In my previous post, I discussed how overly saturated the "otome" style of visual novels has become over the past year and a half. However, what I failed to mention was a bigger threat to the oversaturation and that is the "life simulator" genre. Games like Story of Seasons, Stardew Valley, and many more have been staples in "casual gaming" as of late. After all, there are very few that are as satisfying as using an outlet to take your mind from the stress of a long day or week of real life. Raising a farm, building connections with neighbors, and improving a town's economy require less busy work than hacking and slashing through hordes of demons. Potion Permit combines the fighting and the simplicity of the life simulator the best way it can, by simplifying it.
Part of my nuance with "life sim" games is that it requires a lot of maintenance to keep things running. Some are bound to a time limit, others are bound by schedules that determine the flow of the game, and others are clocked by seasons. For a genre that touts itself for its "open endedness," I'd like to be able to have some control over what I do without the looming "threat" of time or maintenance being an issue. Thankfully, at least with the first half hour of Potion Permit, it's an easygoing experience.
The game begins with you and your dog, a chemist from out of town who is tasked to help cure the mayor's daughter. Upon arrival, the player finds that not everyone isn't welcoming of you. In fact, it's quite the opposite as others detest your very existence despite only showing up for a few seconds. The mayor hints that this isn't any fault of your own but rather the previous chemist who caused an accident that scarred the residents. Details of the "accident" are unknown but one can guess it was a cause of death.
Whether or not the townsfolk likes you or not is irrelevant, you are tasked to ensure that a woman is cured of her illness, something that not even the useless "witch doctor" can cure. You're given an old run-down shack and are told to be on your way but not without being shown the ropes. Potion Permit follows the basic traits of "life simulation" titles. There's a day and night cycle, shops open and close at certain times, and everything the player does cost stamina. Chopping trees, hacking weeds, crushing stones, and engaging in deathmatches with bears.
This is what kept me invested in Potion Permit as alongside gathering materials you have to fight the wildlife to gain their resources. It combines the top-down 2D angle of Stardew Valley with the fighting and alchemy of the Atelier series. As you gather materials, you can return home to brew potions by matching the shapes of the objects with the puzzles that call for the craft. The more potent the potion, the more intricate the puzzle gets. This can also be a neat way to make money if only the townsfolk would open their shops to you. Can't save the mayor's daughter if you aren't allowed to take advantage of their wares right?
Thankfully, everything the player can do is self-sufficient, even diagnosing the problem with the patient herself. Once you're given the clear to work on the patient, you run a diagnosis on the patient by completing a minigame. The better you do, the more satisfied the patient gets with you thus increasing the results and their trust. These minigames remind me almost of the Trauma Team series but with a lot of low stakes. Once you finish the diagnosis, you then brew a potion that will help cure whatever ails the patient. Of course in doing so you step on the toes of the doctor for doing their job for them, but to that, I say "Do a better job."
It's rare that I'd want to keep playing a game like this after a first impression but Potion Permit is no-frills and doesn't bog the player down with too much. Part of my critique of other games like this is that I feel it tries too much. This is a title without the razzle and the dazzle but provides enough varying gameplay to satisfy someone as picky as myself. I'd personally pick this up on sale (because I'm cheap) but for $20 digitally, it's a nice experience that won't break the bank or the potions.
Oh, and you get to have a dog companion that you can pet and feed so of course that's also a plus.
Potion Permit is now available on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S