Back in the 90’s, the Life Simulation genre didn’t exist. There was just Harvest Moon. But the past decade, there’s been so many of these games that it feels like there’s about one every week. Potion Permit is a life simulation game from 2022 which tries to stand out by combining its Life Simulation mechanics with alchemy gameplay. Does it differentiate itself enough from the pack? Find out in our Potion Permit review.
Welcome to Moonbury
The game starts off by letting you create your own character. You can choose between genders and a few presets. Once you’ve named your character, the intro cutscene begins. You’re an alchemist sent to a remote island by the Medical Association from the Capitol. You’ll take residence in the village of Moonbury, initially to cure the mayor’s daughter. After curing her, you’ll settle permanently because it’s apparent the village could really use an alchemist in order to help their villagers, for when they fall ill.
This isn’t something that goes naturally, because decades ago some alchemists from that same association caused a natural disaster on the island which remains a mystery for the first part of the game. Villagers are distrustful of you up to the point of rudeness. It’s up to you to find out what happened on the island decades ago, keep the villagers healthy and build up relations with them in order for them to trust you. The story gets unveiled as you progress throughout the game and while it’s not peak writing, it was still intriguing enough for me to want to see it to the end.
As soon as you arrive on the island, you’re given a run down house which you can call yourself home. You’ll also be able to use it as a lab to brew your potions. Brewing potions is different from most other games and an element where the developer seems to want to distinguish Potion Permit from the rest. After gathering a bunch of ingredients from the wilderness, you can approach the cauldron and get cooking.
When you start brewing your potion, you’re shown a template of blocks which you need to fill with ingredients. Every ingredient you gather belongs to one of four elements. Not every element can be used with every potion. Furthermore, every ingredient has a different shape with which you can fill the blocks. Fans of Tetris will be familiar with the shapes and sizes and essentially you’re completing tetris puzzles to brew potions. You’ll only get a limited amount of ingredients you can use in order to brew the potions.
Because of the limited amount of ingredients you can use to brew a potion, it always becomes a puzzle of sorts. The earliest potions are very easy and can easily be completed with the right ingredients. But as you progress, potions become more challenging as you may need specific combinations to make it work. However, I still found that throughout the game it was easy enough to solve all the puzzles. In fact, if you just gather enough materials there really isn’t much thought you have to put into material gathering. There’s always something you can use. This is a shame in my opinion, because it would be so much better if the focus was on having the exact materials rather than puzzle pieces.
Now, before you can brew these potions you’ll need to gather them obviously. Materials are scattered throughout the wilderness. They can either be harvested or gained from animals. You can also chop trees and smash rocks for crafting materials and ingredients. The further in you go, the harder the enemies and sturdier the materials. There’s basic combat in the game, which really isn’t more besides roll dodging and attacking with your tools, which feels more like a hindrance than a good addition.
Out in the wild
Progressing in the wilderness is gated by story progression. The further in you go, the more different kinds of materials you’ll find and tougher obstacles. You can upgrade your tools to make harvesting go faster and do more damage. It should be said that Potion Permit is grind heavy and there are times when you’ll spend several in-game days constantly grinding for materials in order to build something. The game does feel relaxing, so it’s fine if you’re looking for a relaxing experience to pass the time. But in my opinion, the grind is a little too heavy.
One great mechanic is the stamina mechanic. Every swing of your tool, removes a chunk of stamina. Once you’re out of stamina, you can’t harvest or attack any more. You can either replenish it by sleeping and progressing to the next day, taking a bath in the village or drinking consumables. But essentially, it stops you from grinding continuously for days. This forces the player to think about doing other activities, such as socializing with the townsfolk or doing other activities. The question remains whether this is something that should be forced but I found it fine, as it prevented harvesting fatigue.
Loads to do
Besides your house, there’s a clinic too. Every day, there’s a chance one of the townsfolk fall ill. You’ll have a few days in order to heal them. Failing to do so, will immediately cause more distrust in the community and all your hard work in earning trust will be for nothing. Additionally, when they heal events requiring specific villagers won’t start. You’ll need to diagnose them using various minigames, brew potions and apply them to heal them. While it’s a fun process, it quickly becomes tedious as it can interrupt your plans for the day.
The village you live in is pretty big. There’s dozens of villagers, each with their own characteristics, routines and jobs. It’s one of the best aspects of Potion Permit. You can build up your friendship with each of them by talking to them regularly or giving them gifts. The higher your friendship level, the more you’ll get to know about their persona. Befriending villagers is also necessary to progress in the game. During the course of the game, tons of events can take place requiring specific days or time in order to trigger. The coolest thing is, that they all have their own schedule and you can literally follow them around to see what they’re up to. From working their day job to fishing to chilling at the tavern.
In terms of activities, there’s a lot of variety. Besides brewing potions, exploring and healing villagers, you can also take on various side quests or errands. There’s also fishing in the game and cooking. All sporting their own minigames. You can also brew potions and sell them for money or work a side job to earn extra income. And best of all, you can decorate your own house with furniture you can buy. There’s really a lot to do. It’s great for players looking for a relaxing game to play in between or for short sessions.
One design choice I found rather annoying, but seems tied to the Life Simulation genre, is that you have to sleep (and thus finish a day) in order to save the game. If you want to save in between when you’re disturbed by real life, tough luck. You’ll have to redo the entire day. A manual save option would be great.
Cool little details
Visually, Potion Permit has a pixelated art style. While it looks fine, the animations are not as groundbreaking as other recent games. Not bad, but could be better. It does however display a charming environment and the world building is on point. There’s a lot of details in the village that make it come alive. As for the wilderness, every area has a specific climate with recognizable flora and fauna.
One of the coolest little details in Potion Permit comes from the sound department. It’s one of those things that I rarely think about but when you’re confronted with it, you’ll notice. As with most non-voiced pixelated games, when dialogue on screen is displayed, you’ll hear ticking as the character speaks. But every character has their own distinct sound and rhythm for speaking. This is cleverly done as this clearly gives you a sound cue who is speaking. It seems small and trivial but makes a lot of difference. Accompanied by a tranquil soundtrack, Potion Permit is a great game for a relaxing experience.
Potion Permit manages to do something new in the Life Simulation genre by focusing on potion brewing. Transforming it into a puzzle mini-game is a clever way to do it, however it does eliminate the sense of harvesting specific ingredients. While the gameplay itself can be repetitive, variation is key here. It’s a good game to pick up from time to time and play if you’re just looking to relax.
- Villagers each have their own distinct routine
- Intriguing enough story
- Plenty to do
- No manual saving
- Becomes repetitive at times
- Ingredients could have been more defining