Updated: Oct 3
Fae Farm promises a magic-infused spin on the farming sim, but instead makes me wonder if the genre is out of magic altogether.
Developer: Phoenix Labs
Publisher: Phoenix Labs
Release Date: 9/8/202
Review Score: 6
Fae Farm’s magic is skin-deep, leaving gameplay that feels derivative and all too mundane. Despite an eye-catching art style and plenty of customization options, it’s ultimately a repetitive farming sim without much heart.
The reviewer played on PC. The publisher did not provide a review code.
Fae Farm is available on Nintendo Switch and PC
I love farming sims. At least I thought I did.
Maybe it’s not entirely Fae Farm’s fault, but it’s the game that made me question if my love for the genre belongs in the past tense. The second game from Dauntless developer Phoenix Labs, Fae Farm is in many ways a prototypical farming sim in the vein of Stardew Valley.
While Fae Farm removes a lot of friction from the farming sim formula, it doesn’t add much to it.
You show up in a new town where you’re granted a plot of land and spend the rest of the game farming, raising animals, befriending the locals, and battling monsters in a dungeon that’s so perilously close to town someone should really have done something about it by now.
The core gameplay of Fae Farm feels pretty competently done, but that’s about all the enthusiasm I can muster. In some ways, it improves on the classics of the genre, at least in terms of making them more convenient.
For instance, you automatically select the tool you need for most jobs, so you can chop wood, pull weeds, and water crops without messing around in your inventory to swap what you’re holding. Fae Farm also gives you much more mobility than typical farming sims, letting you leap off cliffs and later even sprout fairy wings to make getting around town significantly easier.
Where’s the magic?
While Fae Farm removes a lot of friction from the farming sim formula, it doesn’t add much to it. As you may have guessed from the mention of fairy wings, what Fae Farm purports to add is a touch of magic. But in practice, its mystical premise is little more than aesthetic.
Your arrival to Fae Farm’s island of Azoria comes after you’re shipwrecked by a magical whirlpool and one of the first quests you take grants you a magic wand to destroy enchanted vines that are springing up around town. In the town’s dungeon, the enemies you fight are everyday objects brought to life by magic.
All this gives the impression that mysticism will suffice your experience in Fae Farm, but the everyday work of farming ends up being decidedly unmagical.
The everyday work of farming ends up being decidedly unmagical.
With all the magic at your disposal — and Azoria, we’re told, is absolutely bursting with magic — all your powers seem capable of speeding up the monotony of manual labor just a tiny bit. Each tool has a magical ability that unlocks after a few upgrades, but all that adds is an area of effect, letting you chop multiple trees or smash multiple rocks at once. Other than that, magic is mostly confined to a few rather uninspired spells and potions that are only used in combat.
And here, it turns out, is where most of Fae Farm will be spent. Despite its cozy feel and commendably inclusive character designs, Fae Farm isn’t quite as laid back as it might seem.
Like Stardew Valley before it, Fae Farm requires you to sometimes delve into the local dungeon to find new materials, particularly various types of metal and minerals. Each level of the dungeon is a small area full of rocks to bust up for their precious ores and enemies eager to put the hurt on any would-be adventurers who cross their path.
To unlock the door to the next level, you’ll need to find a switch buried under a random rock, meaning if you’re unlucky, just making your way from one floor to the next can be a dull experience of thwacking every rock in sight, made worse by your small starting inventory needing to be emptied out frequently.
Just unlocking a floor won’t let you return there the next time you enter a dungeon. By default, you’ll start at the very first floor each time you return.
To teleport back to a given floor, you’ll first need to craft and place a dungeon seal, made up of materials you’ll find in the dungeon. But you can’t craft seals while you’re in the dungeon and the type you need changes every few floors, meaning you’ll have to constantly return to your farm to craft new seals during any long dungeoneering expedition.
Stuck in a rut
The whole process of exploring dungeons is, to put it mildly, tedious. And to make matters worse, it’s absolutely necessary.
One of Fae Farm’s most conceptually interesting systems revolves around furnishing your home. Certain types of furniture grant you “cozy points.” As you gain more points by decorating your home, you’ll gain more health, energy, and mana.
The whole process of exploring dungeons is, to put it mildly, tedious.
A huge selection of items grants cozy points, so you won’t be forced into one aesthetic just to boost your stats. But these furniture pieces, like every other recipe in Fae Farm, are locked behind a massive number of resources in the game. It takes hours upon hours to unlock even a few recipes, and they’ll stay out of reach forever if you don’t dive deep into the dungeon.
The ruthless recipe restrictions are the most irritating aspect of Fae Farm for me, followed closely by the shallowness of its social aspect. You’re able to befriend and romance a selection of characters around Fae Farm, but the NPCs in Azoria are among the dullest I’ve seen in a game like this.
I had a hard time telling them apart from one another, even after ranking up my relationship with several of them, since all of their dialogue is dry and nearly identical. Even stranger, you can’t date any of the shopkeepers or artisans in the game, who at least have a little more personality. Despite how many colorful characters populate Azoria, their lack of personality makes the island feel utterly lifeless.
You’re able to befriend and romance a selection of characters around Fae Farm, but the NPCs in Azoria are among the dullest I’ve seen in a game like this.
What makes Fae Farm so frustrating is that it probably wouldn’t be that bad a game in a vacuum. It’s got a downright adorable art style packed with customization options for your character and your homestead and modernizes the basic systems of farming sims in some pretty clever ways.
The problem is that farming sims are a dime a dozen these days, and Fae Farm has nothing to recommend over any of the others. It doesn’t commit to its magical premise or the genuinely cool cozy points system and ends up feeling nondescript.
If you just need a new hangout game for low-stress multiplayer sessions, I imagine you’d find a lot to like in Fae Farm. But if you’re looking for the next big farming sim, you’re not going to find it here.
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