Title: Homestead Arcana
Developer: Serenity Forge
Release Date: April 21, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Skybound Games
Genre: Farming, Casual, Adventure
There’s nothing quite like a good farming simulation game. The familiar act of relaxing, interacting with townspeople, tending to your crops, and enjoying some good casual fun is something that I look forward to. However, there’s often more to a farming sim than meets the eye. And this year is absolutely packed with releases, so let’s get out our farming hats and magic wands to check out Homestead Arcana and see how it stands out.
Homestead Arcana begins by creating your own avatar, a fledgling witch who embarks on a magical adventure with your familiar cat, Huckleberry, who I should probably point out, is voiced by none other than Yuri Lowenthal, to find out what can be done about the Miasma that has plagued the region. The game begins as you complete an initiation rite that serves as a tutorial. Unfortunately, the tutorial does very little to set the foundation of the game, opting instead to have you watch through a series of onscreen explanations, which feels boring and uninspired.
Furthermore, while the intro cutscene does set up a bit on what’s going on with the world, the game itself just feels a little dry. Most of the text is communicated through documents found across the Miasma, or from letters you get from your hometown, with the only people you can even talk to being Abraham, the shopkeep who will come every morning, or Huckleberry, who can speak English.
Farming is accomplished by planting the seedling into the ground, and then watering it every day. But, if you’re impatient, you can channel your Mana energy into your crop, and have it instantly grow. But every power comes with responsibility; if you channel too much energy into the plant, you’ll cause it to blither, which will stop it from producing. Generally, I’ve found that using the spell twice, and then just watering every day is the ideal spot, but that brings me to an annoyance I had with this system.
You see, Homestead Arcana does not have a seasonal system, and once a crop fully matures, it keeps producing items unless you blight it to prevent it from producing further product. Furthermore, aside from your spells, you have no access to any tools such as axes, fishing rods, hammers, or pickaxes. You can’t raise animals such as sheep, cows, or chickens, and there is no Stamina stat. To sort of “dance around” the lack of systems that provide vital items, the developers have made even ores grow on plants, which just leads me to believe that they just didn’t want to implement more systems and left it that, which just goes completely against what a farming simulator should be.
In order to restore the valley from the Miasma, you must craft items and revive the scar plants, which are capable of cleaning the air and absorbing the malicious substance. But time is of the essence; as you’re given a mask with a time limit on how much the air filter inside can hold. Once that timer reaches 0, your HP will decay, and once that reaches 0, you’re kicked to the entrance, and any items you’ve collected are lost and returned to their original spots.
Furthermore, by using your cauldron, you can craft potions that will temporarily give you a spell to help you progress. The first spell you’ll learn is Ripple, a vision-enhancement spell that helps you see traps or enemies that might be lurking, and this is key, since you do not have access to weapons of any kind. With no way to defend yourself, all you can do is hide and avoid their sight. You also have to keep a close eye on your Hunger and Mana, the former of which decreases over time, and the latter of which decreases the more you use your spells. Both can be restored with food items you can craft using your Grill.
All of the negative points I’ve encountered only pointed me to one key fact, being that the developers were heavily banking on the fact that they got Yuri Lowenthal, who is a celebrity among the voice acting industry. That being said, I feel the target audience for farming games is primarily composed of casual players, who would rather have more intricate systems than perhaps caring about the voiceover.
This is further evidenced by the game’s performance, where I ran into frame drops as I explored the Miasma and during the opening cutscene. And for a farming simulator, the requirements to run this title are abnormally high, considering some of its contemporaries can flawlessly run on much weaker hardware. In addition to this, animations feel stiff, and playing this on a controller hinders the experience, given that the controls are much more optimized for a mouse and keyboard to navigate the inventory, as well as harvesting and collecting crops, both of which you’ll be doing frequently throughout the gameplay.
Homestead Arcana has an extremely charming visual design, but it ultimately fails as a farming sim adventure. Dungeon Crawling will consume most of your time playing, which would be okay, but even that aspect of gameplay fails to make an impact. Yuri Lowenthal’s performance as Huckleberry is brilliant, but that alone isn’t capable of weighing against the flaws that Homestead Arcana suffers from.
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