My Time at Portia finds itself in a very opportune position: releasing far enough after Stardew Valley but still a year before Animal Crossing gives the game an opportunity to fill the void in which many simulation fans are currently stuck. But with so many options on the table, as well as the genre’s ability to create games that can be played seemingly forever, does Portia do enough to stand out? Or do the shortcomings of being an indie release alongside many established names hold the game back from reaching its potential?
As soon as you start the game, My Time at Portia should feel familiar if you’re a fan of the simulation genre; you’re the newest resident in town and immediately seek to establish yourself as a productive member of a society that unquestioningly welcomes you with open arms. You are introduced to your farm as well as a diverse cast of townsfolk you will be interacting with throughout your time in Portia. The first few quests also help to establish the various ways you can benefit the town as well as make money; from accepting commissions to planting crops, all the staples of the genre are laid out, and you are quickly released into the world to make your mark.
The biggest problem is, once the game gives you freedom to do whatever you want, there is very little guidance on how to do the things you want to do. Do you want to plant some crops? Great! You need a planter box. Do you have the materials needed to make one? Probably not, but you can definitely find them out in the wilds of Portia . . . somewhere. Portia has a fairly steep learning curve that threatened to derail my time with the game very early on. The good news is that, if you are willing to persevere and spend a few in-game days figuring out the parts of Portia that aren’t immediately apparent to you, you will come out the other side ready to start crafting and farming to your heart’s content.
One of Portia’s biggest differences from games like Stardew Valley is its main story. The game itself takes place some 300-plus years after a cataclysmic event that nearly ended the world, which is what brings you to Portia in the first place. You arrive in the hopes of helping the residents of the town rebuild and establish Portia as a thriving destination for tourists and refugees alike. The story mainly serves as a tool to explain the motivations of the townspeople as well as to explain the necessity for certain story-line commissions. Things like needing new bus stations and building bridges to reconnect Portia to the wider world all make sense contextually, but they mainly serve to make up the bulk of what you will be doing while playing Portia—crafting.
Crafting is broken down into two main categories: tools and parts you can immediately assemble at your worktable (which range from weapons and accessories to parts needed for larger assembly jobs) and larger-scale items that need to be made at your assembly station (which include machines to aid your construction as well as various structures requested in commissions). The bulk of your time in Portia will be spent either gathering materials needed to complete these crafting jobs or waiting for in-game time to pass, as most materials require time to refine into new, more useful ones. Naturally, as you progress, the materials and tools you need get more and more complicated to produce, which usually results in standing in your farm watching several machines count down to completion as you search for something else to do. Thankfully, Portia provides plenty of ways to spend your time while you wait.
Not only can you interact with the inhabitants of Portia in a number of ways, from gift-giving and romancing to personal quests and individual commissions, but there are also several mines to explore, all with different and unique materials to use for crafting. Time in Portia also progresses through four in-game months that represent the seasons, each of which comes with its own activities and celebrations. There are snowball fights in the winter and fishing tournaments in the spring, as well as the occasional town meeting and even regular church services on Sunday mornings. None of these activities are mandatory, but they will often provide useful rewards as well as opportunities to progress chosen romance candidates. Much like with other simulation games, these events are rotational and do not change from year to year, so once you experience them or reap all the rewards they offer, they can seem redundant or not worthwhile.
One of Portia’s biggest detriments right now is its indie-release nature. The game lacks the polish you may expect from established games in the genre like Animal Crossing. Load times can be lengthy, especially when you first turn the game on; characters can often get stuck when simply walking around the town; and attack animation can lag or slow the game down when too much is happening onscreen at the same time. The silver lining behind these issues is how regularly Portia is receiving updates and patches. Within the first week that I was playing, the game already received several updates focused on fixing things like load times as well as adding features like minimap icons and expanding which in-game tasks reward you with experience. The devs seems very committed to Portia’s success as well as to the feedback from its fan base.
My Time at Portia definitely feels like a game that was created by borrowing the parts of other games in the simulation genre and putting its own spin on them in an effort to stand out on its own. You will easily spot the influences of games like Stardew Valley, Fantasy Life, Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing, among others, but this isn’t a bad thing. These games have all established themselves as stalwarts of the simulation genre, and their influence should at the very least keep My Time at Portia afloat as it gains a following thanks to the additions it makes to an already-solid foundation.