You may recall a while back that we took a look at a Steam Next Fest demo of an intriguing-looking (and unusually named) dungeon crawler called Potato Flowers in Full Bloom. The substantial demo was a lot of fun and gave a good idea of what to expect from the full game — and now, finally, that full game is with us. So let’s take a closer look at this thoroughly lovely doujin dungeon crawler!
In Potato Flowers in Full Bloom, you take on the role of members of an organisation called The Plow of the Sword, who are attempting to investigate the cause and possible solution to the land rotting and being unable to sustain crops. Supposedly, deep within a labyrinth, there are some potato seeds that can grow even in the most poisonous soil — and so it’s up to you to find them.
Potato Flowers in Full Bloom doesn’t make a big deal of its plot, but it’s clear some care and attention has been paid to its background and overall lore. Speaking to the various characters you encounter in your explorations gives little bits of context as to how the outside world is right now — as well as giving you an idea of how things might have ended up in such a terrible situation in the first place. It’s a fun blend of gently melancholy and oddly positive, helped along by the deliberately stylised, cutesy presentation.
Where Potato Flowers in Full Bloom really shines, though, is in its gameplay, because it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is an absolutely exemplary dungeon crawler, offering a wonderful balance between exploration, puzzle solving and combat. If anything, the game’s relative de-emphasising of combat is something I’d like to see more of in the genre, because the way Potato Flowers in Full Bloom implements battles makes them feel tightly integrated into the core exploration gameplay; a stark contrast from the random battles of some other dungeon crawlers regularly interrupting your jaunts through their labyrinths.
Potato Flowers in Full Bloom’s dungeon design is noteworthy in that each level of the labyrinths you’re exploring is not designed as a simple flat plane, nor are they at a constant light level. Rather, you’ll have to make use of your limited torch resource, light the dungeon as best you can — you can’t read your map otherwise — and find your way around bit by bit, often taking a few risks along the way.
There are steps up to higher platforms and bridges across passageways, meaning that you’ll often have to find creative ways to get on top of things, leap down from high ledges and unlock shortcuts to get around. You’ll also often have to interact with objects and figure out their purpose while exploring — and things go well beyond simply flipping a switch and “you hear a door opening somewhere”.
In fact, unlocking shortcuts is a massive part of Potato Flowers in Full Bloom, since these allow you quick and easy access from the entrance of the dungeons to various new challenges without having to simply pick your way through areas you’ve already cleared out. Opening up a new shortcut — usually by unlocking a one-way door always feels like a significant and satisfying milestone, and the regularity with which this occurs keeps Potato Flowers in Full Bloom feeling like you’re always making forward progress.
That’s not to say that there’s no challenge, mind, because the combat sequences will test your mettle — even in combat with regular enemies, in many cases. Since enemy groups are positioned in preset positions around the map and don’t move, often you’ll have to clear a path through them in order to progress further — and sometimes that means taking on enemies that look like they might be stronger than you can handle. But never fear — solid strategy more often than not saves the day!
Potato Flowers in Full Bloom’s combat system is a combination of turn-based and real time. Each combat round, both you and your enemies select the actions you’re going to take; you have a slight advantage in that you’ll always see what the enemies are planning before you choose your own actions. Once everyone has chosen, the round begins, with everyone’s actions unfolding in quasi real-time according to their initiative and any inherent delay values on their abilities. For example, a basic physical attack is normally fairly quick — particularly with an agile weapon like a dagger — but spells or more complex abilities may take a moment to trigger.
This is important, because it means you can do things like knock an enemy down before they’re able to get a devastating spell off, shield yourself from incoming damage or quickly heal an ally before a hard hit comes in. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock various abilities that will enable you to manipulate the flow of battle in various ways, and staying in complete control of the situation at all times is of critical importance.
Of particular note is the fact that the game’s “Guard” function is a lot more useful than it is in many other role-playing games. Rather than simply feeling like a waste of a turn, guarding against powerful strikes is an important part of combat strategy, since it more often than not makes the difference between one of your party members getting absolutely flattened and being able to endure the strike with just a minor scratch. In many cases, guarding can actually prevent negative status effects from being applied, too, so its importance cannot be overstated.
The other key aspect of battle that you need to keep an eye on is stamina management. Everything you do costs stamina, and if you run out of stamina you’re unable to do anything but rest for a round — which, of course, leaves you vulnerable. The enemies are subject to this also, however, meaning that if you time things correctly you can give them a solid beatdown while they’re catching their breath — plus magic-using classes’ focus on using the separate “Spirit” resource (which can only be restored by leaving the dungeon and returning) means they can often keep the assault up while the melee classes are having a breather.
One of the nice things about Potato Flowers in Full Bloom is that although each character you add to your party has a set class and a corresponding skill tree to work through, these classes don’t feel overly limiting. Pretty much any character can equip anything — though many classes have specialisms and skills that reward them for making use of a particular equipment type. It’s sometimes worth eschewing class specialisms in favour of equipping items that are more effective against a particular type of enemy, though — particularly if the battles are giving you a bit of grief.
But you should also pay attention to the environment, because that can actually make a difference in battle, too. A good example comes relatively early in the game during a level where there are lots of fire-aspected enemies; manipulation of a particular device allows you to fill up water tanks and soak yourself in water, which reduces the impact of fire-based abilities considerably for a short period. This is what I mean by Potato Flowers in Full Bloom tightly integrating its various systems together; combat, exploration and puzzle-solving feel like they’re all interconnected rather than being completely separate game elements that you engage with in turn.
To say too much more about Potato Flowers in Full Bloom would be to spoil the joy of discovery that you’ll constantly feel while exploring its labyrinths, so we’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say for now, though, that if you’re a fan of the dungeon crawler genre and want to try a game that does things quite markedly differently from the norm, Potato Flowers in Full Bloom should absolutely be in your collection. It really is a remarkable game — and I worry that as a digital-only title released not long after some of the biggest games of the year, it will be completely overlooked. And that would be absolutely criminal.
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