I have never been much of a fan of the life simulator genre. Games like The Sims, Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing tended to hold my fancy for a little while before I eventually ended up going back to the RPG and shooter staples of my game collection. My biggest problem with games like that was that I was being forced to play them the way they wanted me to. For instance in The Sims, unless you cheat, you will have to work a job in order to not fail out the game outright. That means that a portion of your gameplay is doing something you don’t even want to do in real life in order to get to the part of the game that makes you happy. I never understood why a game that’s whole deal is you doing whatever you want still felt so restrictive.
So, when the part RPG/part life sim game Stardew Valley came out it shook me to my very core. Here, in one game, was everything I wanted. Sure, there were missions, but I could choose to freely ignore them. There were people, but I could ignore them too. If all I wanted to do was turn on the game and fish, I could do that. I could still make money and buy the things I wanted without someone telling me I had to play a certain way. It was a farm simulator where ignoring the farm was a viable strategy, and I loved it. So, when I heard that My Time At Portia was tapping into the same vein I just had to check it out.
Portia, A Place of Wonder
Creating a custom character is the first choice that is presented to you. It’s pretty bare bones when it comes to options, so I chose something pretty basic and moved on to the actual fun. The second thing the game gives you is a note from your father that sets up the game. You are the son/daughter of a character only known as Pa.
Pa has left you, feeling like a failure as a father, and has given you his workshop in Portia in the process. It is your job to build this workshop up into something really special. And with that, we have a plot. Fresh off of the boat, you are thrust into the world of Portia. What they didn’t tell you was that you are now the fifth best workshop in Portia, and all of the workshops fight over what jobs they get to complete for the island town. However, before I learned any of that, I punched a rainbow covered llama. This was the moment that I knew that this game was something special.
A Beautiful Post-Apocalypse
The land of Portia is a magical place built on the backs of what looks like an ancient advanced society. Within the world, you have The Church of Light that is trying to keep technology from coming back by destroying anything that calls back to the old world. The Research Center is trying to take the technology of the old world and incorporate it into their new way of life. The Civil Corps protects people from monsters while also mapping out the tunnel and caves for future use.
Then there are the townspeople in the middle that are content with their lives. You have people running shops, restaurants, apartments, and the merchants guild. You have teachers, wanderers, and fisherman. There is even a kid that was adopted and raised by a bear in a bath towel named Abu. My point to all of this is that, until the characters in Stardew, this game feels lived it. Schedules aren’t stagnated and the townspeople can be found doing random things like training with swords in the rain or having dinner in a restaurant. Portia is packed to the brink with people who all have interesting stories.
Talking to the people in Portia will open up several missions for you to do. These missions will range anywhere from making items for people like chest to stopping thieves from swindling your workshop from under you. On top of the random missions are big projects that the city assigns to you for Gols. (the currency in the game.) These assignments start off by building a bridge in order to get to a new island and slowly escalated from there. At first, these tasks seemed daunting with several steps going into each item, however, once you get the hang of the crafting system you will be flying through the creation of everything.
Golla Golla Bills Yall
These commissions grant you the Gol to pay for expansions to your workshop as well as upgrades. One of my complaints about My Time At Portia is that it isn’t clearly explained that the upgrades are even possible to the base and the work desk within. I mean it is technically written at the bottom of the creation screen, but when you are flying through menus in order to create objects as fast as possible you tend to ignore the small print. And, since no one directly told me to go upgrade my stations when they gave me a quest that was above my level, I ended up fumbling around while trying to figure out how to create a wheel.
Once you get started working on your new workshop you will start to see the immediate difference between this game and any other like it. In Minecraft, you can easily find the materials in order to build what you want to build. In Portia, you have a few more hoops to jump through in order to achieve the same items. Item creation takes several steps and multiple workstations in order to create the items that you need.
For instance, say you want to make a bridge? You first need to collect copper and tin ore from mining rocks. Then you need a stone furnace in order to turn ore into bars. You also need wood in order to fuel the furnace. Then you need to make a Civil Cutter in order to turn the bronze bars into bronze plates. That means you have gone through three big steps that all take time in order to get half of what the bridge is made out of. Did I mention that you have to do this twice just to make one bridge? At first, this seemed really annoying to keep switching between the stations in order to make one single product but the more I learned the process the more I was able to manipulate the way things were made. I also learned that you don’t have to have the items on you to use them in the workstations as long as they are in the chest in your workshop, so my inventory was cleared up.
