Potion Permit’s the perfect and refreshing blend of nostalgia and fresh mechanics that breathe life into the cozy game genre.
Cozy games have become one of the most popular, emerging genres in the gaming industry, and Potion Permit has pushed the boundaries of the genre in ways no one could expect. For background, my first two Gamecube games were Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and Animal Crossing. I’ve played farming sim after farming sim and watched as it became an influence for Stardew Valley, which arguably created the cozy genre alongside Animal Crossing: New Horizons. While Potion Permit isn’t a farming sim, there are some staples of the games that bleed into the alchemy game: creating friendships, helping the townspeople, foraging, and even the concept of coming to a new town.
Playing Potion Permit feels like a love letter to the games I grew up with. I was hit back to back with nostalgia between the part-time job system that reminded me of Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley, an arcade area that brought back memories of Harvest Moon: DS, and even a diagnosis process that oddly felt like a low-stakes version of Trauma Center: Second Opinion. Potion Permit plays as though it took the best parts of these games, combined them all together, and then added new features that made the game feel new.
In the beginning of Potion Permit, you’re dropped off at Moonbury to basically be an old-time doctor, or Chemist. The mayor’s daughter is sick, but the traditional witch doctor can’t help her. After proving your worth and authority to help heal people, the town slowly begins to open up and trust you while you work at fixing the past mistakes of prior Chemists. At the same time, you help build the community and improve the lives of people who originally refused any sort of “modern” medicine. While the story sounds a bit simple, there are several gameplay mechanics that make the game unique and brilliant beyond the obvious things, like taking care of patients with fun minigames or foraging for resources to make medicinal potions.
Right from the start, Potion Permit sets itself apart with a tutorial that puts many triple-A titles to shame. Plus, you’re able to immediately decorate your home. While it might be with some dilapidated furniture, it was an exciting moment nonetheless and one that I’m sure many players will appreciate. I also quickly realized that I could change my character whenever I wanted, letting me have a sense of style in the game that generally doesn’t come until much later. These little things were gradually introduced and started the story in a way that was incredibly well-paced and organic.
Most games of this nature have a calendar system that traces the time you’ve spent in the game while also dictating what kind of natural wildlife and crops you can plant. Potion Permit opts out of that idea and instead just goes by days. At first, this didn’t seem like a big deal at all. However, after playing for multiple in-game weeks, I realized that I didn’t feel pressured to get things done immediately as I do in every other cozy game. Instead of racing a clock that tracks time in seasons and years, I didn’t even know for sure how long I’d lived in Moonbury. Instead of trying to finish a quest in as little time as possible, I was content waiting until the next day because I wasn’t being measured in any real way. I never realized how much I tried to speedrun even the coziest of games until Potion Permit let me slow down.
The environment of the game was helped by the wonderful world-building and character writing. Each character in town feels genuine and being able to progress through their friendship levels and see layers of their personalities felt more realistic than in many other games I’ve played. Even the art was beautiful and busy, making the town feel alive more often than not. Interacting with characters was simple yet effective, and the gift-giving system took off the pressure of trying to find the perfect gift to make people like you – another innovation that took stress away that I never realized existed until it was gone. Plus, the characters have conversations with each other while you walk by, adding to the atmosphere of Moonbury as a bustling little town.
While parts of the environment drew me in, there were other times where Potion Permit struggled. Loading into cutscenes on the Switch would often be jarring, and there were random moments when the game would take a second too long to load and cause the game to freeze for a moment. This didn’t impact gameplay too much, but there were a few times I would get a spike of adrenaline as I realized the freeze might lose me a fish or mess up my perfect record of diagnosing and treating patients. This was on the Switch version of the game, so it may run a bit better on PC or other consoles. The game’s text was also incredibly small when playing docked, and I had to balance the sounds in the game to hear any of the background noises in the game.
Some of the story felt a bit exaggerated as well. When you first get to Moonbury, the entire town hates you to the point of being pretty aggressive in their speech. Even the cat hisses at you until you gain the town’s approval. I expected this to be because of some major problems with the chemists that had previously been in the town, but it felt anticlimactic when I learned the truth about what happened (which I won’t spoil here).
While the game tackled social issues about trusting and helping people, it felt a bit cheesy at times as people were very quick to change their opinion of you. However, some dialogue resulted in great one-liners, such as Mayor Myer’s thought-provoking statement, “If change can make everybody’s life better, who am I to refuse it?”
The few lesser parts of Potion Permit were minor when compared to everything that Potion Permit did right. I never realized some of the smaller issues in the genre until Potion Permit came and fixed them all. Hopefully, Potion Permit’s legacy will last, and it will become another staple of the cozy game genre – it definitely deserves it.