Potion Permit has been out for a bit, but here is our late but full review of the life simulator!
We wanted to get this review out in time, but due to some technical issues, we were not able to. A weird issue with the game’s framerate caused nausea after just playing for a little. Still not sure what caused it but rolling back graphics drivers (on an old Nvidia card), limiting the framerate in the drivers, and getting a new monitor fixed that issue. Don’t ask me how; maybe one of the updates the team rolled out eventually fixed it for my particular card but I’m happy to report having dumped a little over 10 hours into the title by now.
I kid you not, Potion Permit’s premise sounds like the child-friendly version of the setup for Breaking Bad. At least, that’s how I roleplayed it to spice up my decisions a little. Generally, I find these kinds of games lots more interesting when you start out roleplaying a character to prevent trying to minimax everything and seeing the game as just a number optimization simulator; I got MMOs for that.
In Potion Permit, you play a chemist in training from the big city that is ordered to set up shop in the lovely town of Moonbury. A small town that is steeped in tradition and is initially distrustful of the hip new medicine from the big city. But the mayor’s daughter has a sickness that can’t be cured by traditional means, so they ask you to come into town to take a look at it. You’re gonna meet the people of Moonbury, slowly build relationships with them and take care of their various qualms that need chemical attention.
It’s a life simulator with a twist, while Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons have you become the local farmer. Here you’ll become the local doctor and pharmacist. Of course, you’ll have to source all your ingredients locally and are just a tiny bit upset that you can’t grow a luscious garden full of weird plants and other oddities. Instead, you go about foraging in the surrounding areas for ingredients which is just as neat.
But compared to its contemporaries focusing more on making the big money and slowly building a farming empire, Potion Permit is much more laid back. Everything you do serves as a way to interact with the colorful folks of Moonbury, which means the pace is more laid back and the focus is more on questing and solving problems than optimizing your farming output. But let’s get into the details!
A Wonderful (Looking) Life
There is this misconception floating around, that many indie titles use the pixel art aesthetics of the SNES era to save on cost. Only pixel art has become an art form in and of itself. I dare you to look at something like Owlboy and make the claim that sprite-based 2D games are just made cheap.
I saw all of that because Potion Permit is easily one of the prettiest games I’ve played all year. Not in the breathtaking vistas of open worlds like Elden Ring kinda way, but how neat and animated everything looks. The way characters bounce in their idle animations while they walk around, the way your hair flutters about while running, or how detailed every nook and cranny of Moonbury is.
So much extra thought was put into everything it is almost ridiculous. Visit one of the many homes of the townfolks and see how much you can find out about them just by looking at their individual rooms. For this kind of game, that’s nothing new but Potion Permit takes an extra step to make its world look and feel lived in.
Every corner of the world has a very distinct look; even the outer portions of the map have that handpainted feel. That way, no matter in what corner of the world you’re standing in, you always have a good idea of where you are without having to look at the world map. That’s a very important thing in level design and takes more than just throwing down landmarks and calling them a day.
I have similar praise for the UI; every minigame screen is created with so much love and care, with unique menus and graphics while also seemingly fitting together. The only thing that kinda annoyed me, however, was how slow some of them seemed to be. Talking to NPC shouldn’t be a sideway scroll menu, especially when you have to hand in quests and try to make an effort to talk to everyone daily.
If I had to make any critique here, it’s probably that the game looks really clean. And I have no idea if that is a bad thing or not. Even messy places like your initial housing still have that clean Studio Ghibli look. I love it, though. It’s a bit of a shame that the game doesn’t have any seasons, though. I would’ve loved to see areas change with holidays and throughout the year but that also comes with a lot more effort.
Potion Permit starts admittedly very slowly. It can take around an hour or so till you get introduced into the actual gameplay loop, and from there on out, it’s very off the cuffs with you. There is rarely any pressure outside of treating patients on time or meeting deadlines for quest objectives like gathering a specific type of item x times and delivering them.
But let’s start at the top. As the new chemist in town, it is your mission to take care of the citizens of Moonbury by treating their various illnesses or solving other problems with the help of alchemy. At the start of a day, you’ll hear sometimes an alarm going off that notifies you that there is a patient waiting for you. You check up on them and try to come to a diagnosis by solving a little minigame to figure out what ills them.
Now you have to brew a potion that can fix up your patient. So you pick up the recipe and get to brewing. In Potion Permit, that’s a puzzle in which the ingredients make up the pieces, the more you have at hand, the better, of course, and you want to be able to make potions with as few ingredients as possible.
So you head off to gather the right ingredients in the woods to make a perfect potion instead of cobbling something together and wasting way more than you need to. And while you are there, why not stock up on other ingredients as well, since you can sell off potions to make some extra money? Oh, and you can, of course, hunt some of the adorable monsters. Maybe there is a quest that requires some of their parts?
