Review – Potion Permit
Recently, especially on the Nintendo Switch, farming simulators and slice-of-life romps have become a dime a dozen. The market is oversaturated, and there always seems to be a new one coming. It’s insane, but I couldn’t be happier. I’m always ecstatic about the notion of creating a character and infusing myself with them. In Potion Permit, I decided to be a woman. Their designs are usually superior and easier on the eyes. I promise my choice has nothing to do with being a degenerate, though. Over the past year, I’ve been keenly keeping watch as this title was blossoming. The art style is what initially captivated me. Today, I’m bursting with excitement to dive into an in-depth analysis, and boy, it’s really deep. Also, from now on, I’ll be referring to my girl. That said, allow me to introduce everyone to Katarina.
Now, I’ve boasted many times that a crucial facet of this genre is having a believable script. If the dialogue resembles something no one utters in their day-to-day existence, it hurts the immersion. It comes across as unnatural. Well, that isn’t a problem for Potion Permit since, the majority of the time, it was sublime. My favourite aspect is as you’re moving into this tiny village, the townsfolk won’t be overly pleasant. There’s a thick tension hovering in the air, primarily brought on by past events. That already presents a level of realism not usually seen. It lets a player relate to what’s occurring and the character you live vicariously through. While the development from indifference to acceptance is fast, I welcome it with open arms. It creates this breathable world, tricking your mind into accepting all these bunches of data as actual beings.
Another reason the literary work resonates the way it did is due to personality. Now, before I get into it, note that stereotypes are alive and well. For those that are coming into this game predisposed to the genre, most everyone has familiarity. For instance, there’s the mayor that’s aptly known as Myer (he’s probably German). Alternatively, you have a carpenter and girl next door. A couple of twists to the formula are also here, though, such as the blacksmiths consisting of a mother and daughter duo and seeing their back-and-forth bickering had an allure to it, likely because of how parallel it feels to the relationship I share with mine. Some archetypes aren’t always included either, like the promiscuous woman that uses her sex appeal and frequent flirtatious interactions. Above all else, I yearned to see their backstories unfurl as some were curious.
This next bit may appear a smidge outlandish, but bear with me. Essentially, the cadence in the vocabulary is superb. The manner in which it structures the wording and articulates itself is perfect. It makes infusing tone in an otherwise silent median easier. See, grammar is a powerful asset. If used properly, it can establish the intended emotion hidden behind the voiceless dialect. Another aspect that helps in spades is speech bubbles with a smile, a frown, or anything. Because the pixel art has no visible facial expressions, the emotiveness is tied to an adorable blob that materializes above a character’s head. Katarina harnesses this most. When she speaks, that same adorable blob moves its mouth to communicate when she’s conversing. Thanks to a combination of that and the writing, I couldn’t help but feel a warmth in my heart. Hell, I even smiled on occasion.
Okay, allow me to preface the following sentences by stating that they’re soaked in subjectivity. To expand on the notion of exploring a character’s past, the method it does it in is lukewarm. I couldn’t help but yearn for them to delve deeper. While it does go into topics such as losing limbs, to animals, or conducting rituals to speak with an imaginary friend, it still just scratches the surface. It would be interesting to see more of the life that these individuals led before you waltzed into town. Sure, at the end of the day they are still adequately fleshed out, but there’s a hesitance to go further. It left me hungry, which, I guess, works to its favour. I will say that Potion Permit nails the habits of children. Honestly, I’m thoroughly impressed by it and was often reminded of my niece; it’s damn delightful.
Sadly, there are a few blunders in the literature, but they aren’t substantial. However, they’re the tip of an enormous iceberg. The first hiccup is minor in that, at sporadic intervals, the text will repeat itself. What’s most bothersome is that the behaviour of the characters speaking suggests that there is supposed to be additional chatter. Thankfully, despite the portions being overwritten by duplicated drivel, I still gleaned the gist of it. The second is wrong pronouns. Katarina is generally referred to as “they” because the game doesn’t recognize gender. Then again, it might be a case of the developers being inclusive. With that in mind, I’m a massive fan of trying to welcome those that identify as non-binary. Finally, there is a solitary example of an empty dialogue bubble. Yes, solitary, so don’t worry, it’s bloody rare.
