What is it? A shopkeeping simulator. Also a life sim, dating sim, and deckbuilding card game, all at once.
Expect to pay TBA
Release date October 17, 2022
Developer Voracious Games
Publisher XSEED Games
Reviewed on Intel Core i7-10750H, 16GB RAM, GeForce RTX 2060
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
There's obviously something in the water—eye of newt, probably. Potionomics is the latest game to have you flinging leaf and sinew into a cauldron, though I dare say it would be a compelling game without that. It's a game of multiple genres, but at its heart it's a shopkeeping sim, where you manage a potion store in a cosy fantasy setting. You get the ingredients, brew the stock, and haggle with customers. Then you go to bed and do it again, day after day.
All with the aim, not of amassing a fortune, but of paying off a ridiculous debt, which is foisted on you the moment you inherit your uncle's shop. It's more than you could make ordinarily, which is why it's extremely handy there's a potion competition coming up, and with a grand prize that could potentially wipe your slate clean.
The competition imposes a rigorous structure, and a ticking clock to your turn-based shop management, with brew-offs against your rival occurring every ten in-game days. Picking your options from a menu (everything is menu-based in Potionomics), your days are broken up into discrete blocks of time. Will you open the shop first thing in the morning, spending two time units to flog your wares and earn some much-needed cash? But perhaps you should set some potions brewing in your cauldrons first. Potions take time to brew, so while you wait you could pop out to buy ingredients, flirt with the vendor NPCs, or task a hero with raiding the wilderness for rare supplies. Before you know it the day is over, and you've forgotten to actually open up the shop.
It's easy to spend time outside your store, as the other vendors are memorable characters, brought vividly to life with expressively animated talking heads and funny, if comfortably tropey dialogue. You can date them, and here it feels a lot like a Persona game, as you allocate blocks of time to building bonds, eventually unlocking cards for the deckbuilding minigame. It's not necessarily a criticism, but you should know there's no voice acting. Perhaps I just expected it because of the high-quality 3D animation, but sometimes it felt like I was playing the game on mute.
You can't spend all your time flirting, however—there's a competition to be won. You need to submit three high-powered potions at every stage of the contest, and you'll have to do a lot of planning to be able to brew them. Better potions need better ingredients, which you can either acquire randomly from heroes or buy outright from the head of the heroes' guild, although there are definite pros and cons to each. Heroic quests take time, gold and potions to yield worthwhile results, while investing in the guild risks disrupting the ecology of the monstrous wildernesses around you.
Ingredients in hand, you then have to chuck them into a cauldron, and here this turns into a game of carefully managing numbers. You'll barely look at ingredients by name, but by their magimin makeup—magimins being the magical essences that have infused every plant and creature on the island. To make a health potion, for example, you need a roughly equal number of red and green magimins. The easiest, and cheapest, way to achieve this would be to hurl a Feyberry (containing six red magimins) and a Mandrake Root (six green magimins) into your bubbling pot.
These Minor Potions will only get you so far, however. To make more money from customers—and stand a hope of winning the competition—you need to utilise those rarer ingredients. So you advance to the next tier of health potions, by combining a Fairy Flower Bud, two Desert Metals and a Golemite. Now you have some Common Health Potions: more useful to heroes and with a higher market value.
Things quickly get complex when you begin to brew potions requiring three or more different magimins, as it can be tricky to get the numbers in the right proportions. There is some leeway, but only a little bit. I spent a lot of time in the brewing menu, chucking in and removing ingredients, and ultimately found it exhausting.
I found solace in the haggling minigame—or perhaps 'minigame' is underselling it, as haggling could easily be a separate game. Here Potionomics turns into Slay the Spire, as you 'battle' customers with cards, so they will (hopefully) pay over the asking price for your merchandise.
It's a unique spin on the formula, with different aims other than to win the battle—a sale is pretty much guaranteed, you just want to fleece the customer as thoroughly as possible. Instead of spending energy to play cards, you're exhausting the customer's patience level, which ticks down with every card played, and turn ended. It's possible to secure a worthwhile victory in a single turn, if you're dealt a good hand of cards—something that is not, entirely, down to luck.
Unlike a lot of deckbuilding games, you can freely add or remove cards from your deck ahead of battle, using cards earned by interacting with the friendly vendors. I enjoyed managing the deck, as the number of cards is not overwhelming, and they're helpfully categorised around each of the major NPCs.
These haggle-battles are, by far, the most enjoyable element of Potionomics, being light, brisk, yet packed with charm and simplistic tactics. This latter element is expanded for the competition haggle-battles, which are essentially three-way boss battles between you, your rival, and the judge. Here, all your work—all your potion-brewing and haggling and bonding and inventory management—pays off in a glorious face-off that either validates, or punishes, your efforts leading up to the competition.
Despite being comprised of seemingly disparate parts, Potionomics feels extremely cohesive, with every element interacting with every other, and contributing to your greater goal of winning the competition. You might play richer life sims, or dating sims, or deckbuilders or shop management games, but you won't find another game that so adroitly smushes all of those genres together.