Wylde Flowers (8/10)
This is the first installment of what I hope will be many, so welcome to my cozy gaming reviews! As you may (or may not) know, I'm an absolute sucker for all things cozy. I get super emotional during scenes of friendship, love, romance, loyalty, etc., in video games and media. Hell, I cried at a proposal during an episode of Hell's Kitchen (S5E12). I bawled like a baby during Steven Universe. I cry at almost every episode of MLP. So when I say that I cried during Wylde Flowers, you can interpret it as "sobbed like a child who never understood the true meaning of family until that moment".
Studio Drydock did an amazing job of blending friendship, magic, and pure joy into this game. You can really tell that they love what they worked on. The cutscenes are meaningful and drive the plot forward or explore NPC personalities, and I think that's really where the game shines. The entire thing is voice-acted (some of them are a little cheesy, but that's okay), so you get a more fleshed-out, nuanced character than you would if it was just text.
We can split the mechanics into a few different categories: resource gathering, refinement, farming, movement, automation, and economy.
Gathering resources is pretty straightforward - you hit a tree with an axe and you get resources. The fishing is a little lackluster if you're coming from Stardew Valley, but that makes it nice in a way. It's less stressful than trying to catch The Legend, but you don't have that same sense of satisfaction and reward of a job well done (hint: fishing is the best way to get money in the early game). The fish are area-gated, but it seems that it's mostly RNG and not dependent on any season or type of bait. You can also find resources on the ground at the beach, farm, or forest, so don't forget to check for those!
Refinement is a little hit-or-miss. Some things are done immediately, such as cooking or crafting paper. Other things take a certain amount of time, such as dyeing cloth (also a good money-maker, sell it to Kai). Overall, the refinement mechanics seem to be pretty balanced between time and effort.
Farming can only be done in planter boxes, which take soil to make. So make sure you're collecting those weeds to get composted! Farming is a little annoying in the early game, but once you upgrade some tools it becomes significantly easier. Don't forget: crops will die at the end of a season, and if you keep them into the new season you can get some hefty sales bonuses! You can also keep cute little chickens, cows, and goats. I know that we hate selling our animals, but trust me - this is a... cash cow. I'll see myself out.
Traversing through the world is pretty straightforward. On a PC, you can either use the WASD keys (spacebar to interact) or the mouse (click to interact). My personal preference is to use a mix of both, but it's up to you. There are a few bugs where you can get a little stuck, but those are just minor annoyances; nothing gamebreaking. Minor spoiler: you know the broom that Granny has? Yeah. It does witchy things later on.
Automation: Later in the game you can start to automate some things like mining, farming, etc. This feels pretty game-breaking to me, since the resources needed to do so are relatively minimal, and the resources gained is extreme.
Economy: This part strikes me as a bit unbalanced. Fishing is extremely lucrative in the early game (especially if you turn the speed down to "relaxed"), but some parts of refining (such as jewelry) is completely uneconomical. I hope they patch that in later versions of the game, but we'll see.
Romance & Relationships
I know, I know. Nothing will ever give you butterflies quite like Leah giving you a sculpture, but Wylde Flowers has its own moments. I pursued Kim (ugh, such a cutie), but there are plenty of available romantic partners. Romance and gift-giving is pretty straightforward: talk to people and give them food, but the dialogue is really where this game stands out. There is so much unique dialogue for each character that talking to them doesn't get old. You feel like you want to talk to them, not just that you have to to get those relationship points. You can also earn relationship points by giving gifts.
Gift giving only applies to cooked items though, so you can't get points for giving away tasty amethysts or questionable sea cucumbers. However, there's a witchy thing you'll unlock later in the game that allows you to discover people's favorite gifts.
Last thing: diversity. This game is incredibly accepting of all types of people, and in such a small town, you never see bigotry. There's a wide range of cultures, sexual/gender orientations, and opinions. But there is never hate. The game explores the concept, but you always feel like you have power and agency, never that you're stuck in a box. Wylde Flowers allows you, the player, to be whoever you wish to be through Tara Wylde, and it's beautiful.
I definitely recommend it if you like farming-sims like Stardew Valley. The plot is driven on rails, but it feels like you have the freedom to make choices and decisions in your own time. Having control over the flow of time also helps a lot with that feeling. Both in the daily game and in the changing of seasons, you feel like you're the one calling the shots. The balance of magic and energy expenditure is well done, and you don't feel overpowered - just witchy! And let's be honest - who doesn't need a little witchy-ness in their lives?
The game gets a few negative marks for the semi-unbalanced economy, automation, and lack of character customization, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it and I think it's a great game for all you cozy gamers (and even the cozy ragers, like myself).