If, like me, you assumed that Potion Permit would be a farming simulator, you’d be mistaken. No crops will be grown or harvested. Instead, you are a chemist in charge of curing ailments that might befall the villagers. Whenever a sickness strikes them, they’ll be brought to your clinic – to revitalize them; there’s a cauldron within your home that is used to manifest those titular potions. Of course, before doing so, the correct diagnosis is needed. To discern the issue, the patient outlines their troubled areas. Upon hearing it, you’re tasked with scanning their bodies. Denoting the exact affliction is achieved through a collection of minigames. Nothing overly difficult. It could be memory oriented, pressing a sequence of directional buttons, or a maze-like activity. What prevents it from ever becoming repetitive is how brisk they all are to finish.
Brewing the medicine is handled in quite a creative manner. It replicates Tetris and has you connecting shapes. See, every material you forage is assigned a particular piece – for instance, the classic “L” or a cube. What enamors me most is the versatility, but also a sense of betterment. See, in the beginning, I invested a buttload of ingredients in concocting a single bottle. With progression, however, I’d locate stuff allowing me to scale back what I’d use while garnering the same result. As a fantastic quality of life feature, it’s possible that once you discover an optimal method to produce something, saving it is viable. By doing that, I could select that exact recipe for subsequent runs, eliminating the puzzle facet of the mechanic. Naturally, running out of what’s asked voids it, and that means, you guessed it, a grind session.
Rest assured, dear reader, that gathering supplies in the wilderness isn’t time-consuming. Sure, perhaps at the start it takes a bit because your tools are weak. However, once they’re reinforced, a sharper edge translates to less of a commitment. The action of smashing rocks, cutting flora, and chopping down trees becomes a breeze. The same goes for massacring endless waves of monsters. It’s pretty standard fare. Hell, there’s even a stamina bar – deplete it, and you legitimately faceplant – it’s hilarious. What baffles me is unlike health, it doesn’t increase, and that’s a big mishap. I was consistently drained before the day’s end. A bathing house attempts to counteract that but ultimately ends up breaking momentum – having to backtrack ruins the flow of gameplay. Granted, it’s a laughably minor gripe, especially since there’s fast travel.
Bluntly put, this system is ridiculously generous. I mean, I can access the map anywhere and teleport to a certain point at a whim. There is a caveat, though. While the point of departure is flexible, arrival has a predetermined destination. In other words, scattered throughout the land are flag posts awaiting activation – think of these as anchors. It’s a nifty feature, yet it comes with flaws. Continuing with the iceberg metaphor, a select few would deregister randomly. They’d be unusable, prompting me to revisit to trigger them again. Thankfully, the distance between each one isn’t egregious. Any lost time is minimal. I also noticed when jumping to a specific spot, nothing spawned. It was a barren winter wasteland with no trees in sight… so, Canada. Entering and exiting any nearby cave does rectify the hiccup, and luckily, it doesn’t affect elsewhere.
You know, Potion Permit does a lot to streamline the slice-of-life experience. A common complaint I often hear is the tedium of building relationships. People find it arduous, and I tend to agree to an extent. Having to hunt down your heart’s desire to view their event is monotonous. Well, in this game we’re given a dog, and by petting, loving, and feeding the fella, his sniffer is enabled. At this juncture, your canine buddy can pick up the scent of whoever you lust after. If it wasn’t evident by now, he brings you directly to them, no matter where they may be. I’m a fan of this feature because it retains believability and encourages me to play the field a little. I can partake in everyone’s side hustle. It also extends my playtime, thus giving me a bang for my buck.
For anyone indulging primarily in farm simulators, a robust money-making scheme is growing vegetation and fish. Well, toss out those ideologies because while the latter remains intact, there’s no way to sell a single thing. It’s mind-blowing as increasing the rank of your tools gets quite pricey. See, one of the core methods of making cash in Potion Permit is to, well, sell potions. I rarely did, though, because I’d hoard them. I wanted to be prepared to nurse folks. That’s the second method, by the way, and curing civilians does prove lucrative. It’s unfortunate then that the admittance of a patient is sparse. Adjusting this facet should be a priority. As is, I forewent upgrading my home, furniture, and other mechanics because I was scraping by. I get striving for realism, but damn, that’s a little too close to home.
