Take a dash of Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon, a pinch of The Sims, a glug of Farm Together and a smidge of Zelda. Stir with an anime spoon. This is the recipe for My Time at Portia, a new life sim RPG from Pathea Games and Team17. But is the end-result more yummy or crummy?
At the start of the game you arrive in the town of Portia and start your new life as a workshop owner, after inheriting your Father’s house, manual and workbench. From now on you are given tasks that involve you building items to improve the town or help out your fellow residents. To do this you will need to gather resources, such as wood and metal ores, which you get from your surroundings.
Just like real life, time passes, although more quickly in the game, and at the start of every day you wake up in bed and are told how many days you have spent in Portia so far. The main menu has a calendar which shows you important upcoming events – such as festivals and competitions – each providing you with something different to take part in, and prizes to win. Also on the main menu is your inventory, the handbook – which shows you what objects you can craft (although annoyingly not the items you will need to in order to build them) – the status of your relationships with other residents, your skill points, a map and a place to put photos.
To continue with the cooking theme, my Time at Portia is not fast food. It takes a while to get into the whole experience – you first need to learn how the game controls work, explore your surroundings, and meet the other residents. There is a short tutorial but it is not very in-depth, and leaves you to pretty much figure out a lot by yourself – something that continues throughout. Expect more of a long banquet, where you get tasty morsels served to you occasionally; just expect to be eating for a long time as this is a game which will keep you entertained for months on end.
The surroundings are vast with plenty to explore – quarries, caves, forests, farms, beaches, the town’s buildings and abandoned ruins. Upgrading your tools (the likes of a pick-axe, axe and sword) will allow you to harvest more from your environment and unlock new items to craft. There is a strange history to learn about as well. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where civilisation has turned its back on technological advances; religion and science disagree over whether Portia should bring back archaic relics or abandon them to avoid a repeat of the whatever happened in the past.
You are also locked in a competition to be the best workshop in town, with prizes up for grabs at the end of each month. Taking on commissions from residents will earn you reputation points as well as money (in the form of ‘gols’) and strengthen your relationships. When your workshop reaches a certain level you can take part in the weekend judging of items crafted by other workshops which is a fun mini-game and earns you some bonus items.
Relationships are another example of what a slow-burner this game is. Unlike The Sims where you can repeatedly talk to another sim and get from stranger on the street to BFF in a few hours, building this in My Time in Portia is painfully slow. You can only talk to them once a day (and their replies aren’t exactly scintillating conversion) and you could waste your objects as gifts to butter them up, but there is little imperative to do this. There is no clue given in the game as to why you would ever want to make friends either, so this aspect of the game is something that is easy to give up on. This issue also pops up when crafting. To move the storylines along you have to make objects, which are often complicated and require different parts from different machines in your workshop. But, you can only make one thing at a time on each machine and they often take many game-hours to create.
Saying that, while you are waiting there are plenty of other activities to keep you entertained. You can explore, fish, fight, sell or buy items in the shops, play mini-games, get involved with town events like a martial arts competition, farm plants and animals, mine for relics in the ruins… I’ll leave a big gap here as without yet reaching hundreds of hours of gameplay there are bound to be tons of other things that are yet to be discovered.
As you progress you will level up and gain skill points, which you use to unlock and build up advantages in three categories: fight, gather and social. For example, you can choose to upgrade your strike damage when fighting or your luck when mining.
The fighting aspect of My Time At Portia is something unexpected in a life sim game but adds some spice to the mix. At the start of every day your character wakes up with a full health and stamina bar. Stamina decreases throughout the day as you run around, mine or fell trees. Getting attacked by creatures will deplete your health, but it can be bumped up again by eating food. The weapons and amulets you craft, the clothes you buy, and the skill points you earn can provide you with protection or increase your defence and attack. Also, as you progress and gain levels, or place furniture into your home, your health and stamina bars increase.
Creatures also have a level, and depending on the size of their health bar you may wish to upgrade your weapon or wait to level up before tackling some of them. Even so, I recommend fighting in the mornings as if you die and lose all of your HP, you’ll enter groundhog day mode, waking up in your bed that morning having lost any progress you may have made. But the more powerful the creatures are, the more they provide once beaten – which can be resources for crafting or uncovering the valuable relics they protect. Plus, in some missions you have to fight to progress so it’s not something you can always avoid.
There are hundreds of items to discover and pick up in Portia, so you will quickly run out of space in your inventory, which is annoying when it stops you picking up useful objects, especially when you are mining in the ruins. You can buy more space, or a cheaper option is to craft crates to place in your home to store objects in. This can become somewhat of an organisational nightmare though when you forget which out of your many crates you put an item in.
To progress in the game you need to craft more and more complex objects so you will have to pay to upgrade your machines or get awarded new blueprints from the research centre to build them. It is a little frustrating, however, when you want to craft objects but don’t have the machine or any idea when you will complete the correct quest to unlock it.
Other minor frustrations are that the loading screens when the game starts up or when you move from certain buildings are just a touch too long, and the information they show, though useful at first, are consistently repeated throughout the game. It would be a nice touch to change this up a bit in order to give a bit more guidance.
For all that said, we also eat with our eyes, so how does My Time at Portia on Xbox One fair visually? Well, the graphics are colourful and cartoon-like, but detailed enough for this style of game. At no point have I ever been left wanting more from the visual treats on offer. The background music is repetitive, but not intrusive, adding a sense of danger by changing up the pace in track when you come across a monster who wants to attack you.
My Time in Portia is a hugely in-depth and immersive life sim. Like all of the most delicious of treats, it is both satisfying and addictive; with so much to do and new things to uncover it is certainly an experience that will keep you coming back for more, long after other games have gone sour.