Like farming or power-washing a driveway, running a retail shop is fun in video games but an absolute drag in real life.
While games like Recettear and Moonlighter add a dose of monster-slaying to spice things up, Voracious Games’ Potionomics doubles down on shopkeeping to find the joy of getting lost in work alongside friends.
With captivating systems for brewing and selling potions, a compelling cast of characters, and tons of charm, Potionomics makes the life of a merchant in an RPG seem more exciting than that of any adventurer. It’s a delightfully engaging game you won’t want to put down, and one of the most memorable sims in recent memory.
You play as Sylvia, a witch fresh out of potion school who inherits her uncle’s shop and a mountain of debt along with it. Your goal is to raise enough money to pay off your 1 million gold debt before your shop is repossessed. Lucky for you, there’s an upcoming potion brewing contest with a grand prize of — you guessed it — 1 million gold.
Along with your empty wallet, you face pressure from a ticking clock. Each day in Potionomics is divided into six clock segments that deplete when you do almost anything. Potions also take time to brew, but you're free to leave the cauldron running at home while you head out (not recommended in real life).
You’ll spend most of your time making and selling potions, both of which have systems nearly deep enough to build an entire game around on their own. There are more than a dozen concoctions you can make, and each requires a precise balance of five elements called magimins. An early potion might take a 1:1 ratio of red to blue magimins, but recipes quickly get more complex, calling for more magimin types in more difficult-to-achieve combinations.
It’s a satisfyingly complex puzzle that feels more like working out a formula than following a recipe. It’s never as simple as just mixing the eye of a newt with the toe of a frog and calling it a day. Potion-making gets more time-consuming as the game goes on, mostly because it takes so long to look through dozens of ingredients for your specific needs. That can make late-game brewing drag a bit, but the core puzzle never gets stale, and discovering the perfect mix after a long experimentation always feels like a job well done.
With a shiny new potion in hand, you’ll need to open your shop and sell it. Haggling plays out through a card game that’s similar to other deck-builders, but feels totally original. Each customer has a set amount of patience, which decreases when you play a card. To get a higher price for potions, you need to increase customers’ interest and close the deal before their patience runs out, all while mitigating stress that limits how many cards you can draw. It’s simple as far as card games go, but still strategic enough to deliver the thrill of a battle well fought. Cards you acquire later on open up entirely new playstyles as well, which keeps things plenty fresh.
Before brewing or selling anything, you’ll need to gather potion ingredients. Potionomics’ setting Rafta has an adventure-based economy, so it’s packed with plucky heroes and monster-part merchants to supply you. And while Potionomics’ core mechanics would make it great on their own, my first journey into Rafta was where I realized how special of a game this really is.
Rather than deal with faceless merchants and disposable heroes, you build your alchemical empire alongside a cast of engaging characters. There’s the buff walrus-man blacksmith, the chill dryad carpenter, the pair of pirate cats who are absolute relationship goals, and more. Every character has an expressive design with extremely impressive 3D animations. They also get their own memorable theme songs, ranging from typical fantasy soundtrack fare to a pirate shanty sung by cats.
Potionomics’ writing might be the biggest surprise of the entire game. It’s charming and funny without being cloying or corny, and every major NPC feels distinct. I didn’t vibe with all of them, but there were a few merchants I always dropped in on just because I liked seeing them. Even the lines tossed out off-hand during haggling are full of character — some needlessly cruel comments from customers immediately dragged up memories of my years as a barista.
If you like Potionomics’ NPCs as much as I did, you’re in luck, because there’s a great relationship system on offer here, too. Choosing the right options in dialogue scenes, giving appropriate gifts, and spending your valuable clock segments hanging out help you grow closer. Getting to a new stage in your relationship earns you cards and other bonuses, but most importantly, it unlocks a cute cutscene where you get to know each other better. I spent most of my time with Mint, the upbeat adventurer with a good sense of humor, a quest for glory, and nice biceps. By the end of the game, I was more interested in her relationship with Sylvia than I was in saving my shop.
Relationship-building in Potionomics feels way more organic than it does in most games, and less like you’re simply buying NPCs’ affection. More than just agreeing with whatever NPCs say, the path to friendship (and maybe more) is choosing dialogue that shows you understand each other, even if that means challenging something they’ve said.
Pursuing romance rather than friendship means choosing flirty dialogue options over more neutral ones, and I’m happy to report there’s some excellent flirting to be had. I can only speak for Mint, but the path to dating her has enough “accidental” hand-touching and longing glances to make me blush as much as the characters do.
Rise and grind
Every facet of Potionomics has so much personality, all I wanted was to get lost in Rafta. Unfortunately, the necessity of winning potion competitions broke the spell just a bit.
Every 10 days, you need to present two to three specific potions to be judged, then haggle until they’re worth more than your competitor’s overvalued offerings. If you’ve been preparing during the week ahead, these competitions are no real challenge, but if you happen to lose one, it’s game over. Since it can take multiple in-game days to gather ingredients and brew high-quality potions, that could mean losing hours of progress.
Later challenges also require you to use ingredients with specific random traits, and you won’t have good ways to find them until late in the game. That led to a lot of lost days where I didn’t have much to do, other than hope one elusive ingredient turned up tomorrow. Because of that pressure, you’re not as free to live the life of a quirky witch with a cute adventurer girlfriend as the game initially leads you to believe.
Despite the unwanted pressure of its competition structure and potion-making getting a little bogged down toward the middle, I still kept finding myself playing at 3 a.m. after sitting down for “a quick session,” and I already want to do it again.
I spent the first few hours of Potionomics falling more and more in love with the experience. Even once the new-game shine wore off, I never stopped being charmed by the meticulous care Voracious Games clearly put into every detail of Potionomics. That elevates an already great experience into one of the best games of the year, and one of my favorite management sims ever.
Inverse reviewed the PC version of Potionomics, which will be released on October 17, 2022.
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