Whew! Been a while since I last spoke with you all about Return to PopoloCrois: A STORY OF SEASONS Fairytale, hasn’t it? Its release is still a little ways off, and we’ve had so many other games debuting in the interim that our attention has really been elsewhere.
…Or I should say, most of XSEED’s attention has been elsewhere. Not mine, though! Whenever the game’s name has come up at our weekly meetings lo these many months, I’ve involuntarily (and triumphantly) shouted, “POPOLOOOO!”, because this title is never far from my mind and I seriously just want to talk about it constantly with anyone who will listen. When it was brought up recently that we haven’t discussed it much on our Tumblr, one of my coworkers asked me if I had anything I could say about it… and the entire office just started laughing.
Because yes. Yes, I do.
Admittedly, I’ve already said a lot about this game, and even made some grandiose claims that PopoloCrois has literally changed my life. And this being the age of cynicism that it is, it’s only natural that a claim like that be dismissed as pure marketing dreck – as nothing more than an attempt to drum up hype in order to make a little extra scratch.
It really did change my life, though. My first large-scale translation project, before I ever even thought I had a chance of joining this industry, was a foray into fan-subtitling an anime series based on the original PopoloCrois manga, and this experience helped teach me so many valuable lessons about translation and localization that I absolutely would not be where I am today without it. It helped me realize the value of localization versus straight translation, got me thinking more deeply than I ever had before about the way simple changes in phrasing can impact a scene, and most importantly, gave me the confidence I needed to apply to companies seeking Japanese translation assistance. I owe virtually my entire career to PopoloCrois, when you get right down to it – and it’s interesting going back and seeing my work from that era today, as there are a lot of things I would absolutely do differently if I were working on that project now, but there are also a lot of translation decisions I made back then that were somewhat “outside the box” and have helped inform many of the decisions I’ve since made in my professional works.
But that’s not all PopoloCrois has done for me. The many tales of Prince Pietro Pakapuka’s adventures, ranging from manga to anime to games to novels, have been with me since college, and have been a real source of inspiration for me throughout much of my adulthood. One of Pietro’s defining characteristics (which is on full display in Return to PopoloCrois) is his persistent optimism, even in the face of the most daunting opposition – and as such, his story has always been one about overcoming failure, with a lot of the failure depicted in its pages being fairly drastic. This is some true Brothers Grimm-style fairytaling, where the consequences of one’s actions are often quite dark and, for a lesser man, potentially soul-crushing. Lives and livelihoods frequently hang in the balance and aren’t always happily-ever-aftered in the end, yet Pietro remains resolute through it all, following each failed attempt to set things right with another equally good-natured attempt, and continuing this until his inevitable hard-fought success. He never lets himself just give up, especially when the people he cares about are involved, and that’s something I continue to strive for in my own life as well.
And while he’s fighting for the betterment of his world, Pietro is also slowly building a very real relationship with the sweet forest witch Narcia, and the two of them couldn’t be more adorable together. Their romance is far and away the most genuine and innocent I’ve ever seen in a video game, and I love the fact that each of them desires nothing more than to protect and care for the other. Narcia certainly has her moments where she’s the damoiselle in distress and Pietro is her savior, but those roles do reverse themselves as well when the situation calls for it, with Narcia taking on the role of savior and Pietro the damoiseau in distress. In any good adventure, after all, the hero and heroine alike will face many perils, and it’s only natural that each will succumb to those perils from time to time, relying upon the loyalty and determination of the other for a heartwarming storybook rescue. And every time it happens, it feels genuine – neither character is treated as a mere “reward” for the other; instead, they’re kids getting themselves into fantastical trouble, but always being there for each other when they need a helping hand, no matter what. We should all be so lucky as to have someone like that in our own lives.
This all may not sound like much, but what I’m trying to get at here is that Return to PopoloCrois has what a lot of other modern RPGs sorely lack: true, honest-to-goodness heart. So many games these days rely upon convoluted meta-narratives to drive the plot forward, along with edgy protagonists and – if there’s real romance at all (which there sadly isn’t much of the time) – over-the-top sexual innuendo or tension. This can result in a good story, sure, but it often feels a bit “paint-by-numbers,” utilizing media trends to appeal to a wider audience even when they’re not really appropriate to the story. Rarely do modern games have “Awwww!” moments anymore, or bring tears to your eyes, or make your heart skip a beat.
Return to PopoloCrois is different. This is a true coming-of-age story in the most classical sense. It’s about adorably lovestruck children who are forced into adventures much bigger than they are, facing circumstances and consequences that no child should ever face – yet meeting them with a grace and positivity that somehow, against all odds, actually manages to work out for them in the end, and makes them better human beings in the process.
And ultimately, that’s the reason to play this game. The RPG side of the gameplay is nostalgic and fun, very strongly reminiscent of the 32-bit era in all the best ways, but it doesn’t redefine the genre or pioneer new innovations in gaming. The STORY OF SEASONS elements are addictive, and theme themselves into the narrative perfectly, but they’re not anything Bokujo Monogatari or Rune Factory fans haven’t seen before. And indeed, the story itself is very much in keeping with fairytale tradition, offering tons of great characters and spinning an engaging yarn full of magic and whimsy, but it’s certainly not going to be heralded as a pioneering Shakespearean masterwork or anything.
This is a game steeped in tradition, through and through, and it excels at it. But it’s also so much greater than the sum of its parts: it’s a work that’s truly reflective of the passion behind those who created it. Rather than playing it for a new experience unlike anything you’ve ever encountered before, I’d urge you to go into it knowing that you HAVE experienced something like it before… but not for a very, very long time. And you probably didn’t realize just how much you’ve been missing it.
There’s still a lot I could say about this game (I held off on noting any finer details so as not to spoil anyone!), but I think I’ve said enough for now. Next time, I’ll fill you in on what you can expect from it feature-wise, as we have quite a few exciting things left to reveal. Some of them have been mentioned elsewhere, but at least one has never been publicly unveiled, and it’s something rather unconventional that I’m super-duper psyched for, so I’m looking forward to sharing it with you all soon. (And yes, a firm release date will be announced in the near future too; we’re just getting all our ducks in a row first, so that when we finally do give you guys a date, you can trust in that date, without having to worry about it getting delayed or anything!)
Until then, do take care, everyone – and hey, bonus! Our overseas pals at Marvelous Europe have announced that the game is coming to European 3DSes as well (in roughly the same timeframe as our North American release), and have posted a snazzy trailer to YouTube to help spread the word. Check it out – it’s super-cute!
Happy New Year, all! 2016 is gonna be awesome!