Fae Farm review: A magical cozy game

Welcome to CNN Underscored’s Cozying Up column, where we review cozy video games, including indie titles, narrative-based games and farming and life sims. So sit back, get cozy and let’s play!

Fae Farm places you in the sprawling land of Azoria, where you can harvest crops, catch critters, reel in fish, raise animals, defeat monsters, show off fashionable looks, craft items and decorate to your heart’s content, not to mention befriend villagers and even date and marry one. The game takes a lot of cues from cozy games that came before it, including Wylde Flowers, Littlewood, Stardew Valley and, of course, Animal Crossing: New Horizons — but its magical world and abilities, plus its unique art style and convenient game mechanics, make it stand apart from some of the competition and may even set a new standard for cozy games in general.

Here’s what we thought after playing more than 70 hours of Fae Farm for Nintendo Switch, courtesy of Phoenix Labs.

Explore the expansive world of Azoria in Phoenix Labs’ Fae Farm, which offers countless hours of cozy fun with friends online or solo. Preorder to receive the exclusive Cozy Cabin Variety Pack DLC.

When you first arrive in Azoria, it may feel like a pretty standard village with a market, a tavern, a mine, some spooky woods and, of course, your homestead. But as you progress in the main story, you’re able to unlock areas that were previously blocked off and even explore an entirely different realm. Whenever I thought I had fully opened up the map, somewhere new would become available, which kept the game feeling fresh before it even began to feel stale. For me, it took about 55 hours of gameplay and finishing the eight-chapter main story to unlock a fully traversable map. You’ll even unlock new homesteads in unexpected areas. I won’t spoil how many houses you’ll have by the end of the main story, but even having more than one is an exciting development for this kind of game.

I’m also notoriously directionally challenged in real life and in video games (open-world games like Elden Ring or The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom quite frankly scare me), but I found the Fae Farm map to be easily navigable very early on. The main town (I named mine Cozinia) has a layout that’s somewhere between the maps in Wylde Flowers and Stardew Valley. In Wylde Flowers, the map is very uncomplicated but almost to a fault in that it ends up feeling a little flat and eventually makes visiting non-player characters (NPCs) feel tedious. Stardew Valley’s map, on the other hand, feels a little too spread out; I’d often get lost trying to find someone, or random obstacles would block a clear path to where I wanted to go. Fae Farm’s layout hits the perfect sweet spot for me, though. Different elevations give the game more dimension, but there are always clear paths to where you need to go, with lots of opportunities to catch critters, chop down trees or fish along the way. And while the Town Center has seven vendors all in one big circle, there are numerous other vendors in unique areas across the map, so it doesn’t feel flat either.

And whether or not you’re directionally challenged like me, I think every player will appreciate Fae Farm’s wayshrines, magical circular portals in the ground in various areas that allow you to fast-travel across the map. Once you activate a wayshrine by crafting a seal using mined resources, you’re able to use that wayshrine to immediately travel to any other activated wayshrine on the map. There are eight activatable wayshrines by the end of the main story, which gives you a sense of just how sprawling the map becomes.

Cute, diverse characters, critters and monsters

By my count, there are nearly 50 NPCs in Fae Farm, each with their own unique design and personality quirks. I love the diversity of the cast, with many races being represented as well as two species: human and fae. It’s wonderful to see so many backgrounds represented in the characters as well: Aspen, the town carpenter and building advisor, is a wheelchair user, and Vera, the town healer who sells potions, wears a hijab, to name a couple. I hope in the near future we won’t have to point out inclusion such as this in a review because it’ll be commonplace, but it seems important to do so now.

I’m hesitant to assign sexes or genders to these characters, but three are male-presenting, two are female-presenting and one, a fae warrior named Galan, is a little more ambiguous. You can fulfill Romance Quests and marry any of these characters regardless of how you look or the pronouns you choose (they/them, she/her or he/him).

