Title: Potion Permit
Developer: MassHive Media
Release Date: September 22, 2022
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), Switch, Xbox One, XBox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Amazon Luna
Video review linked below!
Over the past year or so, a surge of alchemy themed simulation games emerged seemingly out of nowhere. You have Potionomics, which focuses on running a fantasy inspired shop; Potion Craft, where the appeal is to experiment and create your own tonics; Potion Tycoon, which has you not just owning a shop, but dominating the entire potion brewing industry; and Potion Permit, a game that promises to mix action adventure combat and exploration coupled with the allure of developing your own potent concoctions. I’m sure I’m missing some games here.
While the release of these games may be all coincidental, I believe it all stems from the massive popularity of both farming sims, like Stardew Valley, as well as crafting mechanics in modern games, which is a major feature in everything from Minecraft to Tears of the Kingdom. Being an alchemist allows you to capture the essence of both of these aspects, allowing you to farm or gather materials, utilize these ingredients to craft your desired mixture, and either sell these remedies to customers or apply them to those in need for profit.
Today we’ll be looking at Potion Permit, the first to release of the aforementioned alchemy simulators, and see if being a chemist in the village of Moonbury is a job worth taking.
Now, I ended up choosing Potion Permit out of all the others because, honestly, the colorful art style reminded me of The Minish Cap, and The Minish Cap makes me happy. That, and I was excited to experience both the Zelda-like action-adventure gameplay alongside the of running my own clinic. There’s a lot of potential here for something amazing, but Potion Permit doesn’t always capitalize.
Potion Permit was developed by Indonesian studio MassHive Media, who have previously made the Flappy Bird-esque Chill Out! Zombies, the tower defense title Vimala: Defense Warlords, and the tactical turn-based RPG Azure Saga: Pathfinder. First announced in 2020, Potion Permit eventually released in September of ’22, beating the launch date of the other alchemy sims by mere weeks.
In the game, players control a chemist who has been sent by the Capital to aid the remote Moonbury Island. The residents of Moonbury are wary of the Capital’s chemists due to a horrible incident that occurred years prior, and have therefore sheltered themselves from the Capital’s influence, entrusting in the help of a local witch doctor to cure their ailments. This all changes however when the mayor’s daughter contracts a mysterious illness that not even the witch doctor can alleviate.
After restoring the health of the young girl, the player earns the chance to open up a clinic on the island on a probation, and by diagnosing the citizens’ disorders and assisting them with their personal issues, you’ll slowly earn the trust of the folk of Moonbury, and uncover the mystery behind the terrible event that created the rift in the first place.
I do like that there is more of an initial plot to the game than with most other simulators; usually, it’s just “You’ve inherited your grandfather’s farm, now work to make it successful again.” Unfortunately, Potion Permit doesn’t do enough with this setup, leaving the big mystery that led to everyone distrusting the chemists to be a huge letdown. Without direct spoilers, it all boils down to a misunderstanding, where bad stuff happened, but wasn’t intended, and the villagers never thought to just ask what actually happened to begin with.
The main story also ends incredibly abruptly. This isn’t what you want to see on a game that tries to push the plot front-and-center. When you finish the main quest line, the story just stops with everyone meeting up in the town square and saying “Yay, we now know what happened,” and you’re thrown back into the daily grind of running your clinic. Nothing really changes. It feels incomplete. It really makes you think that you’ve missed something, but really… that’s it.
To actually complete the game, you need to maximize your relationship with certain citizens on the island. Which exact people is beyond me; after finishing one of these individual stories, I got a cut scene where the residents of Moonbury all stated that they trusted me now, and I rolled credits, yet I still had several more to do. I thought it was a glitch, but I looked it up, and no, that’s what’s supposed to happen apparently. It’s all just really clumsy, and doesn’t make “sticking with it” feel like a payoff.
This is extra disappointing too because the island’s residents are the main reason I kept playing this game. You’ll encounter a colorful assortment of characters, and almost all of them have interesting enough personalities and stories that you’ll want to become friends with all of them. Some characters include: the mayor, who’s conveniently named Myer, his wife Mariele, and their daughter Rue; the diligent blacksmith Opalheart, and her headstrong daughter Runeheart; Yorn, the tavern proprietor who has a dark past; the tavern’s caring waitress Martha, who wants to master her cooking; the rangers Forrest and Bubble, both quirky in their own ways; Osman, the police chief who is hesitant to work alongside the Capital’s chemists; the kind natured officer Dean, and his hotheaded twin brother Derrek; and the former pirate Leano, who has retired from sailing the high seas to manage her own seaside bar.
