Living the Crafter’s Dream in My Time at Portia

It’s the same old story — life is hard, time to move to a new town and start over.  The difference is that this time, instead of farming, My Time at Portia features a tinkerer starting off with little more than a run-down shack and a friendly village populated by unique residents with a large variety of items they’d like to have built.  Basically it’s Harvest Moon with crafting, but in a setting influenced in look, if not attitude, by Hayao Miyazaki.  The great cataclysm came and went, people survived, and the world healed.  My Time at Portia is a bright, optimistic game, determinedly all-ages, and has a multi-hour demo available to back up its Kickstarter campaign.

When you arrive in town after creating your character (male-only at the moment) all he’s got is two hands and a house that’s seen better days left to him by his world-traveling father.  Seeing as your father was a craftsman just like you intend to be the place comes with a staging area to create larger items and a crafting table for the smaller ones, and while it’s nowhere near all you’ll need it’s a good start.  A friendly town official gives you a few tasks to get you started, and then it’s time to find your place in the village.

The introductory work is pretty simple, and if you know what you’re doing you can knock the tutorial tasks out during the first in-game day.  There are holes in the house’s floor that need to be patched up, otherwise you start each day with less than a full bar of stamina.  Stamina is how much energy you’ve got for tasks like chopping wood, mining, fighting the monsters wandering the landscape, or even sparring with the villagers.  With as much work as there is to do in a day even a full stamina bar can drain quickly, so getting a good night’s rest is important.  The holes are patched with wood but you’ve initially got no tools, so need to pick up sticks for wood and rubble for stone to begin with.  A quick bit of scavenging and you’ll have enough for a basic set of crude tools, an axe and a pick, and then you can get some real work done.

While the initial set of tools is barely adequate for the job, they can at least get you started harvesting resources for something better.  Rock and wood combine to make a smelter, which turns metal into ingots and stone into brick.  Ingots are necessary to create sawblades for the woodcutter, which turns wood into boards.  Ingots can also be crafted into metal plates and pipes, which allow you to build a skinning station for cloth and leather and a grill to cook stamina-replenishing food on, respectively.  While things you build at the crafting table are created instantly, it takes a fair amount of time for the automated systems of cooking, weaving, and forging to produce results, and I found it handy to eventually build a couple stations of each to either divide a job among multiple units or allow multitasking between quest item creation and jobs from the daily work board.

You can take a single job a day from the board in the town hall, and it’s the major source of cash in Portia.  The various stores in town will buy anything, but for the most part it’s pocket-change compared to the couple hundred you can make a day with even the lowest-ranked jobs.  Knock down a pile of trees, turn them into the requested storage units, and that’s 200G or more fairly earned.  Of course, it costs 1500G for the first land expansion, stamina-enhancing clothes are easier bought than made at the beginning, and upgrading the work table to be able to create bigger and better things not only requires 2000G but also items needing better tools than the original set is able to acquire.  Basically, there’s a lot to work towards, and while the going might be a bit slow it’s also steady and there’s always something to do that puts you a step closer to the next goal.

While the core gameplay of My Time at Portia is its crafting system, it’s not overly-focused on the one aspect.  You’re left to determine your own speed as to whether you want to focus on the work or walk around town, meet the people and try to befriend them, head out fishing, or beat on monsters.  The mailbox outside your house sometimes brings notifications of town meetings or events, and other days it’s just nice to poke around and look at the scenery.  The town and its surrounding area has some very nice vistas, and it’s going to be fun to see what some of the bigger ruined buildings in the background turn into as the game progresses through its development cycle.  The demo is labeled as an alpha, which means it’s got the basics in place but there’s a lot of room to grow.

The demo for My Time at Portia showed off a truly special crafting/life-sim game, with a beautiful style bringing a charming and comfortable world to life.  There’s good design work everywhere you look, from the townspeople running about their daily routines to the world inspired by the designs of Hayao Miyazaki (any game that references Future Boy Conan has my attention).  There’s work to do in terms of tweaking what’s available, with combat being overly simplistic and the character of Antoine in particular needing a complete makeover to not come across as a painfully-feminine gay caricature.  That’s what the Kickstarter is for, though, and at the time of this writing it’s cleared 50% of goal just sightly ahead of the halfway mark.  The demo is a giant chunk of game, easily taking over eight hours to clear, and when I’d seen everything it had I still wanted more.  My Time at Portia has huge potential to be the next major life-sim adventure, packed with crafting, socialization, mini-games, combat and a bright, lively world to settle down in.