Anyone who has known me for more than a week can tell you that I am sucker for wholesome, ‘life in a small town’ games. Who can blame me? I grew up on the majesty of Harvest Moon in its prime. So its no wonder that My Time at Portia has commanded my attention since the game pinged on my radar. I had high hopes for a game that looked so similar to the games I was raised on and spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.
Basic cornerstones of My Time at Portia reflect Harvest Moon in the best sense: befriending unique villagers, gather resources, and building a family business back to its former glory. But My Time at Portia goes beyond this with a captivating post-war setting, innovative game mechanics, and a crafting system that would make my handyman grandpappy tear up.
I knew going into the game that character customization was an option, but I was very pleasantly surprised at the degree of customization that is allowed. Players can choose to play as a man or a woman. You can use facial sliders to change the size, shape, and position of various facial features. Hair, eyes, skin undertone, and lips are given full RGB spectrum customization.
It’s a pretty sweet setup. I created this pink cutie and named her Ophelia. Isn’t she charming?
After spending far too long creating my protagonist, I finally start the actual game. The opening premise is simple: your dad owns a workshop, you were never super close to him, but he left on a trip and is like “hey take over my shop, k’?” Once we have established that baseline, you’re released into the wild.
The simplicity of the premise that brought you to Portia does not mean that the overarching themes of the game are also simple. It is very clear from the beginning that the town of Portia is in a post-apocalyptic world. We learn that a few generations ago, there was a huge war that weaponized advanced technology and humankind almost destroyed itself. A very small portion of the population survived, and we retain little knowledge of the technologies we once created.
Portia is built on the destroyed ruins of a once-advanced city. The town seems to be a mix of newly built architecture and old pieces of ruined buildings. Nature has entwined itself with the architecture. The remaining aesthetic is one that feels very Studio Ghibli to me and lends a unique atmosphere of whimsy, nostalgia, and new beginnings.
As we play and interact with the townsfolk, we start to learn that we are in a post-great-war society. We once had great technology that grew so dangerous that we almost destroyed the world with it. We now live in the ruins of these technological relics. In Portia, there are two places with ideologies at odds with one another. The first is The Church of the Light, who preaches that these relics are dangerous and need to be kept from mankind. The other is the Research Lab, which recognizes that relics are dangerous but believe we can harness their utility for benevolent purposes.
The conflicting perspectives give My Time at Portia a lot of storytelling capability and narrative depth. Instead of an un-nuanced town, Portia establishes itself as a frontier town that is successfully rebuilding after the war-induced “Age of Darkness”. Meanwhile, the protagonist is the crafter who seems destined to help Portia rebuild into a new era. No pressure, though.
Crafting is the bread and butter of Portia, and with good reason. Your life in Portia revolves around your workshop. You are a craftsperson, the Ron Swanson of Portia. The easiest way to make money is by completing commission requests put up by the townsfolk. The crafting mechanic is in-depth, cool, and addictive. Schematics are found by giving data to the research center and allow you to build everything from a smelting station to a 3-wheeled taxi. And beyond, I presume.
I really enjoy the importance of crafting in Portia because it means that I always have a goal/objective to work toward. Not to mention the satisfying feeling of seeing the item come together piece by piece. That being said, most of my time is spent gathering the resources necessary to actually craft stuff.
Resource gathering will look very familiar to anyone who has played similar games. Most items are collected by mining, foraging, or monster slaying. In the early parts of the game, I probably ended up spending most of my time around trees. You could find me either kicking them into submission so that they drop honey or chopping them to the ground and harvesting wood.
Mining is another essential part of crafting because stone and ore don’t just dig up themselves in Portia. But that’s okay — mining is actually a pretty unique and fun experience that feels more like an archaeological excavation than anything else. Since the town is built on some sweet ruins, you better bet your buns that we are going to get our hands on some relics.
When entering a mine, the player is decked out with ‘relic finder’ goggles. Pressing L2 will enter the player into scanning mode, and underground treasures will be indicated by glowing orbs in the distance.
Then the player can dig their way to the item with their pickaxe by striking the ground around them. Think Minecraft, but with fewer cubes. As the player digs, every strike yields some kind of stone, soil, or ore. The result is a dynamic where you easily find basic building resources with the promise of something more – if you dig hard enough. If you’re lucky, you might even find an abandoned room with some loot inside!
Aside from mining and foraging, monster slaying is the 3rd most common form of resource gathering. It’s also the one that I end up doing the least, mostly because the monsters are a. dor. a. ble. Panda bats? Pink striped llamas? A pirate-rat prince? How can I possibly raise my sword against these little fellas?
That being said, the combat mechanics are pretty straightforward and simple. Very slash-and-dodge. But the monster designs of the game are spot on, each one radiating a strange cuteness that adds to the game’s overall Ghibli vibe.
Crafting and resource management are the meat of the game, but the real flavor comes from the townsfolk. Bringing me to my favorite part of any game: the social part.
The social mechanics of My Time in Portia are very well done. And before you ask, yes, there are romance options. The player character is able to choose between 18 bachelors and 10 bachelorettes, regardless of gender.
Classic elements from RPG/small town life simulators are present in Portia, such as gift giving, friendship levelling, and cut-scenes. However, My Time at Portia adds new befriending features I haven’t seen before, which thrilled me more than it has any right too.
For example, once you meet friendship milestones with one person, you gain friendship points with everyone in that person’s immediate social circle. Kinda like when your friend meets someone new and they start to get close with that person, so you start to get close to that person, too. The friendship bonuses aren’t necessarily massive, but they are buff enough to where it does have an impact on your bond level with the people it effects. It is a nice touch that fosters a feeling of connectivity.
Once you become decent friends with someone you can schedule social outings with them. The outings can be either platonic or romantic in nature, which is cool. You can schedule them with the townsperson a day in advance and receive friendship points for successful get-togethers. It really helps expedite the befriending process, especially with townsfolk who have unattainable gift preferences. They’re also super cute!
If you really need a break from the grind, you can also build those friendships by playing games like Rock Paper Scissors or by sparing. Sparing is a bit startling because ultimately the goal is to punch the other person until they like you more. But it seems like boxing is the town sport in Portia.
But do you want to know the real star of My Time in Portia? The real kicker? The unequivocal feature that caused me to fall to my knees, weeping, as my skin cleared and my crops were watered?
I don’t need to worry about accidentally giving whatever item is in your hand to a person. Gift giving involves selecting the social option to give a gift, then scrolling through your inventory to the item I intend. Never again will I accidentally gift a rock to someone because I forgot to take it out of my hand before speaking to them.
It’s so… so simple and yet… so elegant. So chic. My life has been forever changed.
In short, My Time at Portia has gripped my heart already, rendering me helpless to its charm. After three days of nearly constant gameplay, I have still yet to scratch the surface of everything that it has to offer. Portia offers hours of playability and earns a huge recommendation from me.