Wylde Flowers (2022)
Developer: Studio Drydock
Oh man, I have been falling behind lately - and I will blame it all on this game (even though I've also been busy with moving)! I really haven't actually played anything besides Wylde Flowers in about a month, and yet I'm still not really "done" - but I think it's time to finally review. Wylde Flowers is a farming sim where you're both a farmer and a witch, helping your small community and uncovering the mysteries of the town. Wylde Flowers is an incredible package - standout writing, lovable voice-acted characters, fun new mechanics, and a captivating small-town drama.
You play the story of Tara Wylde, a young woman from the city who moves to the small town of Fairhaven to help out at her grandmother's farm. Tara just got out of a long-term relationship and broken engagement and is looking to start fresh in a place that has happy memories from her childhood. Just as Tara is getting acquainted with all the townsfolk and farming life, her grandma Hazel decides to drop some big news - she's secretly a witch, and so is Tara. Hazel invites Tara into the town's secret coven, where she'll begin her training as a witch. There's a lot for Tara to do: farming, witch training, romancing, making friendships, and even navigating town drama and politics.
Let's address the elephant in the room: I, like many others I've spoken to, had reservations about Wylde Flowers at first due to its art style displayed in trailers and key art. It's not that it's bad - it's just so reminiscent of pay-to-play mobile games that it causes you to make assumptions. It took several recommendations for me to finally check it out. However, once you're actually playing the game, I find that the vibrant environmental art is more detailed than it seems. Even the bobble-head look of the characters really grew on me, especially since the character designs were all so unique from one another. I'm not one to specifically seek out voice acting in games - I find that it can be a plus but it isn't always. However, the voice acting greatly enhanced the experience of playing Wylde Flowers. It's incredible that they were able to get so many talented voice actors, especially for characters of many different nationalities. The soundtrack fulfills its goal of providing peaceful, easygoing vibes while you do all your different tasks around town. It has both classical sounds and more folksy, dance-type of songs. I especially like the theme that plays for Autumn - it takes the recognizable music of the game and makes it a little more witchy and spooky.
Wylde Flowers has really elevated the farming sim experience, giving you so many different farming mechanics that feel "realistic" but not tedious. I play a decent amount of farming sims, and this one's almost as high on the my list as Stardew Valley. It starts you off slow, with the right amount of guidance. The game only allows you to plant a few crops at a time until you really get that down. Then, more time passes before you can start to raise animals. You're introduced to new tasks in a gradual way that helps newer players not get overwhelmed or distracted. One particularly interesting twist about Wylde Flowers is that the days in a season aren't numbered - you, as a witch, actually get to decide when to turn the season. This makes planning your crops so much more flexible, and really takes away a lot of the pressure. There's also an option to slow down the clock, giving you more time in the day. I chose to occasionally turn this on, when I felt like I had a particularly busy day or needed to run to a shop before it closed, but for the most part the regular pace of time is good in order to keep things moving. This feature, as well as having magical abilities to manipulate time, made me not feel less rushed than I usually would in a farming sim. There's little things that could be improved - like the way you interact with items, sometimes it's really easy to select the wrong item even if you're facing towards it. My biggest complaint would actually be about weeds. Early in the game, it's pretty easy to find weeds all over your farm (and you do need them a lot). However, once you've built many buildings on your farm, weeds don't seem to appear anymore. I feel like I haven't seen a weed in like 2-3 seasons during my playthrough. You don't need them as much late game, but it's still a little funky. I also found that there was a bit of lull around Year One Autumn were there weren't many quests to do and no new buildings to request - I had a lot of money and nothing to spend it on. Things pick up later, but during this time I started losing a little bit of steam. I wish they'd added some of the new animals during this time instead of later, as it would've kept me busy during this time.
Wylde Flowers is also unique in the farming genre in that it tells a linear story about a specific character you play as - obviously you influence their choices, but it's not an avatar that you create and customize fully. This also means the main story only carries through year one, with year two having additional storylines and quests, but not any further than that. I could see some farming sim fans who like to play in a more independent way not loving this approach, but having an involved and interesting plot to follow throughout the game was a huge plus for me. I enjoy the freedom of farming sims but I'm also someone who loves to see a story through, which often takes way too long in this genre. My partner can vouch to the fact that the story of this game constantly had me reacting with gasps, laughter, and even yells of something like "oh my god, Cameron, will you please shut up". I was strapped in for the ride and I felt incredible invested in the characters' lives and their relationships with one another. Wylde Flowers takes an adult approach to this story - not in a way where it's disturbing or raunchy, but that it explores the complexity and difficulty of relationships, especially in marriage. Occasionally, it also made references to alcoholism, familial issues, and generational trauma, allowing you to understand the characters' motivations.
As you might expect, having both a coven in town and a church preaching about "malcontents" doesn't mix well.
I have so much to rave about when it comes to Wylde Flowers, but at the top of that list is the characters. I'm in awe of the incredible writing and thought that went into citizens of Fairhaven. It's an island where there are people of all different cultures, backgrounds, and sexualities. I can't help but find myself wishing I lived in Fairhaven - a walkable, close-knit community where everyone is actually open-minded and free to be themselves. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't problems in this town. Some people don't like each other, there's a weird culty "new age" church trying to recruit members, and the mayor is weirdly obsessed with starting a neighborhood watch. I'm someone who often skips the romancing in farming sims, but this game had me deeply invested in flirting up all the potentials. I believe a large part of the reason is because the dialogue always felt fresh and new, and I felt like every time I talked to someone I got to know more about them as a dynamic, full-fledged person. I actually found it extremely difficult to make a decision on who to marry, especially with the variety of candidate options you were given as a bisexual/pansexual character. The characters often talk about where they came from, why they ended up in Fairhaven, what they miss about their home, and how they continue to carry their culture with them. I won't lie, I think it's a little funny that almost all the characters' favorite foods are related to their country of origin - like, if you're wondering "I wonder what I should gift this Russian lady" and you guess "vodka", you'd be right. Sure, that may be a little on the nose, but I think it's fair to say most people have positive feelings about with the food they grew up with. It's also very possible to grow up eating Japanese food but have your favorite food be burgers, though. It's also incredibly refreshing to see nonbinary and queer characters living out their lives with everyday relationship problems like everyone else, not being treated differently by their community.
I could go on and on about Wylde Flowers. In my over 75 hours (and counting) of gameplay, I've taken so many screenshots and raved to my friends and partner about some of my favorite moments. It's impossible for me to cover it all here, but if you have one takeaway it's this - do not skip this one! If you're going to play one farming sim this year, I'd say to make it this one. I recommend it if you're a fan of farming sims, but even if you're not, it may be worth checking our for its story. I really think it stands apart from other games because of the way they invested so much into their characters.
Wylde Flowers is available on PC, Switch, and Apple Arcade
Played on: PC (Steam Deck)
Last Played: 9/11/2023
Playtime: 75 hrs