[Preview] Fae Farm: a massive, magic-themed life sim with deep potential
Posted on June 22, 2023 by Nicholas Serpa in Previews, Switch
It’s becoming more difficult for games in the increasingly crowded farming/life-sim genre to stand out from the pack. Fae Farm – the next release from Phoenix Labs, who previously released Dauntless – is trying to carve its own niche by embracing a magical setting and promising exciting features like drop-in-drop-out online multiplayer and combat-focused dungeons. The game has had some prominent marketing, but it would be unfair not to mention that several thematically-similar indies have also been announced recently, including Garden Witch Life, WItchbrook, and Fields of Mistria. After getting hands on with Fae Farm, though, I was surprised at just how massive this game’s scope appears to be – it seems poised to be one of the densest, most mechanically rich attempts at this type of game that we’ve seen in a while.
Fae Farm feels like a more fantastical take on Rune Factory, taking much of what makes those games fun – building friendships and romantic relationships, exploring and fighting in an overworld, farming – and combining it with the more customization-focused elements and laid-back feel of something like Animal Crossing. There’s in-depth home decorating, a character creator, and plenty of relaxing activities to do around town like fishing and catching bugs. There are systems galore; a cooking system, a flower-breeding system, and even a tea-making system. While little of this is new, what compels me the most about Fae Farm is just how interconnected all these systems seem to be – while some are there just for fun, many build off each other in ways that could lead to some very satisfying long-term progression.
My demo began in one of the player’s homes – you can have up to four of them, each upgradeable – and it had been outfitted with a variety of colorful, cozy furniture. Homes are decorated via grid-based furniture placement, and though customization doesn’t appear to be nearly as granular as Animal Crossing, I was told players can unlock different color palettes for objects and clothes as they progress through the game. There’s also in-depth character customization, including multiple body types, voices, and choice of pronouns. Outside of your home is a sprawling world, with multiple biomes to explore and a surprisingly large town square filled with townsfolk milling about. Aesthetically, it’s not the most visually detailed world – the art direction is aiming for a more dream-like appearance, with softer colors and textures – but I think it looks nice overall.
The main premise behind Fae Farm’s story is that your character receives a message in a bottle, promising something we all know is too good to be true – affordable real estate. On your way to Azoria, your ship wrecks and you learn that a bunch of strange things have been happening in the region. A massive magical blizzard is raging to the North, a huge volcano is about to erupt, and magically enchanted objects have started attacking people. I was told there’s not really an overarching villain, but rather, your priority is to figure out what is causing all these strange incidents so you can help restore calmness to the area.
This is where the game’s adventuring comes into play. At any point, you’re free to wander outside of town into the boarder overworld, which is filled with new characters to meet, tucked-away collectibles such as crafting recipes, rare resources, and dungeons. Combat is limited to the dungeon environments, and players who wish to avoid it altogether can brew certain potions to make getting through them all but effortless, but I think the combat is simple enough that it will be very approachable to more casual fans of the genre. You have a basic swing attack, and up to four different spells can be equipped at once for use during combat. I didn’t get to play with these too much, but I’m under the impression that there should be a good amount of replayability in these spaces, as enemy variety and positioning changes from day-to-day.
Speaking of the schedule, Fae Farm uses an in-game clock rather than a real-world one, so there aren’t any real holidays to celebrate. Seasons do change, though, with different festivals scattered across each one, and different types of resources available to collect over time as well. Unfortunately, one of my least-favorite features is present in Fae Farm – at the end of an in-game day, your character is unceremoniously booted back to your home to rest, regardless of what task you might be in the middle of. Isaac Epp, the game’s director, told me this was a choice they made partially to encourage players to optimize their daily routines as they progress through the game; from my perspective, it feels contrary to the game’s main philosophy of player choice.
It’s more noticeable because of how much there is to do in Fae Farm, too. There’s farming, of course, and it has some nice quality of life features this time around, like spells that let you water or harvest crops in batches, removing a lot of the tedium from the process if players want. You can use different types of magic-enhanced fertilizer to turn normal crops into seasonal crops. You can use food you grow to cook dishes to help you in battle; similarly, you can use harvested resources to craft potions to similar effects. There’s also a ton of other stuff I only saw briefly, like fishing, beekeeping, raising animals and more. And from what I was told, the more players engage with each of these systems, the more options they’ll find opening to them.
I’m also excited to get to know the characters populating the world more. There are about 15 characters you make friends with, and a small subset of that – about six characters – can also be pursued romantically and married. Unfortunately, it looks the act of getting close with other characters will likely boil down to the basic loop of completing quests for them to earn their favor, which has always felt a bit shallow to me, so I’m hoping there will be some deeper elements at play to all that.
When playing with friends – and the entire game can beat with up to three others – players will be able to venture off on their own and complete individual tasks, or explore together. I’m a bit wary about how the game will perform in the final build, as what I was playing still had noticeable frame drops, but there’s time for some of that to be ironed out before release. Now, this preview is based off a mere 45 minutes with the game, and I was exploring a save file about a third of the way through the game’s 35 to 40-hour (at least) campaign, so it’s challenging to really judge at this early stage just how well all of Fae Farm’s moving pieces will work together, especially in multiplayer. That said, the game made a good first impression, even if I’m a little worried that it may be biting off a bit more than it can chew. I’m looking forward to diving deep into all of Fae Farm’s magic-focused gameplay when the full game launches on Switch September 8, 2023.