Potion Permit, developed by MassHive Media, is a sim-life RPG in the tradition of Stardew Valley. However, instead of taking on the role of a new farmer ingratiating yourself into small-town life, you’re a chemist who has to use his considerable medical knowledge to help the town’s inhabitants and maybe, just maybe, open their hearts in the process.
You see, the town of Moonbury has closed itself off from the outside world, wary of the inflow of technological advances after a disaster that damaged the island’s ecosystem in the past. But when the Mayor’s daughter falls ill, and their own techniques can’t cure her, the Mayor takes the chance of asking the “Medical Association” for help. Their solution? To send you, a novice chemist, to cure the Mayor’s daughter and rebuild the fractured relationship between Moonbury and the Capital.
Change is never easy
After a chilly reception from Moonbury’s inhabitants, you’re given a rundown house and clinic to conduct your business. This is where you start to make a name for yourself and slowly change the villager’s views of outsiders. But it won’t be easy because not everyone is open to the idea of change.
If you’ve played any of these sim-life games – or “cozy” games as they’re often called, like My Time At Portia, Stardew Valley, or Animal Crossing – then you’ll know what to expect. Potion Permit tries, and mostly succeeds, in providing its own take on the genre, but the basics remain the same. You get to know the town and its inhabitants early on, while the basic pacing aims for a slow, measured approach to revealing all of its stories. The gameplay loop, while mostly simple, establishes a sort of calming, Zen-like rhythm early on as you’ll be doing the same basic actions throughout – with perhaps a tad too much grinding – yet it’s always engaging. The game asks you to hang up your guns, and your need to rush from one set piece to the next, and just sit back, relax, and take your time with a rewarding if languid adventure.
And that’s the crux of Potion Permit‘s play style, the languid pace of small-town life where everyone knows everyone else and their business, making for a close-knit community that you have to break into. It’s a familiar but great setup as where Potion Permit really shines is in its story, both in the main narrative and optional interactions with Moonbury’s inhabitants.
While their lines of dialogue may be limited at any given moment, their larger narrative arcs are all intriguing and satisfying to witness. You’ll have to befriend them before you can see their tales, but it really is worth it. Whether you’re helping a waitress learn to cook better, or trying to decide if the arcade owner is a relic thief in disguise, Potion Permit makes yanking on each of these unravelling narrative threads worth. Oh, and if you want to, you can romance some of the inhabitants as well!
Farm ,chop, dig, brew, repeat
Gameplay-wise, there’s the typical farming/grinding aspect, in which you have to run about nature chopping down trees, harvesting plants, and breaking rocks to secure crafting resources and potion ingredients. There are light combat mechanics, using the same tools with which you harvest resources to fight the island’s more aggressive wildlife for even more ingredients. You can roll to avoid attacks and swing whichever tool you have equipped at the moment, which costs you stamina whether you’re fighting or harvesting. These activities take up the bulk of your playtime as you have to harvest resources just about every day to avoid wasting time. Thankfully, the island seems to be blessed with magical flora and fauna as they respawn every day, including fully grown trees!
When you’re not doing those things, you’re going to have to deal with patients in your rundown clinic. You do this by first diagnosing the patients in a series of simple mini-games – such as pressing the correct button combination at the right time – which reveals what is ailing them and what potion you need to brew. You’ll be spending a lot of time looking at your cauldron in another puzzle-based minigame to brew the potions. Potions can be created from a variety of recipes and the brewing process plays out as a simple shape-filling mini-game. Occasionally, some potions can only be created from rare ingredients and mini-game puzzles become larger and slightly more complicated as your recipe list grows – but it was never an issue to figure out where each ingredient shape fit on the recipe layout.
Traditional crafting resources – think wood and stone – are spent on upgrading your clinic, your home, and all of your tools. The only downside is that the cost to upgrade your equipment is pretty steep. As you open up more areas of the island – which are locked behind quests and a badge level – you’ll get access to more ingredients that take even longer to harvest if you’re equipment isn’t up to snuff. That means you’ll spend more stamina cutting down one daffodil than you should, which means you harvest less per day, until you grind enough to improve your gear. You get the picture.
I’ve got this far and better not forget to mention your good-est boy, “Noxe”. Your dog goes with you everywhere and you can build up your trust with him by petting him and feeding him – which you should as if you don’t, he drags on behind you, shaking all the time like he’s on his last legs. Even if you’re a heartless cat-lover, you’ll want to keep Noxe happy as his outstanding ability is to lead you to specific NPCs when you need to find someone quickly.
It’s about the gorgeous (and slightly grindy) journey
Potion Permit is a gorgeous slice of isometric 2D art. There’s a beautiful level of detail present in all the environments, from your rundown house to the local police station. As a result, the world of Potion Permit feels lived in and you can get an idea of the personalities of the inhabitants by simply looking through their rooms and workplaces. Vegetation sways in the breeze; birds cluster on railings and fly away from you; ducks glide across lakes, dipping under to feed – everything and everyone is wonderfully animated.
The only downside to this wonderful little game is that there are slight hitches when playing and I feel as though the resource requirements could have been lowered somewhat. Just upgrading my cauldron and clinic to their first level took a solid in-game week of resource grinding. Now money is relatively easy to come by, as you can sell potions or engage in little work minigames like box packaging, but harvesting wood and mining stone for upgrades takes for too long.
Overall, Potion Permit may not necessarily surprise you with how its story unfolds, but this is one time where it’s about the journey and not the destination. If you allow yourself the downtime from busier games and invest in befriending Moonbury’s inhabitants, you’ll find a relaxing and sublime experience, that’ll keep you hooked throughout its runtime, with a contented smile on your face.
A Review code for Potion Permit was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher
Potion Permit (Nintendo Switch) ReviewPotion Permit (Nintendo Switch) Review
Audio8/10 Very Good
- Great personal stories
- Addictive gameplay loop
- Excellent 2D art
- Slight hitches
- Crafting requirements are too high