Regrettably, the metaphorical iceberg continues, chiefly consisting of awful optimization. In fact, rain was meant to be part of the day-to-day forecast. It occurred once during my session, and hammered the framerate. Everything was affected, from shuffling through menus to the act of walking. The good news is the developers are aware of this because a patch came out, removing that weather. Unfortunately, stuttering is still a thing. As you’re running around, the screen freezes for half a second. It isn’t sporadic either, and you can count on it affecting your session. Potion Permit’s one saving grace is it never devolves into an unplayable state, being an annoyance more than anything. Otherwise, when it runs fluently, the smoothness is buttery and goes straight to my hips. I did have two crashes, but thanks to auto-saving, I never lost progress. For what it’s worth, I did devote over thirty-five hours.
I wish I could end it here, but I, in good conscience, can’t. Point blank; the collision detection is atrocious. For example, enemies can charge through rock formations or hover over holes. On the one hand, I exclusively encountered this in the desert biome. On the other hand, that’s a lethal place, and I died due to these unfair shenanigans. It pains me to see the quality plummet off the proverbial cliff. To be fair, the pixel art is gorgeous, the animations are decently done, and I very much enjoy the gameplay loop. It’s addictive and had me up all hours of the night trying to woo the girl of Katarina’s dreams. The sprite designs are detailed and wonderfully crafted. I feel genuinely dejected that it struggles to maintain 30fps. Thankfully, we live in an era where patches exist. With effort, this title can be one of the best.
Finally, let’s discuss dog AI. It’s bright and, for the bulk of my session, did what I asked until it didn’t. You see, after committing about twenty plus hours, I noticed he’d get stuck in place occasionally. No matter what I did beyond that point, nothing knocked him loose. As my only choice, I shut off the application through the home screen before reopening it. That was a success, but this specific issue continued. Then there was his tendency to run away. I’d violently whistle, but to no avail. He refused to listen. I’d watch helplessly as he sprinted through buildings, seemingly desperate to get as far from me as he could. The last blunder of note is his eagerness to dig. He did it in areas not meant for it. As dirt flew and seconds elapsed, he froze, forcing me to quit again and reboot.
There are also lesser technical slip-ups here. For starters, after accepting the conclusion of a romance quest chain, the item it requires of me would never register in my cauldron. I couldn’t make it, despite the game recognizing I had something needing to be made. Then, while fishing, my line snapped. Instead of carrying on as usual though, Katarina froze – the cold front in the world is crazy. To rapidly fire a few others, there was an example of the interior graphics of a home fading, putting me inside an abyss. Another time had me teleporting into this eerie void full of desks. It had an empty feeling, yet if I glanced at the mini-map, it functioned exactly as expected. Being the stubborn man I am, I used it as guidance to get to the exit, and I was rewarded, being transported back into town.
Potion Permit is brilliant, offering some incredible quality of life improvements to ease a player into the genre. It introduces several accommodations that I hope becomes the golden standard of slice-of-life romps. It’s mechanically sound, with ideas that offer both fun and engagement. What ends up being the kryptonite to this lovely journey is the dreadful performance. It’s subpar, but hey, at least it isn’t detrimental enough to be unplayable. I guess that much can be ascertained by the hours I invested. I’ll say this, when a title has you overlooking hitches and muscling through the persistent case of the chills, it speaks volumes. I love the sprites and am starving for more. That said, get it on another console or wait for hotfixes. It’s definitely worth the price of admission, but at 100%. Puzzling decisions aside, it’s fun and deserving to be in your library.
The pixel art is gorgeous. It’s delightfully detailed. The bugs aren’t too bothersome and tend to fix themselves. Still, they exist and for that, it misses out on a higher score.
Combat is swift and it offers a surprising challenge. Some enemies require you to think on your feet which I love. Having motivation to get to know everyone is, by far, a mechanic that needs to be a standard.
The soundtrack is quaint. It was peaceful and when rain was part of the package, it sounded peaceful and authentic. It complimented the serene feel that Potion Permit wants to, and does, nail.
Fun Factor: 10.0
I loved the loop and how interactive brewing potions actually is. It kept my attention and I enjoyed finding much more efficient methods to produce specific medicines.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Potion Permit is available now on Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Potion Permit was provided by the publisher.