| Tags: Reviews
| Author Timo Reinecke
Homestead Arcana Review – A Delightful Farming Sim With a Bewitching Touch
Homestead Arcana just dropped on Game Pass and we've taken some time to review Serenity Forge's new title.
Homestead Arcana is an odd game to wrap your head around at first. Not because of its gameplay and its setup, all of that is great. It's the name of the studio behind it that'll make you scratch your head a little.
It's a new game by Serenity Forge who most probably know from their breakout title Doki-Doki Literature Club, that ethereal visual novel that made the rounds a couple of years ago.
Their new game, Homestead Arcana is not some 4th wall-breaking deconstruction of the farming-sim genre. Instead, it offers a clever, more focused spin on that type of game with a tight focus on narrative and interlocking gameplay mechanics.
And I wonder if the fine folks at Serenity Forge asked themselves “What if we made Metal Gear Survive, but good?” Because I see a lot of similar ideas here, minus the obvious lack of not-zombies.
Don't worry, this will make sense later.
Home Sweet Homestead Arcana
The setup of Homestead Arcana is simple but intriguing from the start. You play a witch who just recently graduated from the academy and now has the glorious task of growing produce out in the wild.
Most of the world has been covered by a dangerous miasma and only the mountaintops and some selected areas are still inhabitable by humans.
So the solution people came up with is quite simple, train witches in magic, alchemy, and botany. Then ask them to grow produce until the miasma swallows their newly established homestead.
But if you think this is the setup for a timed farming sim where you have to constantly fear everything you love will be swallowed by poisonous mist, you're mistaken. Instead, you get to venture into that mist to figure out what is going on.
To go and explore the mist, you have to prepare equipment and resources. And in the mist, you discover more items and equipment to that add to that circle.
This creates a satisfying gameplay loop where long phases of preparation transition into tense exploration segments. You're farming with a purpose and selling everything you don't need still feeds into progression in a meaningful way for the most part.
Farming With Tegrity
One of Homestead Arcana's more interesting twists is the way you grow veggies and fruits. Normally in these games, you plop down a seed, pour some water over it and wait till you can harvest.
Here, everything you plant is a long-term investment since you can twist produce off the plant once a day. Every plant has a unique it grows and you can later prune them to get to the fruits of your labor a little easier.
This feels a little off at first, but after a while, there is just something very calming about twisting tomatoes and corn off the plant while your character idly hums to themself.
And this works for every plant, which seems to grow dynamically. Even those you find in the wild.
This might sound a little weird, but every plant having its own unique cluster of branches and leaves gives a personality. Which is something you'll probably appreciate more if you've ever grown something in your garden.
You can also use your magic powers to squeeze out some extra produce, which is especially useful on wild plants if you desperately need the resources. But do it too much and you might destroy the plant.
It's this focus on how these plants grow and function that I found really interesting. Sure, to some this might just be a quirk that makes gameplay more tedious.
But having to maneuver around the plant and select the individual parts you want creates this simple joy that I find hard to put into words. Everything you farm is like some precious gift from the earth, which plays into the larger theme of Homestead Arcana.
It Takes a Farm to Run a Village
After you got your operation running and can feed yourself, you can start selling products to the merchant that comes flying by every morning. Here you can also purchase the various upgrades that make your life easier.
Eventually, you also get commissions from various offscreen personalities. They'll ask you to send them specific resources that'll complete their quests. Completing them nets your various rewards and more importantly, progresses their questlines.
You never really have to chase after those commissions either, after a while, they are just a way to turn your surplus resources into rewards. Some of them are cosmetics, some money, and even new recipes.
It's nothing special by any means, but I found it added to the atmosphere that your only communication with the outside world by postage.
You can even send letters once a day to ask notable characters like your parents about the world and their perspective on things you've come across. But we'll get to the story in a bit.
While you're mostly left to your own devices, it's interesting how Homestead Arcana uses something as simple as an in-game mailing service to make you feel connected and disconnected from the people you're trying to help.
The reason I brought up Metal Gear Survive at the start of this review, is the miasma you have to venture into to progress the story. You can only survive in there for a short amount of time, so you have to get in, finish what you need to do, and come back quickly.
Going from the quaint homestead into a terrifying mist with eldritch horrors lurking about changes up the pace quite a bit.
Exploring the miasma in Homestead Arcana manages to always be tense because your timer gives you just enough time to get in, do what needs to be done, and get out.
Here you have to use spells to get past obstacles like enemies and solve simple tasks. While none of this is particularly challenging, getting in and out is more dependent on your preparation.
Because resources for spells, health, and stamina are always sparse, you're encouraged you to prepare but those resources take up precious inventory space that is better filled with loot.
In the Miasma you find things that'll help you progress further and you constantly have to go in and out while you slowly advance through it.
While simple, these exploration segments are when Homestead Arcana is at its best. I only wish there was some kind of shortcut for consumables because dipping in and out of your inventory after bursts of gameplay can get a bit tiresome.
Enchanting Story and Simplistic Visuals
The mystery that Homestead Arcana is slowly laying out for you by following a breadcrumb trail is quite engaging. The story is told via that soul-like type of narrative, where you have to piece together some bits to make sense of it all.
I don't want to spoil anything here because unraveling the world and slowly getting a grasp of what is happing and why is my favorite bit about this game.
What I found especially interesting is the way you get glimpses into characters you can't really interact with by writing them letters or completing certain tasks.
This distance you have from most people involved grants Homestead Arcana a very unique tone. Something that sets it apart.
Visually, some heartless person might claim that this game looks woefully unpolished. And while it certainly punches above its weight class at times, it managed to create some memorable imagery.
While animations look a little choppy, controls are very responsive unless you are flying a broom which feels more like taming a beast running wild.
It's the art style however that I really appreciate, despite washed-out, low-detail textures, Homestead Arcana always looks like chalk painting which really fits the tone it is trying to set.
7.5/10 Nothing Special but Charming in its Own Way
If you look at this game from a distance, it has all the tools for your classic farming/survival adventure needs. There are some clever twists here that remix well-established notions of both genres that come together beautifully.
I want to put the love out though because Homestead Arcana's tone and premise are very well executed. And I love the way the game engages you in the simple act of growing plants and caring for nature.
Considering that most games in the farming genre quickly turn into capitalist simulators, it's nice to have a game that focuses on the simple joys of growing produce. And exploring an eldritch symbolization of climate change.
It's a simple game with a simple message and a charming narrative that pulls you into its world with relative ease. You just have to lower your expectations a bit because this is very much an indie title with polish where it matters.
And if a game manages to tug on my heartstrings while also being very therapeutic at times by simply tending to my virtual garden then I'll deem it a success.
Probably gonna start a little garden in real life this year.
Homestead Arcana is available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. It is also part of the Xbox Game Pass but you can also purchase it directly on Steam and the Epic Gamestore.
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