While none of the characters are voice-acted like in Wylde Flowers, they have enough personality that I could remember most of their faces and names when searching for them on the map. Unfortunately, the dialogue is a little stilted and repetitive with the “friend” characters, but you’ll have the opportunity to go on five dates with each of the six romanceable characters, during which they’ll have an extended monologue that reveals much more of their personality. You can romance Argyle, a good-natured, frog-loving human; Jack, a bearded, kindhearted human; Nhamashal, a demure fae who writes poetry; Galan, a jumble-fighting fae; Pepper, a sweet, coy human; and Pyria, a prickly, brooding fae. Players are bound to connect with one of these potential partners, but there are certain other characters I was a little disappointed weren’t romanceable, as they seemed a little more interesting.

Aside from the NPCs, the game’s cute aesthetic extends to the 15 jumbles, or anthropomorphic enemies, you’ll encounter while dungeoneering. Tresroar are chomping treasure chests, Skello are animated cellos that attack with their broken strings and Clanky are spinning gears, among others I don’t want to spoil. They’re more cute than terrifying, though, making it suitable for kids as well as adults. Even the various critters you can catch, including frogs, flies, bees, butterflies, “bloblins” and crabs, are adorable, with big, animated eyes and colorful designs. You can tell a lot of love went into the concept art behind every character and critter in the game.

Saving the cutest for last, though, are the animals you can raise and care for. Chickoo are chicken-like egg producers; Cottontail are cotton-creating, rabbit-esque animals; Woolyhorn have large horns and produce wool; Mamoo are furry, big-nosed cows that give you milk; Lunen (sure to be a player favorite) are winged, magical-eared cuties that make silk; and Spriggan give you special leaves and look like little animated plants. You can increase your animals’ happiness by breeding them with heart pillow charms, and you can even change their color by breeding them with one of 14 colored charms. The charm won’t always change their color, but if the animal has a higher happiness level, the chances of it working are better.

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The wayshrines are just one of the many quality-of-play considerations Fae Farm makes. I’ve played a lot of cozy games, most of which involve some level of grinding for resources, farming and crafting, and while I absolutely love nothing more than exploring a world and collecting stuff, there’s almost always something that makes the process tedious or annoying at some point. Cycling through weapons or tools was one of those nuisances — until Fae Farm.

Seasoned cozy gamers will be all too familiar with the implements Fae Farm provides: a shovel, an ax, a pickax, a sickle, a watering can, a fishing rod, a net and a staff. However, instead of always having to cycle through all eight tools, as in a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you only have to cycle through four: the rod, the net, the staff and the combined shovel/ax/pickax/sickle/watering can. If you’ve selected what I’ll call the “five-tool option,” it will automatically switch to whichever tool needs to be used for the task at hand. Walking up to a tree? The ax comes out. Trying to cut some grass? The sickle will be triggered, and so on.

You also never have to repair or re-craft your main tools; you only have to upgrade your tools using various new resources and florin (Fae Farm’s in-game currency). Upgrading your tools also gives them convenient new power-ups. An upgraded watering can, for example, will allow you to magically water a small patch of crops or flowers in one go rather than having to water each individually, plus it’ll also hold more water.

Using your tools’ power-ups will cost you mana, one of three meters your character has (there are also energy and health meters). Traditional tasks like logging, mining and watering crops — anything that uses the five-tool option — will expend energy, but you can still fish with your rod and catch critters with your net even when your energy meter is depleted. Getting hit by jumbles in mines will cause you to lose health. If your health meter becomes depleted, you’ll simply be ejected from the mine — you won’t lose florin or time in the day.

You can replenish health, energy and mana by consuming meals and potions, and when any of these meters gets too low, the game will even prompt you at the bottom of the screen to consume something in your inventory to replenish it.

There are a number of other gameplay mechanics that just make sense as well. For example, in-game days start at 6 a.m. and end at midnight, but if you fail to get to your bed by midnight, there’s absolutely no punishment. Crafting is a huge part of the game as well, but many of the crafting stations allow you to craft multiple things at once: multiple meals in the cooking hearth, multiple resources from the critter conservatories and multiple potion ingredients from the potion ingredients station, for example.