Once you get into the grind of doing things in Portia, you will start to notice the stamina bar more and more. At first, you use it sparingly because you think of other games that penalize you for running out, but soon you learn that there is no real downside to using all of your stamina. Sure, you won’t be able to do any more actions that let you gather items but you can still create items for you to sell and finish commissions. This lead to me working in the morning and crafting in the afternoon. The game also runs on a softer version of the Stardew Valley’s time system. Essentially, if you stay out too late you will pass out in the field. However, this doesn’t seem to penalize you in the slightest as I didn’t lose any health, items, or Gol for the several times I passed out in the field.
Yeah, I Got Skills
Going back to the rainbow llama punching, combat is a pure joy in Portia. Unlike the stiff sword swinging in Terraria, Stardew Valley, Minecraft, etc, you are able to mix dodge rolls with a semi-fluid combat system. Weapons like swords, boxing gloves, and hammers string together different combos and allow you to break combos in order to dodge your opponent’s attacks. Using this I was able to take down monsters and villagers that were several levels higher than me. This brings me to the leveling system and how it plays into the world.
Everything you do from chopping down wood to chopping top-hatted bunny rabbits in half will net you experience to raise your level. When you level up you will receive one point to put into three governing skills trees. The skill trees are Battle, Gather, and Social. Battle gives you bonuses to combat, health, and stamina, as well as giving you bonus experience from combat. Gather gives you bonuses to mining and woodcutting. It allows you to get more material to work with as well as finding valuable items. Social gives you perks in dealing with people. The more people like you the more they feel comfortable around you. They might even like you enough to get married.
Social actions include talking, sparring, or playing a game. Certain characters like certain things, like a favorite board game, so they choose that as one of their social actions. Every character in the game, except for one, can be sparred with. Sparring is a weird system that allows you to fight people for Gols. If you win you get an increase in friendship level, but I did notice that if you lose you still get the increases you just don’t get the Gol. This system seemed the most out of place in the game as you could go from having a lovely conversation with a girl you liked, to beating her down in the middle of town. Even characters that seem nice have no problem punching you in the face. (one fight with a level twenty-six lasted all of thirty seconds as he kicked me one time.) My only real problem with this system is that they don’t explain why it is an option. Being able to bring the hurt down on the nice woman selling flowers just seems wrong.
Within the town of Portia lies several ruins. The ruins are categorized into Abandoned and Hazardous. In the Abandoned Ruins, you use a scanner to search for valuable items that you can dig out of the ground. You then use your pickaxe to tear through the earth, collecting stone and copper on your way to your prize. The Hazardous Ruins, on the other hand, are full of monsters. You have to clear several floors before being able to clear the ruin outright. The Hazardous Ruins is a great place to get high-level items and recipes for your character. Both types of ruins offer a look at the world that the game of Portia takes place in. Unlike Stardew Valley, where the Dungeon area is just a weird place that happens to have monsters in it, the dungeons in Portia offer you a glimpse at the world before it became the way it is now. It is a graveyard for the life that came before.
And The Town Goes Wild
Like all RPGs in this vein, town events take up a portion of your gameplay. Every couple of days you will be greeted by a letter detailing an event that will happen either that day or a couple of days from now. It is up to you to participate or not. For the first several weeks I ignored all of the events while I tried to get the hang of the crafting, but when I got a letter about a free present event I just had to join in. This was the perfect event to show off the scope of the game. Most of the characters in the game gather in the town square and wait for an airship, that is floating above, to drop presents from the sky. This wasn’t an easy event either as the townspeople ran to open the gifts soon after they touched the ground. If you missed a click than someone else scooped up the item. Of the thirty or so items that dropped out the ship I only managed to collect five. Events like this will keep me coming back for more, as I want to see how crazy they get.
These are all the things that made up my stay in Portia. And that isn’t even getting into the small details like how people take off their umbrella hats when they come in from the rain, or how the shops have inflation that depends on the day. The world of My Time at Portia is filled with mystery, wonder, and excitement. It just so happens to also be an amazing crafting RPG. While it doesn’t have the simplicity the puts me to ease about Stardew Valley, what it does have going for it is that it takes a bunch of good systems and improves upon them. The gameplay loop that it has created is both entertaining as well as rewarding. I wanted to learn more about the world, the characters, and the way they fit into the area around them. I know that I will be returning to Portia in the future, and I hope it comes to the Nintendo Switch so that I can take it with me on the go.
This preview is based on an early release copy of the game provided by the publisher.