If you said "PopoloCrois" out loud, even the most hardcore of JRPG fans might give you a strange look. Though the series saw its share of success in Japan through the late '90s and early '00s, we Westerners only received the 2006 PSP installment--which wasn't the series' finest hour.
On March 1st, we'll be getting our first taste of PopoloCrois in close to a decade when Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale launches for the 3DS. But in a year brimming over with huge RPGs for Nintendo's portable, this low-key release runs the risk over being overlooked. The title "PopoloCrois" won't turn many heads, and the more recognizable half of this upcoming release--Bokujou Monogatari, otherwise known as Harvest Moon--is forced to operate under the "Story of Seasons" moniker in the States thanks to publisher Natsume taking complete control of the brand and making their own Harvest Moon games.
Mixing Story of Seasons' life sim with more traditional RPG elements makes for a surprisingly great combination--see our review of 2013's Rune Factory IV if you're a skeptic--but this crossover didn't strike PopoloCrois creator Yosuke Tamori as a great idea immediately. "I was actually very surprised and a little confused when the [Story of Seasons] production side brought me the idea of this crossover," he says, "but the more I looked into their games, the more I came to like the warmth and humanity that characterizes them. I then started thinking about what could be done in a PopoloCrois/[Story of Seasons] crossover title, and it was pretty fun to come up with ideas."
Launching for the PlayStation in 1996, the original PopoloCrois seemed like a throwback to an even simpler time, when most JRPGs offered a storybook, Dragon Quest-inspired world full of cute and colorful characters--which may explain why the series never made it Stateside during an era when Sony aggressively courted teenage boys. And even though both series feature very different objectives, Story of Seasons' cute and cuddly aesthetic feels like the perfect match. This doubling down on a sweeter, more innocent ethos is no happy accident, according to Tamori: "Lately, I feel like the contents of RPGs in general have gotten more realistic, but this has also made things more severe and downright brutal in a lot of cases. By teaming up [with Story of Seasons], I think we were better able to convey the feel of a world that’s brimming with life, which is something that’s been sorely lacking from most RPGs. And I feel this makes the game world a lot more immersive for players."
While both PopoloCrois and Bokujou Monogatari began in 1996, it's safe to say the latter has been much more prolific, with nearly annual releases since its inception. Even so, Tamori has high hopes this crossover will bring new fans into the Popolocrois fold:
"In the PopoloCrois series, Prince Pietro has gone through a number of adventures himself, then passed the torch on to his son to continue his legacy. In Japan, it’s not uncommon for parents to play PopoloCrois games with their children, and I’ve even heard of cases where three generations in a family all become fans of the series. It’s really been loved by people young and old, and it has a charm to it that I hope will reach a new audience now as well and bring in many more fans. I’m also hoping that overseas audiences will carry on the tradition of playing PopoloCrois with their children and bringing the series into a new generation."