When it came out last March, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the ideal game to weather a pandemic: It provided new levels of digital connection when people felt incredibly far apart from one another. Each day, there were new stories about events within Animal Crossing (I’m still sad Elijah Wood never came to my island). Slack and Discord communities sprung up to allow people to trade recipes, barter furniture and other household items, and find the highest turnip price every week. A friend of mine even held virtual book events within the game.
One year later, lots of folks are still grappling with Covid-19. For the most part, everyone’s existing within the socially distanced status quo. But despite the way it seems, things are very different in March 2021. The world feels a little less out of control, many of my vulnerable loved ones are vaccinated, and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I still find the style of Animal Crossing relaxing, but I need a little more complexity from my gameplay now. Hence my obsession with Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.
If you haven’t played a Story of Seasons game (or Stardew Valley, because that game is based on an old installment of Story of Seasons), it’s kind of like Animal Crossing, but with more depth. Like AC, Pioneers of Olive Town is what you make of it, but unlike that game, there’s so much to do. Once you complete the main storyline of Animal Crossing, you can improve your island and interact with your villagers, but there’s no more forward movement. It’s up to you to make your own story; it’s not really meant to be played in binges, but rather in small doses across multiple days, weeks, and months.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, on the other hand, starts out with you, the main character, inheriting your grandfather’s old, overgrown farm. It’s your job to get it up and running—this includes planting crops, repairing the barns (cows! alpacas! chickens!), and fixing up old bridges to access new parts of the farm. But wait, there’s a whole lot more—your farm is adjacent to a pretty sizable town. Not only can you go shopping, have a drink at the café, buy new clothes, and get a haircut, you can strike up friendships and even get married.
I can’t overemphasize the amount of stuff there is to do in this game—and that’s why it’s perfect for right now. If Animal Crossing: New Horizons defined the pandemic and shut-down life of 2020, then Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is the we-can-see-a-glimmer-of-reopening-hope game of 2021.
A year ago, Pioneers of Olive Town would’ve felt overwhelming. It wouldn’t have worked for me because I needed something to settle my nerves, and the possibilities would have seemed too endless. Now, it’s the perfect amount of engagement. I’m still anxious (that’s my secret, I’m always anxious). I’m not saying everything is good but it’s slowly getting better. I have the energy and ability to be a little more engaged in my gaming and to handle more complexity.
Also, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town can be as much or as little as you want it to be. Animal Crossing emphasizes reveling in the creative, and that’s incredible (and necessary—I’m glad it is the way it is), but not everyone’s brain finds long-term satisfaction and relief in that. At some point, I needed more than the game was able to offer. Pioneers of Olive Town provides that.
I should also add that, at times, Animal Crossing felt like busy work—the obligation to check in every day, to show up to buy turnips and then sell them (why were my prices always terrible?), grab those Nook Miles. I resented feeling tethered to the game by chores. Pioneers of Olive Town is compulsively playable—I’ve lost a lot of time to it, in a good way—but the time in the game isn’t tied to real life. I can pick it up and put it down at my leisure, and whether I’ve spent a day, a week, or a month away, no one is giving me a guilt trip for being gone (and my pristine farm is not overrun by cockroaches).
That’s not to say that Story of Seasons is better than Animal Crossing—they’re two totally different experiences, and it’s up to you to find which one works best. But if you’ve run out of things to do in Animal Crossing and are deeply missing that contentment you felt when you played it, if you need more of a sense of accomplishment in your entertainment, then Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town just might be your favorite game of 2021.