Farming and dungeon crawling may not seem like an obvious combination, but in the gaming world they have up paired pretty darn well. Whether it’s Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, there’s something about expanding upon a perfectly ordinary everyday activity that captures the imagination of gamers. Homestead Arcana fits very neatly into this genre.
Set in the lands somewhere near Little Rock, Homestead Aracana puts you in the shoes of a young witch who is leading the fight against the corrupting force known as the miasma. Setting up base camp is the first objective, as well as growing plants to figure out how to combat the mysterious threat.
You’re accompanied by your familiar, Huckleberry, who guides you throughout your quest. The cute little feline is always up for a chat and seems to know more than he originally lets on. You can pet him, however it’s a little rubbish because you just press RB and Huck doesn’t do much more than tilt his head a bit.
Homestead Arcana appears closely linked to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in terms of how it feels, although it’s never made clear if the world you are reclaiming is indeed one and the same, or just shares some similarities. I guess the magic suggests it isn’t.
Before you even prune a leaf, you are tasked with designing your witch with a fairly basic character creation tool. Once you are happy with your decisions, you can also dress for success. There will also be opportunities to unlock extra cosmetic items as you play through the game.
On the homestead you will spend most of your time farming and crafting. On your travels you will come across seedlings which can be planted in certain plots and will yield all sorts of produce from peppers to cotton and tomatoes to lavender. However, some ingredients can only be found in the wild. There is an area north of where you start where some of these more elusive ingredients can be found to kick things off.
Once planted, you can water, add compost to, trim and even channel your plants. Channelling concentrates energy in a certain area of the plants, boosting growth and speeding up resource gathering. However, pushing a plant too far can prove too much for the poor thing, so getting the balance right is key.
Crafting is the other skill you’ll be making use of. Once you’ve gathered the necessary ingredients for your recipe, you can build all sorts of contraptions that produce food, drink, spells, charms, pendants and much more. This is how you’ll get ready for your adventures into the miasma, and it’s best to over prepare.
Each item takes a certain amount of time to craft, depending on its complexity. There’s a day/night cycle at play in Homestead Arcana too, so when night time comes you can head to bed to speed everything up a bit. Each hour ticks by in 60 seconds, so time passes fairly quickly.
You’ll need to manage your hunger, health and mana to survive out in the wild. Consumables you create will positively affect one or all of these, so it’s best to ensure you have all bases covered. Of course, you have limited space in your inventory just to complicate things a little further. There is an auto sort button, however it often isn’t clever enough to find the best arrangement so sometimes you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.
Your friendly merchant Abraham visits you between the hours of 06:00 and 11:00, bringing all sorts of goodies and upgrades for you to purchase. Silver is the currency in Homestead Arcana, and although you will find some out in the wild, you’ll have to shift some serious gear to raise enough money for what you need. Whether it’s expanding your storage, getting hold of the blueprints for a new crafting station or increasing your spell slots, being a hero is expensive.
What doesn’t help is that some items that are essential to you progressing, such as spells, actually require silver to craft. Because Abraham only sticks around for five hours a day, if you miss him there’s pretty much no option but to wait until the next day before you raise enough cash. Even with the option to sleep overnight, it draws out an already slow paced game.
In the end, I resorted to crafting the most simple item I could that was worth a fair bit of silver, and spammed it to earn enough cash to buy the necessary upgrades. Not ideal you’ll probably agree, but it had to be done to speed up the pace a little. What this did mean is I ended up with little desire to collect and craft all of the decorative items on offer, because it had taken so much time and energy just to sort the essentials.
After all of your carefully considered preparation, it’ll be time to enter the miasma. The unknown environment is split across four areas, and to breathe the air you’ll need a special mask to filter out the toxins. This will only work for a brief time, so you will need to balance exploring and meeting your objectives, otherwise you won’t be going anywhere fast.
If you die, you will lose most of the items you had collected from the miasma and end up back on the homestead. Items you had used and the ingredients that went into making them cannot be recovered either, so death does carry a pretty hefty price in terms of slowing your progress down.
It’s here where your spells come into play, and you will discover recipes for a fair few on your travels. These allow you to do things such as walk on water, shroud yourself in shadow and even slow down time. There’s no combat in Homestead Arcana, instead you’ll need to avoid all sorts of hazards and enemies by making use of spells. Your mana will drain as you use these, so as with so much in the game, timing is key.
As you track down the multiple scars the miasma has caused to the land, specially crafted fertilisers will heal the wounds. These usually require different ingredients each time to keep things from becoming too straightforward, but when you reach the centre of each area it’s a little different. A large dust-eater will attempt to defend itself by expelling large amounts of dangerous energy as you attempt to get close enough to expel the miasma.
The quests drive the story, which in spoiler-free terms sees you reclaiming the land from the miasma. Your homestead has a handy postal service for both letters and parcels, and this is how your side quests are managed. However, they are pretty much all craft and send missions, which if I’m being honest don’t impact the main game so are strictly for the completionists. Getting everything you need for your primary objectives is enough of a grind in itself at times, so I had little appetite for the side quests.
Traversing the reclaimed lands is made a little easier thanks to your trusty broomstick. Not only can you whizz around, but it also enables you to fast travel between areas. The controls are pleasingly accurate but also have a beautifully floaty feeling to the handling. As each area is cleansed from miasma, Huck will set up a race where you have to pass through a set amount of rings (a bit like Pilotwings) against the clock. It works really well.
As pretty as Homestead Arcana looks, it does suffer from a sluggish frame rate at times. It can also be a little glitchy. For example a lavender plant permanently broke at one point and kept disappearing when I tried to harvest it. Thankfully digging it up and replanting seemed to sort out the issue.
The game does have a beautiful soundtrack however, providing an enchanting and relaxing sound to accompany your exploring. The area north of your homestead at night encapsulated this for me, as the combination of colour, wildlife and sound proved to be nothing short of magical. The voice acting is strong too, especially from little Huck.
My main issue with Homestead Arcana is its slow moving and repetitive gameplay. Despite all of the positives, there’s no escaping the amount of grinding needed to complete the main campaign. This then makes the optional stuff much less appealing. However, there’s an undeniable charm about Homestead Arcana that kept me invested to see my adventure through to its conclusion.
Undemanding and, at times, tedious gameplay takes some of the shine away from Homestead Arcana, even if there is an otherwise bewitching world with a heartfelt story to tell.