Coming from developer MassHive Media, Potion Permit is a sweet little social sim-meets-adventure RPG. However, unlike the majority of life simulators currently dominating the eShop, Potion Permit presents no crops to cultivate and no farm animals to tend to, and instead relies on medicinal foraging to help those around the town, which may be a welcome change of pace for life sim fans who've had their fill of farming.
Potion Permit immediately thrusts you into the role of the village chemist. You've been called to Moonbury through a special request sent by the mayor, so you must accept. But upon arriving, the town's citizens turn a cold shoulder toward you and won't explain why. So even though you're quickly whisked away to a private neck of the woods and instructed that it's your sole purpose to heal the townsfolk of any number of unlikely illnesses, the game focuses on the distaste toward the capital and its chemists and requires you to prove yourself.
The majority of Potion Permit's story has you running around the town in an attempt to satisfy everyone's whims, be it make friends or engage in fetch quests via the local bulletin board, but each completed mission will unlock a piece of the mystery with the story coming together like a puzzle. You may meet a character who has a farfetched connection to where you are now, they could play a vital role later down the line. Yes, it's video game time, folks!
Moonbury is filled with unique characters for you to meet and speak to and to match the level of visual detail of the town; these aren't bulk-created NPCs, and each has recognisable and unique personality. Potion Permit introduces romanceable bachelors and bachelorettes as you slowly progress through the storyline, and you're also quickly introduced to the town's neat little tradition of gifting Moon Cloves, which provide a decent friendship boost when needed.
The game follows a day and night cycle entirely unrelated to real-world time. Like Stardew Valley, you are given a set number of minutes of daylight to complete tasks, forage, engage in combat, and heal the necessary citizens. Unfortunately, while this keeps you on your toes, the days occasionally feel too short, and we found ourselves wondering where the day had gone the moment it started turning dark.
The town lacks fast travel posts unless you want to go directly to your house from your location, so most of your time will be spent traversing rather than completing tasks. However, we can't complain too much, as the town of Moonbury is incredibly well-designed and a delightful place to meander around; we were quite happy to spend a large amount of our time walking through it at a leisurely pace.
Although exploring the town is an excellent pastime, Potion Permit quickly reminds you of your purpose if you drop the pace: Helping the townsfolk feel better. To the right of your front door, you quickly unlock a clinic where your patients will be transported when they need your help. Each time you treat a patient, you'll be taken through a series of minigames, making the diagnosis much more thorough than just being told what's wrong. The application of these minigames makes the entire consultation process considerably more engaging than a block of dialogue and provides a great hands-on approach to gamified medicine.
Once diagnosed, you're tasked with creating the remedy for the malady. When it comes to doing what your character is best at — brewing potions — an entirely new mechanic is introduced. Rather than just asking you to toss appropriate ingredients into your cauldron, you have to select components and piece them together carefully by hand. Each forgeable item has a set of coloured tiles and an element, which apply to a blank puzzle-like space in the cauldron.
You need to select ingredients that sit together to fill the puzzle for it to work, or your clinic patients will go untreated. Additionally, this mechanic encourages players to leave the comfort of their homes to venture into the wilderness and explore Potion Permit's expansive list of forageable items, making the process significantly less repetitive than your standard fetch quests.
But foraging isn't as easy as just gathering items peacefully. The wilderness around the town is filled with aggressive enemies who are quick to attack you if you don't tread carefully, though combat is hardly a challenge. Enemy attacks are straightforward to predict and, in turn, evade with a single roll, and your character is much faster than any enemy, so there's always the option to walk away. Every tool you are given during your first forage can be used as a weapon, too, so you will never be caught without them. As easy as enemies are to evade, they are similarly easy to defeat. Each foe also drops essential loot to use in potions, so you have to stop running away from them at some point.
If there's one thing to let Potion Permit down, it would be this lack of challenge. While life simulators tend to have reasonably relaxed gameplay, this title hints towards challenge through its intricate minigames and combat system, but it doesn't present anything that will keep you awake at night. On several occasions, especially when exploring the wilderness, we would've quite liked to see more grief from the enemies. Their predictable patterns allowed us to avoid attacks unless we desperately needed to collect loot, but even when landing a hit, your HP will never detrimentally deplete. The stubborn townsfolk immediately warm to you as soon as you heal the first patient; the only challenge in befriending them is making sure you speak to them every day.
Visuals in Potion Permit are impeccable, though. Everything adopts an enchanting autumnal pixel appearance, and the amount of detail in each area on the map is enough to have you exploring for hours. And the audio is equally as beautiful, with a subtle soundtrack that immerses you in the lives of the townspeople. The audio never gets repetitive or stagnant and accompanies every aspect of your adventure without feeling invasive. It's the presentation that really elevates Moonbury and the game in general.
Potion Permit makes an effort to implement engaging minigame mechanics through potion brewing and patient diagnosis, but outside of that, a lack of challenge and a feeling of repetition means it struggles to stand out in the vast field of life sims. Still, it presents a fun and enchanting experience which gets a massive shot in the arm from excellent presentation in both the audio and visual departments. Potion Permit fits the bill for something to pick up now and then and pass a few hours, and there are certainly enough quests for you to sink your teeth into and keep you entertained for a while, even if it's not as catching as the best in the genre.