Let me be the first to tell you that in school, Chemistry was quite easily one of my worst subjects. When faced with the proposition of learning the periodic table and trying to understand the chemical reactions that take place between certain liquids and metals, I instead decided to create a game where a friend and myself would see how many laps of the classroom we could make, before we were inevitably asked to sit down.
I guess we were more interested in trying to cause a different kind of reaction. So, with that in mind, you would think that I would be a terrible candidate to talk about Potion Permit, a game all about alchemy, chemistry, and creating medicines. Well, in steps the medium of video games to bridge the gap.
*My record was 36 laps in a lesson, by the way.
On my various travels around vast open worlds, hostile environments, and cute locales, I have learned a thing or two about Alchemy, I grind a mean Mortar and Pestle, and because of this, I hopped right into the indie title featured in this Potion Permit review with the unwarranted confidence that all gamers tend to have.
Arriving in Moonbury, I immediately saw the appeal of this title. With its cute chibi art style, its resource management meets the relationship-builder format, and its plethora of quick, fun minigames, I knew that I had found a unique gem here.
However, you may be wondering if Potion Permit is a title that truly cuts above the rest and provides an experience where you can lose yourself for hours on end and truly become the master chemist. Well, I aim to answer all of this and more as I break down the core mechanics, the unique quirks, and the pitfalls of this new alchemy-based romp. So join me; here is my review of the Potion Permit, conducted on PS5.
Cute as a Button
Let’s jump right in and look at Potion Permit’s art style and overall presentation. From the offset, you can see that the developers have put a lot of time and effort into producing a unique setting, a standout art style, distinct assets, and colorful characters. Even with the limited resources available and the 16-bit rendering, the finer details and the careful design is clear to see.
The game places the player in the quaint little town of Moonbury, and from the offset, you can see that this town is rural, a little beat up, and could use a little TLC, which is exactly why you are here, to turn things around.
The town is quite expansive, offering a lot of buildings and points of interest to explore, serving as a home to some colorful characters, and providing lots of little pockets of pixellated beauty for you to stop and admire. The overall chibi art style is reminiscent of titles like Persona Q and Eastward, in an overworld that feels much more in line with Legend of Zelda or Little Witch in the Woods.
It’s a charming blend that makes for very pleasing viewing, and while the game isn’t pulling up any trees with its graphical or auditory assortment, it’s all you need for a title such as this.
The Doctor Is In!
Okay, gameplay. So let me focus on the parts that really impressed me, because, as a borderline top-down RPG addict, I feel I can speak on this with authority. Above all else, I loved the way this game took such simple, even cliche mechanics and used them in a clever and quickfire way that offered satisfying ways to complete tasks.
To make potions, players need to harvest ingredients that are all represented by their own little Tetromino shape. Then you need to use these to fill the space like a jigsaw and complete the potion. It’s simple; it’s not taxing, and yet it’s this simplicity that makes it so appealing.
This carries on throughout the game with mini-games that allow you to complete part-time jobs, which may require you to sort ink bottles, sort letters, or grind up grapes for the church. Or when diagnosing your patients, you need to complete short rhythm, memory, and dexterity-based mini-games to ensure full patient satisfaction.
It’s all so simple, and yet through this conservative approach and not throwing complex and confusing mechanics at the player, the game retains its relaxing, wholesome vibe. If I’m being super critical, the button mashing to smash the grapes felt a little phoned in, as did the research tasks, but overall, I see this as a great approach.
The game starts slow, but before you know it, you’ll be managing up to six patients at one time, sourcing specific ingredient types across different biomes, making complex medicines, and upgrading your home/equipment, and all the while, you’ll also need to fund your business, build rapport with the townsfolk and find the time to do some stuff for yourself, like decorate your bedroom, get some new threads, or relax with a spot of fishing.
Overall, the game is at its best when you are in Moonbury, tending patients, getting to know the locals, and restoring Moonbury to its former glory.
Also, I have to commend this game for adding in one little detail that is a godsend. I’m sure all indie fans know the struggle of having to look up a Stardew valley Wiki to find specific character schedules and locate quest givers.
Well, with the help of your hound, you can ask him to guide you to any NPC you need to find. This was appreciated so much and is perhaps one area where the iconic farming sim could take notes from Potion Permit.
The Chemist From The Capital
One thing that surprised me about this game was the story. While this game does lean quite heavily on its gameplay, the writing, the central premise, and the intrigue surrounding the far-off nation of The Capital all do a great job of keeping the player engaged and pushing forward.
The core premise of this game is that you, a chemist from the fancy nation known as The Captial, have been assigned to a town called Moonbury upon request of the major. The town reluctantly accepts that their in-house witch doctor cannot provide the necessary healthcare for the town, and you are called upon to save the day.
You soon discover that the town was subject to a terrible event that saw the town fall into disarray, and another group of chemists from the Captial was to blame. This means that upon your arrival, just about everyone hates you. It’s a unique dynamic that kept me on my toes.
No longer was I trying to win over agreeable and personable characters, but instead make friends of enemies that didn’t want me there in the first place. It’s another small detail that has a huge impact on the player and made me want to show Moonbury exactly what I was made of.
Overall, it’s not BAFTA bait where the narrative is concerned, but it was certainly more detailed and engaging than I expected.
The only downside to the writing was that I felt that when compared to games like Stardew Valley, the characters here were a little one-note, cartoonish, or simply uninteresting. They rely heavily on stereotypical characteristics to stand out from the crowd, and I can’t help but think that if the game merely cut a handful of characters and fleshed out the stronger townsfolk’s stories, then this might have been a stronger narrative overall. Plus, you can only date a small fraction of the characters, I wanted to date Helene. What gives?!