Storage is also typically a hassle, but in Fae Farm, you get unlimited house storage from the very beginning. When crafting, it pulls directly from this house storage, so you don’t need to have all those crafting items in your inventory all the time. They’ll only need to be directly in your inventory when you buy goods from vendors, which seems fair and sensical.

The almanac, accessible through the game’s main menu, is also one of the most helpful I’ve used in any game. You can find literally every single item, relationship character and critter in the game in its almanac. If you’re having trouble finding an undiscovered recipe for a decor item, the almanac will give you a hint to its whereabouts. I personally find cross-breeding flowers a little challenging, but the almanac says which color genes create different colored flowers, which makes the process a little less daunting. (There are a whopping 72 flowers you can produce, by the way, and I only know that thanks to the almanac.)

The character creator in Fae Farm is fairly decent, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it robust. And that’s OK, to be honest, because you won’t see many of these details while you play anyway. You can adjust body type, eyes, eyebrows, mouth, hair, facial hair, facial details, pronouns and voice, and you can do so at any time via the customization mirror in your home. Under the hair options, I particularly loved seeing multiple turban, shawl and hijab offerings available. You can’t change their color at the start of the game, but later on, you can craft the same head coverings and change the color of those.

While Fae Farm doesn’t offer as many fashion and decor items as you might expect, you can customize these items a lot. For example, every item or outfit is made up of one to three different color “regions,” and you can change each of those regions on any of those items to one of 72 different colors. The catch? The game gives you just six of the 72 shades and you have to unlock the other 22 color palettes yourself through various vendors scattered across the map.

There are a fair amount of fence, path and rug buyables that can help you create a distinct look for your farm too, but outfits themselves are quite limited and time-consuming to attain. According to the in-game almanac, there are just 25 total outfits, and you can’t mix and match tops and bottoms; they’re always a complete set. However, there’s also headwear (like bear ears, a babushka shawl or, my favorite, bug antennae), upper face accessories (like glasses), lower face accessories (like a rose in your mouth or animal whiskers) and wings (unlocked after completing chapter four of the game). At first, I was a little bummed that there were so few options, but over time I saw it as a sort of badge of honor; you’ll be able to identify the most devoted players by the outfits they’ve attained, and that’s kinda cool.

Sometimes the problem with cozy games is that they can bore you over time or overwhelm you from the jump. In my opinion, Fae Farm hits the pacing sweet spot. It starts you off with all the tools you’ll need to forage, mine, fish, catch critters and so on, giving you lots to do right away, but then it introduces new crafting stations, new resources and new areas to explore every seven to 10 hours of gameplay, which gives you plenty of time to master certain mechanics before being thrown new ones.

Each in-game day lasts 18 real-time minutes, and there are 28 in-game days per season (spring, summer, autumn and winter). I finished Year 1 in a little over 40 hours, which I think is a perfect amount of time for a game like this. I also never really felt the need to end days early by sleeping in my bed, instead exploring a mine all day, focusing on crops or crafting decor for my homes. Twenty-eight days also gives you lots of time to find seasonal critters, fish and foraging items to build out your almanac and collect new recipes.

But if you think you can do everything in Year 1, think again. Many recipes don’t unlock until later in the game, and there are a whopping 36 crops to be harvested, most of which are only unlocked during certain seasons by using magic crop swap fertilizer, an item that turns the only buyable six nonseasonal crops into seasonal ones and traditional crops into fae varieties. There are also the 72 aforementioned flowers you’ll need to crossbreed in order to purchase new wings or color palettes, not to mention the festivals that happen on the last day of each month and their respective festival-specific items.

While there’s a lot of fun grinding to be done, the game goes a step further by offering some light dungeon crawling in addition to various types of quests, which offer direction to players who like having it. Story Quests propel the main story forward; Side Quests function almost like game tutorials; Job Quests have multiple tiers that, once completed, unlock Achievements, giving you a brand-new outfit; and Friend and Romance Quests will help you develop relationships with townsfolk.

