Thursday, April 7, 2022

Play this game: Potato Flowers in Full Bloom

One of my new favorite games is the lyrically-named Potato Flowers in Full Bloom. Let me tell you why I love this game so much and why I hope you will also play it.

Potato Flowers in Full Bloom is a first-person dungeon-crawling game in the tradition of Wizardry or Might and Magic. However, it does a lot of exciting new things within this framework that I hope future games will imitate. 

The dungeon is satisfying to explore. Defeating a group of monsters often opens up a shortcut allowing you to skip the encounters on your next dive.

It has an interesting new combat system. Potato Flowers does two new things in its combat system: First, combatants have "stamina" which is spent as they attack or guard against blows. A character who spends all their stamina will need to spend a round resting before they can next attack or guard. Second, you can see what the enemies plan to do each round, which gives the player the ability to pick counter-strategies. 

These two systems together make for a combat that is more involved and interesting than your typical JRPG. If you simply have everybody attack every round, or you open the combat with everyone's biggest splashiest attack, you will quickly find yourself out of stamina, and the enemies' counterattack will wipe you out. Instead, you have to decide: Will this be the one hit I soak this combat, or do I guard against it? Should I press the attack while I can, or do I need to take a rest now to survive the enemy's next attack? 

In this screenshot, the boss monster is planning to attack the ranger with a 90% chance of hitting. The ranger should probably defend or evade.

There are additional little details about turn order that the game reveals as you progress. These are interesting to discover, so I won't spoil them here.

It is tight. For some reason, role playing games are often the genre of sprawling 100+ hour adventures. With those sprawling adventures come mechanics designed to kill time: random encounters, crafting, random drops, Diablo-style loot with +3% modifiers, grinding for levels. 

By comparison, Potato Flowers is a game you can finish in 22 hours on a first, casual playthrough, and the density and richness of content is exhilarating by comparison. Every session, you will fight an interesting new enemy, explore an interesting new area, and find an interesting new treasure. 

The game is so respectful of your time that it does away with random encounters altogether. Every encounter is deliberately placed on the map. The enemies sit on a tile and wait patiently for you to engage them. You can see the encounter and their level before you enter it, so you decide whether to engage or not -- no getting slapped with a "Game Over" for wandering off the intended path. 

The game also replenishes your health and stamina after every fight, sparing you the tedium of reaching for your potions after every single encounter. Knowing that you enter every fight at full strength (minus whatever spirit you spent in the previous encounters) allows the designers to keep encounters tight.

It is transparent. When characters level up, they receive skill points. Deciding which skills to put points into determines the strategy of your party. The skill tree provides a clear description of each skill, how it works, and how it changes as you put additional points into it. This sounds like an obvious thing, but a lot of popular, well-produced RPGs don't do this correctly (I'm looking at you, Dragon Quest XI).

It is forgiving. If you die, you just go back to camp, keeping all your progress. This lets you throw yourself against an encounter and come back with a different strategy. If you decide you don't like your party, you can train up a new character in just two or three encounters. This is a very welcome change from other games in the genre, like Etrian Odyssey, in which it can take hours to level up a new character.

It is cute. Potato Flowers has a humble, low-polygon presentation that is very effective and charming. Despite being a straightforward dungeon dive, you do meet characters that have conversations with them that reveal interesting details about the game world. These storytelling interludes are brief and effective and illustrated with charming little dioramas rather than great turgid cutscenes.

A Dark Elf complains about his weak combat prowess.
Storytelling dioramas are cute and effective.

As you progress, you learn more about the characters, their motivations, and the purpose of your quest. The quest itself has lower stakes than typical JRPG fare -- you're not saving the world from the King of Demons or on a quest to kill God or whatever -- which actually makes it much more believable and heartwarming. And the friendly little wave your handler gives you is always a delight.

Try this game

This is one of the most delightful games I have played in a long time. It is fresh, it is fun, and it has no filler. I encourage you to play it so that "Potatolike" becomes the hot new genre in 2024. I would be thrilled to see more lean 20-hour RPGs in the years ahead.

It is available on Steam and on the Nintendo Switch. There is also a free demo, so you can try before you buy.

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