Farming sims became a cult hit when Harvest Moon debuted on the SNES in 1996/1997. About two decades later, enter Stardew Valley, and the farming sim genre goes from obscure to baked into every Tesla. Unfortunately, options are limited, with the only real competitors being My Time at Portia (passable) and about fifty Farming Simulator games, which are a more realistic departure from the genre. At this point, farming simulator games are a mix between life sim, action RPG, and agricultural activities. Kitaria Fables is more action RPG with a touch of agriculture—just a touch.
Kitaria Fables follows a nameless protagonist and his anthropomorphic pink cupcake-like companion. The land has already been cleansed of evil, but for some reason, monsters continue to harass villagers and do-gooders. What’s behind this disturbance? Play to the end of the horrific adventure to find out.
What’s horrific isn’t the story, but the entire experience. Vacant modern quality of life game design or conveniences, Kitaria Fables feels like an “eh” game from two decades ago. In today’s context, there’s simply no excuse. The bulk of Kitaria Fables takes place in a humble village adjacent to the protagonist’s father’s home, serving as the “farm.” From here, the player can warp around to different locations that have teleport crystals, but can only use the ones in the wild as checkpoints or one-way destinations. Rarely are teleport crystals offered outside of towns. The difference here is a minute or two of walking and rolling through enemy attacks in the field, but this adds up over time and could be easily solved with a better teleport mechanic.
From a top-down perspective, players navigate the world with relative ease committing attacks and dodge rolls with the touch of two buttons. The four shoulder buttons on controllers allow the use of the occasional spell or weapon ability, which depletes a renewable mana resource using weapon attacks (swords or bows). That’s the extent of combat. Most of Kitaria Fables devolves into watching for the red cone or circle warning of an enemy attack, dodge roll, then counter with a spell or swing. Levels and skill points don’t exist. The entirety of progression is housed in item drops, typically consumable or craftable. Money is probably the biggest hurdle, with most weapon or armor upgrades costing an excessive amount.
The supposed draw of the farming component of Kitaria Fables is that this is your income. That’s fine, but only if it’s an actual strong source of money and if it’s interesting in any way. Not only do seeds cost too much, but turning basic produce into a meal worth selling eats into profits. This system is one of the most egregious forms of grinding in Kitaria Fables. Since players can only hope to double their money after paying for all of the seeds and cooking, affording any crafts or upgrades becomes an exercise in tedium or futility. Equipment upgrades are necessary, but if players want to explore everything else the game offers—like eating the food they pay to have cooked—then the grind becomes even worse. This doesn’t even address the fact that the game is littered with copper, silver, and gold treasure chests everywhere that require one to mine ore, turn it into ingots, and pay a hefty sum (plus an iron resource) to make one key.
Treasure chests are basically a roulette. The chest can have a genuinely impressive item, like a piece of equipment, or it can contain ingots. Ingots! The things used to craft keys! And not twenty, but THREE. I have to mine the ore, pay to turn it into ingots, grind ten of the iron from golems (which drop inconsistently), and then pay 1000 legal tender to make the key, and you’re giving me three ingots?! Game, come on now.
All of this would be permissible if the grind were fun. A principle of mine in games is that grinding isn’t grinding unless the repetitive act isn’t fun anymore. With enough variety, bells and whistles, or discovery involved, the repetitive act of random battles, harvesting resources, or leveling up in any fashion can be calming or, dare I say it, fun. Kitaria Fables has none of that. If I want to harvest any resource for a weapon or keys, I have to go in and out of an area on the world map, mindlessly killing the same enemies for literally hours until I get what I need. And that’s just the resources; don’t forget the massive price tag on almost everything.
One of Kitaria Fables’ selling points is the cooperative system. Why make one player suffer when they can bring a friend along? Okay, maybe we can bond over the experience, crack some jokes over Discord, and catch up on the state of the US—you know, to make the game more pleasant. Well, here’s the funny thing about that: there’s only one set of farming equipment for two players. This means that if someone wants to cut down a tree—wood is useless, by the way—the other player has to sit and wait because the game won’t split the screen. What about metals, which are pretty useful? Yes, the other player HAS to sit and wait while his friend picks with that axe. Watering plants? Wait.
Now, I just have to laugh at this detail: two sets of equipment exist. What do you mean, Bob? Later in the game, players discover that an uncommon night market in the back corner of the town opens up per quest dialogue. Okay, cool, I love secret shops. This secret shop offers basic farming equipment for thousands of the game’s currency. So, for both players to use farming equipment, they need to eventually find out about the secret shop and access it on one of the rare nights it shows up and cough up 4000 money. What? You’re basically making me pay valuable in-game currency just to play with my friend? How is this a good idea?
Combat is relatively forgiving as enemy hit cones or whatever tend to miss if you’re standing on the periphery, which I’m thankful for. Enemies start out hopelessly difficult to thwart, but as players take chances and learn some spells, some of the more important enemies become easier to bag. The world is genuinely interesting to explore with some fun “secrets” littered about here and there, and while getting around can be a chore, it has a distinct visual charm. Musically, the experience is enhanced with cute, calm jingles, but don’t expect any earworms.
Kitaria Fables is an action RPG with a failed farming component. Hell, even the action RPG aspect is failed. The dialogue, while cute and child-like, goes on and on with more telling and less showing. On its surface, this looks like a fun kids game, but the punishing enemies and excessive text tell otherwise. I’m not sure who this is for. Actually, I’d say it’s for no one. In no way is this any fun. It felt like work from beginning to end, and I can’t even say that’s because I was doing any farming.