep respect for all living things, a valiant White Knight eternally searching for a legendary sword, and a megalomaniacal genius inventor who calls himself the “GamiGami Devil” and wants nothing more than to rule a kingdom of his own… even if he has to build it from scrap and populate it with his own homemade robotic citizens.
The PopoloCrois manga saw numerous adaptations and spinoffs over the years, spanning everything from video games to anime to novels – most of which never officially came out in English, save for a single game on the PSP that felt kind of like a Cliff’s Notes version of two previous titles. So most Westerners are not especially familiar with the name, the story, the characters or anything else PopoloCrois, despite there being an awful lot of it to choose from in the Eastern world.
Fortunately, Return to PopoloCrois is like a new beginning for the series, basing its designs and character development off of the original manga and telling a brand new story that begins on the day of Prince Pietro’s 13th birthday – a year of his life that’s never been explored in any previous adaptations. No prior knowledge of any events from anything else bearing the name “PopoloCrois” is required to fully enjoy what this game has to offer.
And let’s just clear this up right now: I’ve played an early build of the game to completion, and it is VERY GOOD. Like, already-one-of-my-favorite-3DS-games-of-all-time good.
But… admittedly, I’m kind of biased. So let me try to explain why I love this game so much.
First, the story. It’s a simple enough fairytale, but like all the best fairytales, it doesn’t patronize the reader; characters react appropriately to every situation, they’re smart enough to figure things out when the player does (as opposed to “playing dumb” in order to prolong an obvious reveal), they have great interactions with one another (many of which really pull at your heartstrings), and they’re all written superbly well with absolutely no filler – cutscenes are refreshingly succinct, saying more in a few dialogue boxes than a lot of games do in hour-long FMVs. In a way, it reminds me of what RPGs used to be like back in the mid-to-late 1990s (what some might call the genre’s golden age).
Second, the world. Most of Return to PopoloCrois takes place in a totally new world called Galariland – and just as the story is succinct yet engaging, the world is fleshed out very nicely, and seemingly without ever breaking a sweat. There are tons of likable and fun NPCs everywhere, great side-quests that help develop them, sprawling towns that are fun to explore, beautiful vistas to behold, and a steady yet relaxed pace that lets you take it all in while gradually revealing more and more as the game goes on.
Third, the gameplay. Simple yet engaging, the turn-based RPG portion of the game is again highly reminiscent of the genre in the mid-to-late 1990s: easy to pick up and play and fun to grind, with lots of optional dungeons and optional content.
…Which brings me to the second part of the title: “A STORY OF SEASONS Fairytale.” I couldn’t imagine how the fairytale world of PopoloCrois would mix with the Bokujo Monogatari series, and was admittedly a bit wary of this game when I first heard of it as a result… but the two tastes really do go together like chocolate and peanut butter! Farming is a central theme of the story, and while it takes a while before you’re able to start farming on your own, it’s entirely justified when you are, and feels like a natural and completely integral part of the gameplay and story alike. Rather than coming across as two disparate ideas awkwardly glued together, Return to PopoloCrois really feels like one unified whole, every part working in tandem with every other part to create a gameplay experience where you’re never at a loss for things to do, and the rewards for doing optional content are both great in terms of gameplay and satisfying in terms of story.
And there is a TON to do: in addition to farming, there are animals to raise, items to synthesize, bugs and ore to find and collect, relationships to maintain (though fear not, fans of the Pietro and Narcia OTP, as these other relationships are strictly platonic!), souvenirs from every corner of the game world to collect and display, optional dungeons to challenge, and even StreetPass treasure hunts to undertake. The main story will last you a solid 20-25 hours, but the additional content can easily double, triple, or even quadruple that.
I… could go on and on and on, but suffice it to say, I really love PopoloCrois, and Return to PopoloCrois: A STORY OF SEASONS Fairytale represents everything I love about it in a nutshell. It’s sweet, innocent, heartwarming, sincere, fun, engaging, and about as cute as they come, and if you’re a fan of STORY OF SEASONS or Rune Factory, or even just looking for an RPG that’ll make you feel like a kid again, taking you back to a better time in gaming history, look no further.
I am thrilled to be a part of this project, and I hope I’ve gotten you guys sufficiently hyped to play it.PopoloCrois, as a game or even just as a concept, deserves every bit of love it can get. It’s all the good in the world, rolled up into a single universe.
We’re going to be displaying the game at E3 next week (on two separate 3DS stations!), so if you’ll be in attendance, be sure to stop by and give it a quick look. We won’t be showing off any major story scenes or anything, but we will have roughly half the game world unlocked and explorable (including four towns and two farms), most of the STORY OF SEASONS elements unlocked and available to play around with, and tons of side-quests all fully translated (roughly, though!) for your perusal.
And whether or not you can make it to E3, I hope you’ll give the game a look upon its release – and I hope you’ll be able to go back to it time and again whenever you’re in need of a good smile. If so, then I’ll know I’ve succeeded at giving this charming little tale a worthy localization – and nothing would please me more.
P.S. The creator of PopoloCrois, Yousuke Tamori, has his own Japanese-language blog, and it’s one of the most adorable blogs I’ve ever seen! If you can read Japanese at all, I highly recommend checking it out. It really speaks to how genuine a person he is, and is just a very charming site in general. You can find it here: http://www.tamotamo.com