Fae Farm allows you to play with up to three other friends online, which was what initially caught my attention about the game when it was first announced (in addition to its adorable aesthetic, of course). I was only able to play online with a fellow video game journalist for a couple hours, but it actually changed the way I played. Before, it was all about cultivating my ideal farm, dungeoneering alone and fending for myself. With a friend, it became more of a community effort: Battling jumbles in the mines was a lot more satisfying, and we could share valuable resources. Your friends can even build upon (or demolish) your homestead, craft decor items and help harvest crops. While some players might understandably be worried that their farm’s aesthetic will get ruined by having friends contribute, I think it’s ultimately more fun to collaborate and help one another. I know I, for one, could use the help with interior design and crossbreeding all those flowers.

I know a few friends who have already preordered the game, and I can’t wait to re-experience it with them.

Minor bugs and glitches — and some major

It pains me to say it, but I did experience some hiccups in the 70 hours I played. Early on, some of my tools would seemingly just disappear, and I wouldn’t be able to open, say, my net until I walked in and out of a building, talked to someone or restarted the game. The game also crashed completely several times, and although it autosaves, I still lost an in-game day of progress each time it happened. The good news? The Day 1 patch became available to me a few days ago and I haven’t experienced these issues since. I only still mention them here because I haven’t played as much since the patch, so I’m not sure if new players will experience the glitches or not.

Things got a little hairier, though, after I completed the main story and entered Year 2 of the game, about 55 hours into gameplay for me. Nuts, a key cooking ingredient I was previously able to forage relatively easily, seemingly disappeared from the game. I haven’t found a single one anywhere over multiple in-game seasons, which has hindered me from cooking specific dishes and even completing one of August the chef’s Job Quests. But strangest of all, when I got toward the end of completing multiple Romance Quests, it automatically made me spouses with multiple characters. At first I thought it was just an anticlimactic finale to the quests and that polyamory was possible in the game, but then it gave me a prompt to properly propose to a character … after I had already suddenly become spouses with three others without the pomp and circumstance of a formal wedding. After actually proposing to one of them, I had to pay 10,000 florin for the marriage license and there was a ceremony, and now that character lives on my farm, but I am technically spouses with four of the six total romanceable NPCs after only having had a proper ceremony with one. To my knowledge, the Day 1 patch has not fixed either of these bigger issues and I might just have to reset my relationships entirely, but I’ll be sure to update this review with any developments or quotes from Phoenix Labs.

One final note, and this might sound nitpicky because I’m a full-time copy editor, but I also noticed several typos throughout the game that didn’t affect gameplay at all but did make the game feel a little unpolished. It’s so easy to get swept into the magic and fun of Azoria, and those occasional typos just detracted from that a teensy bit.

As mentioned previously, I was a little bummed not to see any sort of museum or building where you can visit all the rare fish and critters you’ve caught throughout the game. While certainly not necessary, it would have added a little more depth to the game instead of having to just open the almanac and scroll through images and descriptions of everything you’ve found.

A camera feature would have been nice to have as well. My screenshots in this review would have been much nicer, for example, without the very busy interface crowding each frame. Cozy gamers like me also love to show off their farms on social media, so not having even a basic camera function that “turns off” the UI will make these a little messier and less exciting to peruse.

Despite some bugs, Fae Farm is a magical, fast-paced adventure that almost any cozy gamer will love; I played for 70 hours not just for this review but because I simply couldn’t put it down. Even after the main story is finished, there are numerous side quests to complete, items to unlock and crops to be harvested, and I can see myself easily putting another hundred-plus hours into the game by myself and, excitedly, with friends. Fans of Animal Crossing: New Horizons or Wylde Flowers will find a lot to love in this game and won’t mind grinding to buy that one perfect outfit or that special pair of wings.

The fae-tastic Fae Farm will be available for Nintendo Switch and PC on Sept. 8.

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