I should also note that the game attempts to explore mental illness quite a bit, with mixed results. There’s a surprising amount of characters that struggle with their mental health. Sometimes the game addresses these in interesting ways, while other times it can be pretty offensive. For instance, one character appears to be schizophrenic, adopting a whole new name and personality the moment they clock out from work. Another resident evidentially has some learning disabilities, but the game frequently just dismisses him as being a dullard, and leaves it at that. A third character is confined to a wheelchair, and the game relies on the tired, old stereotype of portraying them as a bitter person who hates their life, and all the people they interact with. These negative portrayals really don’t work in today’s day-and-age, and can potentially sully the experience for many players.
Romances are a major part of these types of simulation games, but entering into such an affair is also a big letdown. Unlike so many other games, your partner will never move in with you, and aside from a single cut scene, nothing really changes between you and your partner.
Once relationships are maxed, giving a romanceable character an item called a “Moon Brooch” will trigger an event where you and that person begin “dating.” However, the relationship cannot be maxed out any further, and thus “dating” doesn’t mean anything at all. Gifts do nothing, and there are no places to go, so… it’s all quite pointless. The dialogue doesn’t even change between characters.
What’s more is that you’re never tied down to a single partner, so you’re free to date the entire village without anyone batting an eye. That is, I would say that, but the dating pool on Moonbury Island is abysmally shallow. Out of over 30 residents, only 3 women and 3 men can be romanced, though thankfully there are no same sex restrictions. Sometimes, it feels like a character should be a dating option, but just aren’t. One in particular, Helen, the owner of the arcade, flirts with the male character in nearly every single interaction. She even explicitly states you should ask her out on a date sometime, and yet she isn’t a romance choice. It all feels like the developers just shoehorned in the romance feature because they knew it was expected, but failed to do anything else with it, which is a real shame.
One of the most fun elements in these kinds of games is finding out the preferences of each character, and gifting them the kinds of things that they really like. Potion Permit removes this element with “Moon Cloves,” the only item that can be gifted, and that every single character likes equally. You earn these from completing side quests, and as payment for healing patients at your clinic, and while it is convenient I guess, it removes the thought process of fostering friendships with the townsfolk, and is much less fun compared to most other games.
I should also mention your canine companion that you receive at the start of the game. This furry fellow will follow you about on your travels, and while he is cute, he doesn’t really do all that much. When exploring the wilderness, he can sometimes dig up resources buried underground, which is nice. He can also be handy in locating an island resident should you not be able to find them, but that’s about it. Once a day he’ll become hungry, and will move about slowly, and not obey commands until you feed him. He does prefer some food over others, so in a way you can satisfy that “gift giving” need via your dog, but increasing your relationship with him takes no time at all, and doesn’t really affect the game. He’s nice to have around though, I guess.
Being a Chemist
Now about your clinic, you’d think that maintaining your place of business would be one of the central aspects of the game, but it’s really not. For starters, you don’t have a patient every day, and in fact you can go several days without ever seeing anyone. When you do have a patient, that character isn’t available for anything else such as quests or shopping until their ailment is healed, putting pressure on you to heal them as quickly as you can. This isn’t much of a problem though, as the process of treating them is fast and easy. First you need to diagnose their illness. You do this by highlighting the part of the body that they tell you hurts; if they say their right arm feels weird, well you just examine their right arm. Sometimes that’s all you do; the game will automatically tell you what the problem is, what potion is needed, and you just give them the tonic and all’s well with the world. If the game doesn’t spell it out for you, then you have to complete one of three very simple mini games to obtain the correct diagnosis – more on that in a minute. Once identified, the game will still tell you the potion needed to treat them, and all you have to do then is brew it if you haven’t already, and give it to them. That’s all there is to it.
