Let's cut to the chase. You're here because you've most likely got a hankering for another farming-type game in your life. In fact, you've probably played most of them already, from Stardew to Harvestella, and you've most likely been burned a few times by games that didn't quite scratch the itch. Now, you're wanting to know if Fae Farm, one of the most promising-looking farming-type games of the past few years, matches up to the hype.
The short answer: Mostly. The long answer: This review.
To start off with the praise – of which there is a lot – Fae Farm is utterly gorgeous. You may think the trailers look a bit like My Sims or one of those mobile game adverts where the grandma murders everyone, and we agree, but in motion, Fae Farm is beautiful. Colours bloom from every inch of its meticulously hand-painted landscapes, and although the character art leans on the side of simplicity, it works well, especially when the game is played in handheld mode. The designs of the food, the decor, and the monsters are all so adorable and clever that it seems almost timeless and illustrative, like a Beatrix Potter book. It's a genuine pleasure to look at.
If you've played any Rune Factory, you'll know more or less how the game itself shakes out. Some dreadful environmental issue (whirlpools, thorns, poison gas, etc.) blocks progress, so you must delve into dungeon-like areas to find the source of said issue. You'll need to collect resources, money, homegrown crops, and materials to craft potions, tool upgrades, and food to survive the dungeons; then, when the clock strikes 11, it's time to head home and sleep. Rinse and repeat.
It's that 'collecting resources, money, crops, and materials' part that constitutes most of the game. Between growing crops, discovering new crops, animal husbandry, and managing an ever-increasing number of farm buildings and workbenches, you'll absolutely have your work cut out for you. Whatever you don't need can go onto market tables in the middle of town, where it'll be sold overnight; whatever money you make can be spent in the very same market, mostly on home decor.
But home decor is actually, secretly, a vital part of the game. Certain pieces of furniture increase your health, stamina, and mana bars, letting you venture further into the mine-dungeons and cast more spells. As the game's name suggests, there is a great deal of fae business that you'll need to interact with – although it only appears after the first couple of long chapters – and magic is everywhere. Mana is the currency you spend to use powerful tool abilities, like increasing your watering can's range, and it's also how you do attacks when fighting Jumbles, the beautifully-designed inanimate-objects-brought-to-life that plague your journeys into the mine-dungeons.
If this sounds like a lot to handle, it is. Our save file is at over 40 hours, and we still haven't reached the end of the game's story, because there's so much to do. There's a workbench for everything: smelting ore, chopping wood, cooking, chopping food, making preserved food, making drinks, polishing gems, making seeds, making fabric, making potion ingredients, making potions, making honey, and making seals that allow you to skip to a specific dungeon floor. There's also critter catching, fish catching, shell collecting, ingredient harvesting, and... the list just keeps going.
It is in this plethora of systems that Fae Farm's first downfall appears. There's just a LOT of stuff to keep track of. On top of the many, many crafting stations, there are also job quests for pretty much every one of those, plus different biomes with different types of wood, ore, critters, and grass. And there are different seasonal crops that you have to make yourself, AND there are at least four different farms to unlock, which doesn't sound bad until you realise that EACH ONE has its own farm buildings that you can't move, so you need to visit them all every day. No wonder our farmer is always exhausted despite eating five baked potatoes an hour.
Granted, some of you may be reading about the tremendous pile of Things To Do and grinning. And we don't blame you! It can be fun to manage a billion little systems. But it did always leave us feeling a little run off our feet at times, and we were never quite in control of it all.
But oh, the developers make it so hard to complain! A ton of little tweaks here and there make Fae Farm a relatively smooth experience, not least of which is the auto-tool selector. Hover over a plant and it'll change to watering can automatically; stand next to a rock and it'll switch to your pickaxe. Your character can also jump and swim around the map, making shortcuts a breeze, or select the NPC they're looking for to get flawless directions. Your calendar keeps track of events and birthdays, the quest tracker tells you what you're supposed to be doing, and the almanac reminds you of everything you've learned so far. And that whole thing about home decor being the source of your personal upgrades? It's so novel! You can tell the developers have paid attention, and that they actually care.
But we've been putting off the biggest sour note of this review: The game's social aspect. It's... not bad, it's just... not good. All of the NPCs are about as interesting as a tea towel, with recycled lines that they repeat every time you see them. You can become friends with someone just by listening to them thank you, for the thousandth time, for something you did three seasons ago. And friendships don't even do anything. They won't give you discounts, come to your house for tea, or even change their dialogue much.
Even worse, the pre-decided romantic characters, with all the emotional complexity of wet cardboard, will fall in love with you whether you want them to or not. You'll go on dates with them – which are short and sweet – but your character is voiceless, and will simply listen to them talk, normally about their insecurities, before they thank you for listening as if you had a choice. If you choose to marry one, you'll get a cute ceremony out of it, but for the cost of 10,000 coins, you'll just occasionally see them loafing around your farm. That's it.
The disappointing puddle-deep socialisation of this game feels like such a drop in quality compared to the loveliness of everything else. The game itself is not massively deep, either, but it makes up for it with wonderful breadth. Coming back from a busy day on the farm to a husband who talks to me like we've only just met seems like a massively wasted opportunity.
Also, as you might perhaps expect with a game that has this many systems, there are a few bugs at launch, although the developer, Phoenix Labs, seems to be really on top of it with patches. One NPC has a permanent quest marker above his head, because he wanted to go on a date with us but then we – the utter bastards that we are – got married instead. We also can't complete Shipping Contracts, one of the main ways to get Big Money, and we experienced a couple of hard crashes, too, although the autosave meant we never lost too much progress.
However, as a whole, Fae Farm is a stunning, thoughtful addition to the farming game oeuvre, with so much to do that it'll keep you entertained for a long time. Just... don't go in expecting the people to be much more interesting than the turnips.
A gloriously thoughtful and beautiful farming game that's packed to the brim with details and charm, Fae Farm is unfortunately let down by its lacklustre NPCs and social dynamics. But with the rest of the game being so enticing, we're almost willing to let it slide. A handful of bugs, a bit of a grind, and a sinfully boring husband can't quite take the shine off this wonderful, whimsical world that's full of things to do and discover.