From an outside perspective, it can be hard to see the point of “life simulation” games, like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon. I spend all day working and doing chores and talking to people, why would I want to spend my leisure time doing more of the same? Part of it has to do with how relaxing those games are, sure, if I had a stressful day at work then doing a low-risk, repetitive task like virtual farming is a nice way to cool down. There’s more than that, though. Accomplishing some fantastical task like dragon-slaying or royalty-rescuing is great and all, but it’s not something we can relate to. Doing something humanly possible, though, like building a house or raising a garden… that lets us feel more connected.
I don’t know how true that is for everyone, but there’s a definite appeal to games like My Time at Portia, where a protagonist lives in a semi-ordinary world and does semi-ordinary things. You can talk to people, grow crops, fight monsters, and do odd jobs for the townsfolk. Regular, everyday stuff. Comparisons have been made to Stardew Valley, but past the general style of game, I don’t think that’s completely accurate. There’s similarities, sure, there’s mines and farming and socializing, but they’re done very differently.
Your character in Portia is a builder, and their job mostly revolves around creating various objects and mini-structures for the town. The game drops you off with a nice tutorial mission: you have to first craft an axe and pickaxe so you can efficiently mine stones and wood, introducing you to foraging, crafting, and mining. After that, you have to use the assembly station to create a furnace, which teaches you assembly and smelting. Quick, elegant, and teaches you some of the most important skills of the game.
Unfortunately, the same can’t necessarily be said for the period right after. Some games have the problem of hitting you with too much stuff to do at the start, which is overwhelming, and others have the problem of limiting what you can do at the start, which is tedious. My Time at Portia somehow does both, giving you a set path for the first three or four hours before finally opening up, with that path requiring a lot of resources to complete. It’s not as bad as most games that either give you too much or too little to do, but it’s an odd mix that does color the first few hours of the game.
Getting through it, however, is definitely worth it, because My Time at Portia is awesome. There’s a main storyline that gets told through a series of missions, but in traditional RPG fashion, you can pretty much do it at whatever pace you want. In the meantime, the world is fairly open and expands at a decent enough rate, so there’s a lot you can do. Most townspeople will offer you missions to do for money, exp, and relationship points, and you can pick up commissions to do as well, where you’ll be tasked to build some project usually within a certain time limit. The best comparison I can think of is Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, where you get a main questline and pick up other, smaller missions in the meantime.
Of course, in order to complete these missions, you’ll need to get the right resources for them. The most basic resources, wood and stone, can be found on the overworld, with trees and rocks respawning every few days or so. As you upgrade your axe and pick, you’ll be able to cut bigger trees and quarry more rocks, getting you rarer and more important materials you’ll need later in the game. There’s also mines, where you can get ores that are necessary for a majority of the recipes in the game. Better ores let you upgrade your tools, which in turns let you get even better stuff. The progression system is very smooth, I was able to upgrade all my stuff around the same time I needed to, there was never any progress-stopping grinding to get more stuff because I absolutely had to upgrade but couldn’t. This is aided by the fact that there’s always plenty to do, if you don’t have something you need to complete a mission, you can always do another and maybe you’ll find what you need along the way.
There’s more to it than mining and crafting, though. We’ve already got a game for that. Sadly, when I say there’s more too it, there might be a little too much more to it. There’s socializing and fishing and growing crops and doing dungeons and fighting monsters and side questing and god damn, you might not have the time for all of it. This isn’t really a bad thing, “too much stuff” is a lot better than “too little stuff”, but I did not spend a lot of time fishing or socializing or even growing crops for a long time because I was too busy with everything else. Variety is one thing, but I found this more overwhelming than anything.
Combat is about par for the course for these kinds of games, just click on your enemies until they die. There’s some weapon variety, but since combat isn’t really the focus, almost all your attacks boil down to “click them until they poof”. You do get a sick dodge roll though, so that’s a lot of fun. Enemies have a wide variety of drops, but since you don’t really know which are useful and which aren’t in the early-game, they can fill up your limited inventory quick and you’ll have to determine what’s worth getting rid of to take something else instead.
The dungeons are fairly basic, which is fine because they’re not the main focus, you go through a few floors fighting monsters and looting chests. Sometimes there’s puzzles, sometimes there’s platforming, and sometimes the game does this:
Yeah, part of the dungeon didn’t load in and I fell through the floor. I had to restart not only the dungeon, but the whole day, which wasn’t too long but it’s a little bit incredibly frustrating. To be fair, the code I got for the game wasn’t for the final alpha version and not the first full version, and I was warned that there might be some bugs, but I’m reviewing the game I got, not the game that it might become. This kinda sucks.
Fortunately, there weren’t too many issues. There were some stutters here and there, which could be blamed on my computer, and a couple cutscenes didn’t play sound properly, but it’s certainly playable. Maybe they’re patched, maybe they’re not, but beyond void dungeons, nothing will hinder you too much.
That aside, My Time at Portia is a really solid time waster. The progression is great, the music complements the game really well (despite not being the most varied), and there’s a lot of stuff to do. I’ve gotten to the point of planning out what I want to make and what stuff I need to get in what order on a notebook in real life and I love it, it’s been a while since a game had me doing that. Many hours have already been lost to My Time at Portia, and I’m looking forward putting in even more.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A review code was provided.
Tries to do a whole lot and doesn't do it all perfectly, but certainly doesn't fail either.
Max is a student at Rutgers who likes writing fantasy and playing video games such as Zelda, Mario, Undertale, Earthbound, and Stardew Valley.