Brewing potions is a little more involved, but not all that complex, either. Each potion is crafted by solving a short block puzzle, where you fill in the spaces with various blocks, with the blocks being your ingredients. Each ingredient has their own block formation, a puzzle piece if you will, that can fill in the area of the potion. Ingredients also fall into one of four elemental categories, and sometimes potions will force you to only use water elements, or fire, or a combination of a few, but that restriction rarely poses a challenge.
After brewing a potion a total of five times, you can save your puzzle solutions to instantly consume the ingredients used and craft the desired tonic; it can be somewhat fun using different ingredients to craft your potions, and instantly brewing them when needed with the best ingredients you have on hand. Once crafted, the only use for potions is to use them on patients in the clinic, or sell them to a merchant that comes at a set time every day for a set price. There’s no haggling, or increasing the price based on the ingredients used or the severity of the illness; each potion has one price, and that’s it.
Everything else performed within your lab and clinic also involves mini games, all of which are really dull. I mentioned earlier that diagnosing a patient requires you to complete one of three mini games: one has you play a kind of “Simon says” memory game; another is rhythm based, and has you press the appropriate directions to a non-existent beat; and the third has you dodge slow moving obstacles along a straight path. These never increase in difficulty really, but just become longer when confronted with more “challenging” illnesses.
The mini game for researching new potions is, in a word, stupid. You’ll be given a set number of spaces for elements, and be told that one space is for a water element, and two for fire, that kind of thing. All you do is cycle through each space, and when you land on the correct element, the game locks it in for you; if it doesn’t lock, then that space isn’t necessary to complete the puzzle. This may sound complicated, so just imagine a four digit numerical lock, and you are told that one digit is a “3” and two digits are “9s.” So, you take the first digit, turn it to 3, and if it’s right, the lock will immediately tell you, and if you’re wrong, try number 9. There’s absolutely no thought to it. It’s one of the most brainless “puzzles” I’ve ever encountered in a video game. It’s damn near insulting.
You can also take on small jobs for extra cash, which also involve mini games, but these aren’t anything special either. In one you mash a single button for a few seconds, another you are sorting jars… they can be finished in seconds and the only skill involved is staying awake.
Unlike a lot of other simulation games, Potion Permit doesn’t involve farming of any kind. Instead, you must go out into the wilds and gather everything that you may need for your potent brews. There are three zones in the wilds, each with their own unique flora and fauna and other materials that can be used as potion recipes; one area is your standard woodland, while the second is the snow covered mountain top, and the third is an arid valley down below. None of these zones are particularly large or exciting; you have a few branching paths leading to dead ends, the occasional fishing area, but ultimately you have a single, long route that’s peppered with items and enemies.
What’s most frustrating is that you have a very strict limit on how many resources you are able to gather per day. This is because everything, from small plants to tall trees, solid rocks and even baddies, all have a set amount in which they’ll appear. With every in-game day, every resource will replenish in the exact number in the same exact spot, every single time. Should you be in need of a certain flower for example, you can only gather the same 5 that spawn in the same places per day; again, this goes for pelts of certain animals, wood from certain trees, and ore from certain rocks, and so on.
You –can- buy some items once you’ve discovered them from a shop located at the entrance of the wilds, but this can be very expensive, essentially eliminating any kind of profit you may receive. In fact, you’ll probably lose money with each potion brewed, so it’s highly recommended to use this sparingly and just gather them yourself.
Some randomization of the wilds would really help with replayability. Discovering rare ingredients, traveling down every path looking for daily secrets, sparring off against an uncommon foe, all would make each time visiting the wilds a whole new adventure. This is why the mines in Stardew Valley work so well.
The removal of farming also eliminates another important element from an economy simulator such as this: the element of progress. In most all of these kinds of games, you begin only being able to grow a few small crops in a small space. So, you farm these, you sell them for a small profit, and invest your profit to make your work more manageable. By the game’s end, you have sprinklers that water your crops, machines that automatically harvest, your fields are expanded, and you’re rolling in dough while doing the minimum amount of daily work. You don’t ever reach that point in Potion Permit.
The game does allow you to upgrade your tools at least, but this has only a slight effect on your sense of progression. You have three types of tools, each used for harvesting different materials: a scythe for small plants, a hammer for stone, and an axe for chopping wood. All three of these tools can also be used as weapons against enemies, too, though only a few foes are more susceptible to one tool over the others. Using a tool takes away some of your total energy, and so upgrading them allows you to harvest materials in far fewer uses, thus preserving your valuable energy. It’s not really enough though, because it still takes a considerable amount of time to travel through areas, but it is at least something.
