Potionomics (PC) Review

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Potionomics
Developer: Voracious Games
Publisher: XSEEN Games
Played On: PC
Genre: Simulation
ESRB Rating: E10 (Everyone 10+)
MSRP: 29.99
Release Date: 17/10/2022
CGM Editors Choice

Potionomics takes me back to 2005 when I discovered a little game called Trauma Center: Under the Knife for the Nintendo DS. I was so engrossed by the novelty of playing as a surgeon I became so deeply engrossed that I ignored everyone in the room for the entire night. It seems like after living through a global pandemic, the prospect of playing as anyone in a healthcare setting is less of a fantasy and more of a grim reminder of the necessity of good, peer-reviewed medical science.

When I received Potionomics, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, seeing how my last foray into the realm of potion crafting definitely centred on the aforementioned ideology. Potionomics is definitely a bit more jovial, which definitely works in its favour since the game itself is far more technical, and a unique standout among other sim games.

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In Potionomics, you play as Sylvia—a young witch who has inherited her uncle’s failed potion shop. Upon arriving to the shop, she is informed that she has also inherited his one million gold-piece debt, and she NEEDS to pay it back. After being soul-bound to the debt contract, she is greeted by a magical talking owl simply named “Owl,” who informs her of a potion making contest that could help cover the monthly cost, with a grand prize of one million gold pieces. Sylvia sets out to bring the shop to its former glory, and secure victory in the contest.

“Gameplay is where Potionomics really stands out. It’s a unique combination of strategy, shop sim, and deck-builder…”

It’s a solid enough plot that doesn’t stray too far from the familiar territory of most sim games, but is still fun and lighthearted enough to stay engaging. Despite being a bit familiar, the story is rounded out by vibrant and lovable characters, and an underlying mystery of what happened to Sylvia’s uncle—who was declared dead, but the details of that seem a bit strange.

Gameplay is where Potionomics really stands out. It’s a unique combination of strategy, shop sim, and deck-builder, as players need to balance crafting potions, running the shop, and making friends (and possible romantic partners), all in the span of a day. The process of crafting potions is a bit different from that of Potion Permit.

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Ingredients have different magimins, which are required for specific ingredients, but need to be balanced to deliver the best potion. On top of that, different ingredients can add different buffs or debuffs to the sale process—which we’ll talk about momentarily—and finding the right ingredients to perfect the aroma or taste of a potion can have a big effect on the quality of the potion.

Once your potions are brewed, you need to sell them. There are many factors to how you can influence the price of your potions, outside the quality of potion. These can be putting them on display to attract more customers, local happenstances that might drive up the value or desire for certain potions, or even the shelves you decide to store them on. But once you open up the shop, Sylvia needs to employ some serious mercantile skills to get the most money for her potions.

This is where the aforementioned deck-building comes into play, as the sale process takes the form of a semi-turn based card game, where players must use cards to drive up a customer’s interest, and the potential value of a potion, before they lose patience and leave without buying anything. On top of that, players can cause Sylvia stress—as anyone whose worked in retail can attest to—which can increase the chance of adding Stress Cards to your hand which will add negative effects to the sale if you end a turn with them.

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It’s an incredibly fun and interesting way to keep the saleswoman portion of owning a shop engaging on top of all the sale elements. Whereas in most games you would just drop your product in a shipping bin and be off for the day, this makes the player a more active participant in the gameplay, while simultaneously adding the elements of luck and strategy that are part-and-parcel of managing a store.

Furthermore, Potionomics relationship mechanics add to the gameplay significantly, as making friends and strengthening relationships will provide Sylvia with different card abilities to employ while haggling. Not only that, each character act serves different roles in the community and provides Sylvia with different resources for making potions. The lethargic wizard Quinn can sell Sylvia potion ingredients, or be given rare ingredients in order to add them to his inventory; whereas the plucky, aspiring hero Mint can be sent out on adventures to gather ingredients, but must be supplied with potions to increase her chances of survival.

Potionomics relationship mechanics add to the gameplay significantly…”

Anything you decide to do will take some time from your day, which only provides you with eight time intervals, so planning your day as efficiently as possible is tantamount to success. Each story chapter has about 10 days before the Potion Contest, so making sure you have high-quality potions and a deck built to sell its worth will require a careful balance of salesmanship, conversation, and item acquisition that is incredibly fun and genuinely compelling.

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To back the gameplay is an incredible visual style that is heavily focused on the characters. Potionomics does a lot with a little—the shop screen utilizing a fun, chibi aesthetic—and the whole game leans very heavily into the fantasy settings, even sometimes being a bit self-aware as the setting for a fantasy RPG. But being that this is a character-focused game, that’s where the bulk of the visuals are concerned; and it shows! Each character is beautifully rendered, uniquely designed, and incredibly animated. You could almost be convinced you were watching a Disney/Pixar film from each character’s movement and facial expressions.

Backing the visuals is a whimsical fantasy soundtrack that is uniquely tailored to each character’s identity and theme. Mint’s theme within the Hall of Heroes is upbeat and adventurous, with subtle 8-bit tunes that add a lot to her references of slashing bushes to get coins, or gathering EXP doing fetch-quests. Muktuk, the sealman artisan has a bombastic theme backed by manly chanting that suits his stature and style; and Sylvia’s theme while in the shop screen is fluttery and optimistic, which informs her character as a hopeful, yet naive upstart.

If there’s one issue I have with the audio, it’s that there’s no voice acting for the characters. This may seem like a minor complaint, but I just felt like Potionomics did such a good job designing and fleshing out their characters, that they would have been made even better with voices to add that extra bit of flavour to them.

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Also, one other minor complaint I have—while were on the topic of nitpicks—is how main characters can come into the shop during a sale phase. Since the main goal of selling is to haggle, and try to get the most from a customer without annoying them, I just couldn’t help feeling a bit weird when these incredibly likeable characters would come into the shop. I essentially had to manipulate them into paying more for a potion than it was worth. I know it makes the world feel a bit more fleshed out, that these characters come in alongside the nameless NPCs, but it just left me feeling very conflicted when they did.

I wasn’t totally sure what to expect with Potionomics, but I was genuinely surprised and pleased with what I got. It’s the second sim game I’ve played involving potions that was a unique take on the genre, and a high-quality one at that. It’s easy to get into, and easy to fall in love with, and while I think it’s design would better suit it to a handheld like the Switch—or even mobile—it’s a solid addition to the Steam library!

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can read more about CGMagazine reivew policies here.

Final Thoughts

REVIEW SCORE

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