I’ve talked about the stronger aspects of the game and its core gameplay mechanics, but there is one area of the game that takes up a lot of your time, that just doesn’t cut the mustard, and that is the foraging/combat. To mention Stardew Valley again, I would wager that most players that have played Eric Barone’s delightful Farming sim would say that mining was the aspect of this game that they often gravitated to.
That is because it was fun, rewarding, and had quite a lot of nuance as the game progressed. Yet as far as combat goes, it couldn’t be more simple. Well, there is such a thing as going too simple, and Potion Permit falls into that trap.
The player will need to head out of town on occasion to forage for ingredients needed to create specific medicine, as well as to gather resources like wood and stone. To do this, you’ll need to hack down vegetation, chop trees, and smash rocks to get the goodies. This aspect of the game, while far from exciting, is serviceable. However, when faced with enemies which need to be taken down, the cracks begin to show.
The combat essentially consists of walking up to an enemy, and then mashing attack until they die. There isn’t a lot of nuance to it, and outside of the occasional dodge roll, it might as well be more foraging. The Enemy AI is practically non-existent at times, there is little to no skill involved, and while it’s not a dealbreaker, it does feel a little disappointing. It’s an undercooked mechanic that, with a few tweaks, could have been a really fun departure from the tasks the player encounters in Moonbury.
A Few Shoddy Formulas
As you have read above, I have a lot of time for this game, but there are some finer details that left a lot to be desired, and I would be remiss not to share those with you. The first aspect that is a little shaky is the performance. I have read some horror stories about this game on Nintendo Switch, with one reviewer referring to this game as a ‘technical crapshoot.’
Now, I can only speak about the PS5 version here, and while it’s got some issues, I wouldn’t put it quite as dramatically as that. I guess they like their hyperbole over there at Nintendo Life, huh?
The game does suffer from a few performance issues, such as teleport markers not working all the time, and the game does tend to soft-lock if you try to action requests without the necessary items in your possession, which will then mean that you can’t action anything else, can’t go to sleep, and will then need to start the day over.
It’s a little frustrating, don’t get me wrong, but losing five minutes of progress is hardly the end of the world. Plus, I can only imagine that this will be patched in a few weeks, so if you really have a short fuse, then maybe just hold off for a little while before playing.
Then lastly, I have to touch on the progression within the game, because, to compare with Stardew again, it’s nowhere near as streamlined, despite the fewer moving parts in play. At least within the initial stages where players need guidance most.
In the first week or so, there isn’t much the player can do aside from gathering materials they at the time have no use for, talking to locals, or simply exploring the town. This means that you’ll find yourself sleeping early most days, mindlessly wandering, and it really takes the wind out of players’ sails.
To its credit, when the game gets going, with the introduction of part-time work, the ability to sell excess potions, specific quests, and the guidance of the bulletin board things really start to come together. It just leaves me wondering, why does it take so long to give the players the tools needed to have fun and progress?
If you are looking for games that offer a similar brand of fun, also belong within the wholesome sim genre, or offer a particular mechanic or format that mirrors Potion Permit, then you might want to check out these titles listed below:
- Harvest Moon
- Stardew Valley
- Little Witch in the Woods
- Alchemist Simulator
- Two Point Hospital
Question: Is Potion Permit Hard?
Answer: Not at all, Potion Permit is a relaxing, cathartic alchemy simulator where players can engage with the content at their leisure, and get to know each member of the community intimately, without any pressure to rush through the core content. Plus, the combat, potion crafting, and other mechanics are simple to understand and master, making this a great entry-level game for anyone.
Question: Where Can I Play Potion permit?
Answer: Potion Permit is available on all platforms, such as PS4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Question: How Long is Potion Permit?
Answer: If you want to see all the core content on offer within Potion Permit, and get all the achievements on offer, then you will need to invest somewhere between 25-40 hours.
Overall, Potion Permit, when faced with the task of putting a new spin on the Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley formula, manages to conjure up something pretty fresh and unique that has its own quirks, a stylish presentation, and a core gameplay loop that keeps players coming back for more. Yet, it doesn’t do anything outlandish to achieve this goal.
Through the clever use of an interesting concept, solid writing, and a variety of staple mechanics and minigames, the title offers cathartic, satisfying gameplay that isn’t taxing, yet feels very rewarding. The medicinal aspects of the game are fun to play around with, the core systems, while simple, all blend together nicely, and the battle to win over the townsfolk and find out more about the enigmatic ‘Captial’ is something that keeps the player engaged throughout their time with this title.
It does have its flaws, but what game doesn’t? There are some technical issues that persist at launch, such as minor freezing and some soft locks that may see you lose five minutes for progress. Plus, the characters don’t feel anywhere near as developed as more established titles of this ilk.
The progression system relies on mindless exploring and skipping days initially, which doesn’t allow the player to feel productive for quite some time. Plus, some core mechanics feel a little undercooked, with the combat being perhaps the biggest culprit. However, all in, Potion Permit is a unique and exciting game within the wholesome simulator genre, and I would recommend it highly. So bunsen burners at the ready, folks!
- A charming pixellated, chibi art style
- Simple but fun mechanics that blend together seamlessly
- The concept of creating medicines and tending to patients is a fun spin on a tired format
- Simple, intuitive gameplay
- Some mechanics feel lackluster, most notably, the combat
- Character development and friendship mechanics are a little limited when compared to other games of this nature
- The game has some technical issues at launch
- Progression can be a little confusing at first
Callum spent 10+ hours honing his craft as a master chemist. He currently has most of the townfolks on a level two relationship status, he has access to the icy biome, has cured over fifty patients, and crafted over one hundred potions. Plus, he has also dabbled in all the side content like fishing, decorating, cooking, and more. He intends to platinum this game in the coming weeks!