Are you a console gamer looking for a relaxing crafting game that provides hundreds of hours of entertainment draped in a sugary layer of primary colours and soft melodies? If so, then My Time At Portia might be the game you’ve been waiting for. Set in the titular town of Portia, this Harvest Moon style work simulator pushes a lot of the right buttons.
My Time At Portia is a game that reveals its secrets very, very slowly. It’s the kind of game that is a nightmare to review because you simply never know when you’ve seen enough of it for it to be an appropriate time to start writing. In my case, I’ve played about twenty hours on the Xbox One, which is enough for me to have seen several seasons, upgraded my workshop, invested in numerous relationships and attended several events — but I haven’t seen anywhere near all of what My Time At Portia has to offer.
At the outset, My Time At Portia replicates the opening scenes of almost every other game in the same genre. From Harvest Moon to Stardew Valley, incorporating Animal Crossing and every other similar game along the way, This game opens with the classic “letter from dad” that ultimately leads to our self-generated character inheriting a dilapidated workshop. The following ten hours share a similar pattern, which for me, represents the greatest challenge in My Time At Portia.
Frankly, these opening hours are a slog. You’ll collect wood and stones in the town of Portia to build basic processing stations like smelters or cutting stations, then you’ll mine. Hacking ore and mysterious artifacts from the ground is perhaps the single most boring thing about My Time At Portia, but it’s a key part of the opening hours and it offers a glimpse of some of the games more interesting features — unlocking new blueprints as the result of researching ancient knowledge, for example.
Anyone who has played one of these “work simulation” style games in the past will be very familiar with this part of the game. It’s really all about understanding how the basic systems work and to be fair, My Time At Portia does it well enough. All blueprints that a player has access to are stored in a compendium at their workshop. When opened, these blueprints can be thumbed through in quite a nice, visual way that shows the chain of components that need to be crafted to make the object in question.
For example, if you want to build a cloth cutting machine, you’ll need various bits of wood, stone and metal, all of which are shown on the blueprint in their various stages of processing — from ore to copper to pipes. This visual flow works well, once you understand My Time At Portia’s symbology, which is in itself quite clear and accessible.
Unfortunately, once a blueprint is selected, it then becomes necessary to add individual components directly to the design as it sits on the production line, which can be quite fiddly on console due to the control scheme. What would have worked precisely with a mouse and keyboard becomes a precision job on console, as the player character must be moved into exact positions to add components to designs. This problem persists into other areas of the game as well, such as when attempting to place furniture or other objects.
Other aspects of the conversion to console have been more successful, at least when My Time At Portia is played on an Xbox One X. Performance on Nintendo Switch feels likely to take a bit of a hit, seeing as the Xbox One version has clearly been pared back somewhat compared to the PC original. Graphics are lower resolution, for example, and pop up is fairly frequent when traversing some of My Time At Portia’s more open areas.
On that note, Portia is not only the town that resides at the heart of My Time at Portia, but it’s also the centre for almost all activities that the player will be involved in. Relationships with the other townsfolk are crucial to success in My Time At Portia and players have the ability to romance all adult characters of either sex, which is an appropriate nod to inclusivity. Actually building meaningful bonds is a different matter, thanks to the extremely time consuming nature of it.
As always in games that feature these abstracted relationship models, gifts are the best way to secure the favour of a possible match, but it’s also possible to edge up your friendship level simply by speaking often. My Time At Portia includes the pleasant feature of being able to play Paper, Stone, Scissors or a Connect 4 style game (that might be called Connect 5, were it not for potential copyright issues) with some NPC’s, whilst others will spar with the player to help them increase in level. Marriage is ultimately possible, but I’ll admit that I’ve not gone beyond that personally.
With regards to the RPG elements, My Time At Portia actually offers a more complete experience than most of its peers. There are three trees to consider, which broadly include fighting, gathering and social skills. Players can add points into these areas each time they level up and each tree has many skills that are unlocked as the player adds points into the skills below them. In summary, this means that players can specialise heavily or work on a more general approach, enabling something for min-maxers and average players alike.
Although the opening hours are relatively uninspiring and fairly repetitive, My Time At Portia does begin to open up. As the player gains experience, both directly by increasing their workshop level and their access to tools, and indirectly through an inherent increase in understanding how this world works. This is due to the genre staple that is discovery — the more you explore the world of My Time At Portia, the more of its secrets it will reveal to you.
Even though I feel that I have invested a significant amount of time into My Time At Portia, I am acutely aware that this is a game which will soak up many more hours of my life if I allow it to. The sad thing is that I’m not sure that I want to make the commitment to yet another game that feels so similar to several others that I’ve already played.
During the past four or five hours, I’ve had more access to more and more powerful processing equipment and some of the story elements have begun to emerge, but even so, the mid to late game look likely to meander on rather than pick up pace. With all of that said, My Time At Portia is still an excellent work simulator that lacks none of the features you’d expect it to have. It has a few new ideas of its own, but they are relatively few and amount mostly to iterations on the norm.
In short, if you enjoy this kind of game and you want to explore a large, attractive world that has a fair bit of character and some neat ways to expand upon the tried and tested gather-process-construct loop, then you could do a lot worse. I wish My Time At Portia was better streamlined for consoles and that it had multiplayer support, but overall, it’s a nice addition to the genre.