And you should also make use of that excess stamina you have to chop down some trees and smash rocks so you can buy that upgrade for your house.
Potion Permit does what these kinds of games do best, interlinking as many gameplay loops as possible into each other so that you can always combine tasks. And since Potion Permit also takes it rather slowly, you can also wait until you can stack up tasks or focus on one at a time. I would recommend that since just grinding out upgrades in order to be prepared early isn’t that fun. Instead, I would meet the townsfolk.
It takes a Town to Raise a Chemist
Something about Moonbury just makes it such a cozy place. Maybe it is that steampunk meets cottage core aesthetic, or maybe it is my personal bias for middle European small towns that look like they haven’t changed at all in the last 500 years. But it’s the citizens that really make the town what it is. From the enigmatic pirate fisher lady with the hook hand to the handsome foreign assistant of the mayor.
Everyone in Moonbury has a very distinct look and personality, which makes them stick out. And as you grow more familiar with the town, they’ll grow more friendly towards you. There is nothing cozier than someone greeting you early in the morning as you sprint toward the fishing hole to throw some lines before all the shops open and you get that upgrade for your axe you wanted.
While yea, most of their lines come off as a little one-note, after a while, it definitely immerses you in day-to-day life. And unlike its contemporaries, Potion Permit really feels like you’re becoming a staple of the town instead of just being an outsider that interacts with its people.
It might sound a little weird but as you progress through the game, the people will rely more and more on you and all kinds of quests will pop up. Some of them will start randomly by walking into a certain place at a certain time others are unlocked by getting more familiar with the people. While the rewards aren’t always that great, these quests are often worth it just from the stories they tell.
And what I like a lot is how being the local chemist isn’t just a thing you do. Other games have you branch out a little to make more money. Here, it is your main hustle, and it’s the way you’ll interact with most people. You’ll only have to get used to the fact that nothing will happen fast.
Another thing I want to praise is the writing. Not only does everyone look unique, but their personalities also really shine and even develop a little as you interact with characters. It’s similar to games like Persona, where it really feels like you’re having an impact on someone’s life instead of just being around for events that happen. You can even get into relationships with some citizens and go on dates.
If you played any game like Potion Permit, you’d probably be very familiar with how progression in these games works. You upgrade your house to be able to cook. For example, upgrade your clinic to offer better services that’ll allow you to charge more for treatment and upgrade your various tools to make life a little easier.
For that, you’ll gather stones, wood, and money. Stones and wood are pretty straightforward and you should generally try to gather them while you’re out foraging. Money is a bit different; you either make it by treating patients, selling potions, or taking a part-time job. Those usually come with a mini-game and a bit of your time but they’re great, especially in the early game if you want to avoid just grinding out the woods all day.
Then there are quests, some of which require you to make special potions to handle one particular issue or the other, like clearing out the river from a slime infestation or brewing legal, temporary steroids for the police force. Sometimes you have to solve some larger issue in order to unlock more of the wilderness, which includes a fetch quest chain. All of it is very inoffensive just by how charming all the characters are written.
Slow Paced, Little Empty
While I’m mostly head over heels for Potion Permit it does feel like the game is a little empty. I find it very hard to describe since there is a wealth of content but it’s more along the lines of something from everything instead of focusing really hard on one aspect. Once you’ve healed your first patient, it never grows more complex from there on out. And I don’t think Potion Permit wants to be that kind of game.
But sooner or later, everything will just start feeling like a routine and there is little to break up the daily slog. There is a need for something that throws a wrench in your plans. And while I haven’t reached that point yet, I don’t see what the incentive is to keep playing the game once you’ve unlocked and done everything. There seems also little that makes the game replayable.
Not that that’s too bad by any means and if the game were to offer more gameplay opportunities, it would also give up on its core premise. I hope the team behind Potion Permit will patch in some extra things, like special events or ways to further your relationship with the various characters. And the game lends itself to DLC or just has more features added to it. Stardew Valley started out just as barebones.
On the topic of DLC, however, the amount of furniture you can buy for $2 is just weird. Especially since they only have a decorative purpose and don’t affect gameplay at all. So why aren’t they unlocked for achievements or completing special tasks? And the furniture that is in the game by default feels really lackluster compared to it. So.. why?
Final Score 7.5/10
For what it is, Potion Permit is a great time. While I wish it would commit more to its premise and there is certainly room for improvement, what is here is of the highest quality. I would really love to see what this game will look like a year or two because it has the potential and quality to be as big as Stardew Valley. It is oozing personality, looks and sounds beautiful and it’s just charming all around and I want to see much, much more of it.
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