by Joel France
reviewed on PC
My Time At Portia wastes little time cementing its premise. You are the most recent arrival to an island community, here to inherit your long-absent father’s workshop. Quickly you learn that the world is in a state of recovery after some cataclysmic event, with old technologies lost to the past and humanity returning to a decidedly more modest lifestyle. Though Portia is a small settlement - around 50 residents living their post-apocalyptic truth - there is plenty to busy yourself with in the bustling town.
Your main purpose, at least initially, is to restore your ol’ Pa’s neglected workshop to its former glory. Quite quickly, the Mayor and the head of the Commerce Guild take a liking to you, and entrust you to fulfill important projects like building a bridge to access a nearby island, or constructing a fleet of rickshaw-esque vehicles to expand the town’s reach. These projects do a great job of helping you get to grips with the intricacies of the workshop you’ve inherited - seeing a few of these through to completion will set your shop up with most of the key equipment you’ll need. On top of these story-based tasks, you’re also able to take on commissions from the townsfolk via a bulletin board in the town centre. These are typically smaller scale affairs, allowing you to fill the downtime that a big project entails with top-ups to your reputation and money, as well as to improve your relationships with those you help.
Mine, Craft, etc..
To get materials for your crafting needs, you’ll need to venture beyond the walls of Portia’s town hub, where ancient ruins lie waiting to be plundered. Despite being provided with a jetpack and a pretty high-tech scanner that serves to pinpoint the relics hidden in the rock, you’re still expected to clear these caves as a one-person pickaxe powerhouse - clearly any advances to mining tech in this universe were considered low priority. This ruin exploration commands a large chunk of play time, but is somewhat uninspired - even the background music struggles to instill any sense of accomplishment, drifting back and forth between two simple refrains and only serving to amplify the monotonous nature of the task at hand.
Upon your return to the surface, data discs recovered from these ruins can be turned in at the town’s Research Centre, allowing you to access blueprints for more tools & tech. Alternatively, the tech-fearful Church of Light will cheerfully take these discs from you and dispose of them, since apparently it was machines and their ilk that brought about the end of the world last time. Whilst from a design standpoint this allows you to use your discs as currency in multiple stores (for blueprints at the Research Centre, and crop seeds at the Church Store), the mismatch of the delivery here seems odd. It could be chalked up as an attempt to make a mockery of the devout, or a moral decision you have to make for yourself as the game progresses, but the deadpan writing and voice acting across the board makes it difficult to see this dichotomy as anything more than a contrived justification of a mechanic.
In true immersive fashion, the residents of Portia go about their own schedules, though they’re always available for you to pull them aside for a conversation. Of course there’s standard interactions like Gifting and Chatting, but the ability to choose ‘Spar’ is an unexpected one - any of the residents will be happy to oblige an impromptu session of fisticuffs in the middle of the street - though what this gains you other than a marginal increase in your relationship with them is unclear. There are also some scripted sequences that help drive the story along - one morning I left my workshop to be accosted by supposed debt collectors (apparently Pa had racked up quite the bill with them), and needed to run round town clearing my name before I was left paying a phony debt. Moments like this give you reason to invest in the character motivations, since I was not willing to part with the money I had so recently acquired.
Developers Patea Games claim inspiration from Studio Ghibli, and that’s clear to see from the colour palette used and the unique creature designs on show - it’s clear that a lot of care has been taken crafting a consistent visual style. There’s a lot to love here, and if you’re a fan of the farm-sim RPG you’ll feel right at home in Portia. Sadly, the overall presentation leaves a little to be desired - by easing back on scope and placing a greater focus on polishing what has already been achieved, there could be something great here, but as it stands, it’s a very solid concept built on unsteady ground.
Pleasing aesthetic, interesting story development
Inconsistent tone, repetitive music & tasks