Combat was a big reason I chose Potion Permit over the other games I mentioned earlier, but sadly it’s extremely bare bones, and requires little to no strategy or skill to pull off. You have only two combat moves at your disposal: your single attack, and a dodge roll. As I said previously, you can switch between the three tools at will, but they all behave the same way with the same attack speeds and damage output, save for a few occasions where an enemy with a shield for example may require the hammer or something like that.
Rolling is essential for late game battles, as often enemies are quick and attack multiple times, so you’ll need to dodge first before striking back. Fortunately, rolling causes temporary invincibility – you can even roll into a badguy as they are attacking, and you won’t suffer any damage. Even still, you almost have to be trying to die in this game, because it’s just so simple. Most enemies won’t engage you unless you attack them first, for instance, and even when you do get hit, attacks do insignificant damage that can easily be mitigated with a quick healing item. I only lost all of my health once in the game, and that was towards the very end of the final zone, where enemies hit the hardest.
Losing all of your health shouldn’t be a major concern, either, as the only repercussion is that you pass out, and wake up the following day at noon; you don’t even lose the items you harvested, just a little bit of time.
Graphics & Sound
The art style is at least wonderfully done, and the developers should be commended for creating a game that can be quite beautiful at times, with crisp, bright colors, and impressive pixel art. There are some weird sprites though, such as with Leano. Remember, she is a pirate, and has a hook for a hand, but every time she turns around, that hook moves to the opposite hand because all the developers did was flip her sprite, ruining the illusion. You see this a few times in the game, with any of the characters that aren’t perfectly asymmetrical, and it just comes across as lazy design.
The music also doesn’t quite reach the mark. It achieves its goal of enhancing the cozy nature of the game, and I often even caught myself humming the village’s theme when I wasn’t playing, but there just aren’t enough tunes, the total of which I can probably count on one hand. Some more music, coupled with more melodic songs as opposed to atmospheric ones for when you’re exploring, could really enhance this title.
Glitches & Bugs
Being an indie title, it’s expected that the game will have some glitches, but Potion Permit includes far more than you can ignore. While playing on Steam, I noticed frequently that characters’ faces would sometimes fail to appear; I’m still not completely sure if it is a glitch or a design choice or not, because of how common it occurred, but it’s so inconsistent that I have to believe it’s unintentional. Events also would sometimes not load properly; you’ll go to enter a cutscene, but the screen just stays black for an extended time. Once the game finally resumes however, it picks up right after the event, so you have no idea what happened. Whenever I used my Steam Deck to play, the button prompts would constantly change between the gamepad’s interface and the keyboard; this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, as the game pad still worked, but whenever you look at your map or begin a mini-game, the buttons suddenly stop responding, and you have to use the touchpad instead. The only way I could rectify this was exiting out and booting up the game once again. The Switch fairs even worse, I’m afraid. On Nintendo’s console, users have reported major crashes that lead to a loss of progress, quests not progressing or not being marked as completed, the inventory screen constantly saying there’s something new when there isn’t, and even random teleporting bugs, where players will be whisked off to new locations upon triggering events, even if they aren’t supposed to have access to that area yet. While I haven’t played it on Switch personally, the long list of issues coming from so many users forces me to not recommend playing on Switch by any means, at least unless this somehow get patched.
There are a small handful of other quirks that I just didn’t like, either, like how quests you pick up from noticeboards aren’t saved to your quest log, so you have to keep going back to read the descriptions, or stores not telling you how much of each item you already have. I could go on-and-on, really. The bottom line is, aside from the lovely art style, calming music, and a mostly charming cast of characters, Potion Permit offers little else in the way of enjoyment. Most of the game just feels like a chore, and there’s no real payoff to put up with it all. I wager that the many other potion brewing simulators are much more deserving of your time and money.
Josh Cornett is a lifelong gamer who enjoys games across all platforms and genres. He has gone by the alias of “Block” ever since college, when he was nicknamed “Blockbuster” for his extensive video game and movie collection. Currently, he reviews a wide variety of games on his Youtube channel, and talks about all things gaming related on his Twitter and Facebook pages.
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