Doujin dungeon crawling with Potato Flowers in Full Bloom

“Potato Flowers in Full Bloom” is quite the title — but if we hadn’t already revealed that this game is a dungeon crawler in the headline, you probably wouldn’t know quite what to expect, would you? That’s exactly the position I was in when a friend excitedly shared a trailer for this game the other day — but I was immediately intrigued as soon as I saw it in action.

With developer Pon Pon Games and publisher Playism putting out a demo on Steam for the October Steam Next Fest event, I figured I should probably take a look at exactly what this game was. And after playing through said demo, I’m well and truly excited to see how this game develops. Because although it’s part of an established genre — the first-person dungeon crawling RPG — it does a lot of really interesting things, both in terms of gameplay and presentation.

Potato Flowers in Full Bloom

In Potato Flowers in Full Bloom, you take on the role of a party of adventurers who are seemingly investigating the ruins of a civilisation. Something terrible has happened, it seems, and it’s left people scattered around the land and towns in ruins. While the demo doesn’t give a lot of context — and the Steam page is pretty obtuse about describing the game’s narrative — it seems like the long-term goal for the game is to uncover the mysteries that led to this widespread death and destruction.

As the demo opens, you take control of a preconstructed party, led by a dark elf known as the Chief. The Chief has seemingly accidentally led you into a bit of a dead end in a dungeon, so what subsequently unfolds acts as a simple tutorial about how the game plays.

During the tutorial, you’re introduced to most of the game’s major mechanics: moving around the dungeon, light sources, interactive elements and combat.

Potato Flowers in Full Bloom

Movement is as you would expect for a grid-based dungeon crawler: you turn by 90 degrees and move by step. In a nice little twist on the formula, though, you can adjust your viewpoint with the right analogue stick on a controller; when standing on a ledge, you can, for example, use this ability to peer over the edge and see if there’s anything interesting and/or dangerous below.

Light is of critical importance in Potato Flowers in Full Bloom, because it’s only when you’re in a well-lit area that you can see either the minimap in the corner of the screen or the full map that you can pull up with the press of a button. To that end, you can light and snuff out torches on the walls of the dungeon at will, and you also carry a portable torch with you. Lighting this gradually consumes it, however; when it runs out, you’re left with only a candle, which does not put out nearly as much light, but which does have infinite durability.

The light level varies as you explore the dungeon and is affected by your actions. Opening doors, for example, allows light to pass through from one room to another — though there are still some pretty pitch black rooms that you’ll probably need your portable light for.

Potato Flowers in Full Bloom

Interestingly for a first-person dungeon crawler, Potato Flowers in Full Bloom incorporates multiple “levels” to a single floor of the dungeon, and this is introduced immediately in the tutorial section. You can see that there’s a switch that will open the gate that has locked you in above you, but there’s seemingly no way to get to it from where you are. There is, however, a door behind it; this suggests that you’ll need to find a route around and up a set of stairs onto the raised platform in order to make use of it.

This additional dimension to the level design makes a surprising amount of difference to the typical dungeon-crawling experience, and makes Potato Flowers in Full Bloom’s labyrinths feel immediately more interesting to explore. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good classic gridder on a flat plane — but there’s nothing wrong with adding a few extra exploration gimmicks into the mix if it makes things enjoyable! And Potato Flowers in Full Bloom is nothing if not enjoyable.

Combat occurs at predefined locations in the dungeon, where you’ll find parties of monsters waiting for you. You can engage these monsters by walking into them, and approaching them from the side or back causes you to start battle with a one-turn advantage.

Potato Flowers in Full Bloom

Potato Flowers in Full Bloom’s turn-based combat system places a strong focus on observing what your enemy is up to and acting accordingly. When planning your party’s actions, you can see what the enemy is about to do and their likelihood of success, so you can make use of the appropriate abilities to ensure the flow of the battle is in your favour.

