only a half portia?
Recently the World Health Organisation recognised ‘Gaming Addiction’ as a certified health problem, and as anyone could have predicted, the internet went crazy, with both sides of the argument throwing Tweet after Tweet at each other. The drama was tense, and the memes were juicy, for two hours at least, until the collective internet hive-mind inevitably moved on after Kim Kardashian decided to become a doctor or something. But regardless of which side you’re on, I think most gamers will have that one type of game that keeps them hooked; whether it’s Civilization’s “one more turn” mentality, or Ding Dong XL’s well paced learning curve, we as gamers all have that one type of gameplay loop that at least makes it seem probable that gaming addiction exists.
For me there’s only one type of game that makes me a believer; the social-simulation/life games. Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, all of these games that allow you to live out a whole virtual life with jobs, relationships, and a town to explore are my own personal video-game crack. And now I have a new game to add to my list; My Time At Portia – the building focussed RPG sim from ‘Pathea Games’. And as I started my journey, arriving by sea to the Portia Docks and looking up towards the town in the distance, that all too familiar dopamine high came rushing back.
If you’ve ever played one of these types of games before you’ll feel instantly at home with what My Time At Portia has to offer. I found particular parallels with Stardew Valley, so much so that for the first 5 hours or so I felt like I knew what was going to happen before it did. The first person you’ll meet is the town’s Mayor, who will give you a quick tour to your new accommodation – your Father’s old workshop. As is the case in most of these games, your house is a little run down, and apart from the initial quick mixup, you’ll be living in what basically amounts to a garden she for most of the early game. From there it’s up to you to meet all the townsfolk – or, “Portians” – and help them out with whatever problems or jobs they may come to you with.
Speaking of jobs, this is where I felt My Time At Portia really made a mark of its own. Unlike Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon, the focus here isn’t so much on farming as it is on building. There are avenues to farm in Portia, as well as several farming based mini-games, but the main focus is on being a handyman for the town. You’ll be able to take commissions directly from the town hall as well as from individual people, and then craft what they want at your workshop. Some things will be easily crafted from the worktable, while others require you to follow schematics at the assembly station – these items are harder to build but are required for most story missions. Depending on how many commissions you complete, as well as the time it takes you to complete them, you’ll be awarded points in the competition to become the best builder in Portia. Like most things in this game, the competition is completely optional, but I highly recommend trying to stay on top of it as it can lead to some really big rewards.
When you’re not slaving away over some garden bench or something, you might want to take some off and hit the town. One of the first things that struck me about My Time At Portia was how good it felt running around the place. The fully 3D world was a breath of fresh air after all the time spent with 2D games of the same genre. And whilst at first the controls took some getting used to, after half an hour or so I was freely exploring all the streets and back alleys of the multi-tiered landscape. The hills in the valley roll from port, to farms, to forrest, while the town itself sits as a multi towered structure allowing for greater movement in the 3D world, it really does feel right. Which is good, because like most of these games you often have to be somewhere fast – all the time.
“Either way, I felt I was spending much more time looking at menus than I wanted to. This may not be a problem playing with mouse and keyboard, but on the Switch it often felt cumbersome just to move a few items around.”
The Portians will all go about their day and if you want to get to know them you’ll have to know their lifestyles. Will you do yoga with them in the square? Play chess in the park? Go to church on Sunday? Go drinking with them in the evenings? The choice is yours; and whether you want to befriend, date, marry, or just completely ignore them is up to you. Each Portian has their likes and dislikes, and whilst they are distinct, I did feel like they could have had more varying personalities when speaking. Apart from a few cutscenes and events when you reach certain friendship levels, the default NPC dialogue felt like it could have gone further. As time goes on the seasons will change, and throughout the year there will be festivals and events to take part in with other from the town, as well as town meeting in the main square, where updates and key story beats will play out. I recommend checking your calendar for these days, as many of them will need forward planning. Portia’s your new home now, and there are some strange traditions here – best embrace them.
If you want to get a good start to your time at Portia however, you may want to hold off on making friends for right now, because like most games since Minecraft that decided to include a crafting mechanic, My Time At Portia is all about resource management. Almost everything you do, from making food to making money, is going to require some raw materials. Wood and Stone etc are the basics, but as you need to build more and more components you’ll inevitably have to go hunting for more. Most of the resource gathering isn’t anything new; from genre standards such as mining ore to make a better axe to cut bigger trees, to old classics like kicking a tree to collect what falls, there isn’t too much radically different in how you do it. What is new, however, is My Time At Portia’s unique take on mining. There are several pre-designated spots you can go to mine in Portia – old “ruins” as they’re referred to in game, are huge cavernous area in which you’re given a jetpacks and a pair of relic-hunting goggles. Here you can either mine stone and precious ores, as well as scan the area for “relics” of the past, some which can be used as furniture, or donated to the museum. The mining is one of Portia’s most unique takes on the genre and whilst it didn’t quite click at first, it quickly became one of the better “chores” the game had to offer. I’ve only touched on some of the main resource gathering options here but one thing to note about this game is that there are so many different items with differing uses that managing them will become a problem very quickly. The only way to do this is to build lots and lots of storage boxes, or spend money unlocking more inventory space. Either way, I felt I was spending much more time looking at menus than I wanted to. This may not be a problem playing with mouse and keyboard, but on the Switch it often felt cumbersome just to move a few items around.
Any good social-sim game worth its salt will run a fine line between telling a story, and letting you do whatever you want. The good news is that My Time At Portia does have a good story to tell, or rather stories, as the more you progress, the more character specific story threads will become available to you. The bad news is that there’s something about the pacing that just feels a bit off. Unlike veterans of the genre such as Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, the way Portia adds new quests and storylines feels a bit sporadic, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by everything when you first start a new save. The important thing is to keep track of which quests have a time limit, as you wont be able to go back to them later. It’s also a good idea not to rush, as when you progress through the main story you’ll start getting requests for more advanced commissions, and it might be better to take your time and build up your skills first. Spend time doing just about anything and you’ll gain XP, build up enough and theres an expansive skill set for you to explore.
My Time At Portia really does pull off a lot of what makes this type of game great, and when I pick it up it’s hard to put it down when I’m always planning out the day as well as what I’ll do tomorrow. But sadly, despite all it does well, there is one niggling flaw that prevents me from enjoying it as much as other titles in the genre; the Switch port is quite buggy. Everything from texture pop-in, to character models not loading in, to getting stuck on the terrain – the game is riddled with coding problems. Even some of the more straightforward things such as cycling through menus and using your tools can be extremely laggy, and in a game that’s all about managing your time throughout the days this can be very frustrating. It’s worth noting that the developers are actively rolling out updates to fix many of these issues, and to their credit they do seem to be focussing on the most important issues first; a recent patch did help with input lag and seemed to reduce loading times somewhat. However there is still a lot that needs addressing about the Switch port, and whilst the charm of the game helped me to get pass the bugs at first, the more time I spent with the game, the more they started to grind on me.
I really did enjoy most of my time with My Time At Portia. If you’re a fan of the genre I would definitely recommend picking it up, and if you’re new to this type of game it’s a great jumping off point as well. Unfortunately though, I am reviewing the Switch version and as such I do have to recognise the catch that the port just isn’t up to scratch. So to anyone considering a purchase I would say this; it’s an incredible game that is well worth the price, but I would recommend getting it on PC or console, or at least waiting for the Switch port to get a little more TLC.