A notable aspect of the battle system is the stamina meter; everything you do — including normal attacks and guarding — costs stamina, and if this gets too low, you’ll need to take a turn to rest and fully replenish it. Timing this poorly can leave you very vulnerable, so it’s important to make sensible decisions about what you do when. While it can be tempting to unleash an all-out attack on the enemies while they’re resting, since they’re subject to the same rules as you, it is sometimes in your interest to also take advantage of the downtime.

Stamina and hit points are fully replenished between each battle, so for the most part there’s no real “resource management” required in Potato Flowers in Full Bloom’s dungeon crawling — at least initially. As your characters progress, they’ll obtain special abilities, which cost not only stamina but also “spirit” to make use of. Spirit does not regenerate like the other character resources, so you’ll need to make sure you’re saving a bit for the inevitable boss battles.

Potato Flowers in Full Bloom

Character progression is highly customisable. Any time you return to the game’s main base screen, you can create new characters or change the formation of your three-person team. Each character is fully customisable in terms of race, name, appearance and class. The racial options make no difference to stats so it’s purely a matter of whether you want to create human, dwarven, elf (wood or dark), orc or gnome characters, and the appearance options are all rather gender-ambiguous, meaning your characters can “be” whoever you want them to be.

Upon levelling up, characters obtain a skill point, which can be expended on one of several skill trees their chosen class has access to. Skills include passive abilities such as percentage-based increases to damage when using a favoured weapon, and also active skills which cost Spirit to use. There’s a nice mix of thematically appropriate skills for each class to use; they’re not all about different ways of dealing damage. Rogues, for example, have an excellent skill that increases their evasion massively, for example, which helps to put across the impression that they are highly agile warriors; warriors and knights, meanwhile, have the ability to protect other party members or put up a wall of defence.

The nice thing about Potato Flowers in Full Bloom is that it feels simple to play, but there’s obviously a lot of depth to the mechanics. Combat might initially appear a little simplistic until you encounter one of the boss characters; here, you’ll need to make proper and effective use of defensive skills as well as offensive ones, as well as making good use of the rest function. There’s a pleasingly flexible yet dynamic feel to the battle system; it’s rare you’ll be doing nothing but hammering the “attack” button. To put it another way, it strikes a great balance between challenge and accessibility.

Potato Flowers in Full Bloom

Aesthetically, Potato Flowers in Full Bloom is very pleasing. While the background music is quite repetitive — and, like many other doujin games, drawn extensively from online royalty-free libraries rather than specially composed — the sound effects are good and offer helpful feedback.

By far the best part of Potato Flowers in Full Bloom’s overall aesthetic is the way it looks, however. Adopting a simple, low-poly cel-shaded look with deliberately stylised characters, the game has a ton of personality to it — and even though the characters don’t have a lot of detail about them, they’re thoroughly heartwarming and wholesome to look at — as well as full of delightful little touches.

During the introduction sequence, you can tap a button to make the Chief skip along as she leads the party to their new headquarters. Pass by the exit of the dungeon you’re in and the Chief, who is waiting to take you home when you’re ready, will give you a cheerful wave. And any time you pop into the menus, the perspective shifts from the first-person view to an isometric look at the room you’re in, with all three party members doing something contextually appropriate. It really is an absolutely charming game.

Potato Flowers in Full Bloom

The demo version, available as part of Steam Next Fest until October 7, 2021, is quite substantial and will probably last you a couple of hours — more than enough to give you an idea of this is something you’re into. Save data will carry over into the full game, too, but there’s no specific release date planned for said full release as yet.

This is definitely one to keep an eye, on though; if you like your dungeon crawlers but fancy something that isn’t quite as intense as the Mary Skelters of the world, Potato Flowers in Full Bloom is absolutely worth adding to your wishlist. And give that demo a go — I’m certainly glad I did!

You can play the demo of Potato Flowers in Full Bloom and add it to your wishlist on Steam.

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Pete Davison
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