Kynseed is a lot. This fantasy-infused farming/life sim carries its brightly coloured pixel art and whimsical cast with an effortless gait but just below its surface is a broiling set of systems and ideas that make playing it somewhat overwhelming. Let alone trying to finish its supposed 80+ hour playtime. After several years in Early Access, Kynseed hit its 1.0 release in late 2022 and bears the hallmarks of a refined and storied developer. Based in the UK and founded by Fable creators Lionhead veterans, PixelCount Studios set out to make Kynseed something of a spiritual successor to the intentions of the Fable series and have largely succeeded.
Kynseed is something of an onion of a game, an initially humdrum prologue eventually peeling back to reveal more layers, under which there are dozens more to go. You begin with a simple character customisation and whimsically coated personality quiz as a talking bunny guides you through some dream woods and probes you on your business ethics and life goals. Along with the fairy tale rhyme preamble, in which you discover you are one of two twins born to an old lady who lives in a shoe, Kynseed lands with a surprising amount of character. Like the best dreams though, these trappings soon fade as you’re thrust into the shoes of your pre-teen self, working with your uncle on his farm in the land of Quill.
Kynseed’s fantastical NPCs will lead you on a truly wild ride
This humdrum little farm, the surrounding woods and the nearby Candlewych Village are where you’ll widdle away the first few hours of Kynseed, running inconsequential errands and chatting with the locals about apples and whatnot. It’s quaint to a fault, a numbing and deliberately childlike loop of busy work and early bedtimes, only occasionally catching glimpses of the more adult world around you. Given how the early hours of Kynseed are prone to bouts of pleasantly mindless routine, its couching of countless tutorials during this period is an issue. While I enjoy a lazy saunter through a new world, I did find myself pressing ahead for time’s sake and in doing so inadvertently moved too quickly through hints and tips. Kynseed doesn’t do a great job of explaining itself sometimes either, a combination that only bolsters the overwhelming feeling of scale in the game.
After some simmering family tension between your sister/brother and uncle reach boiling point, and your dreams escalate to the level of concerningly detailed, the prologue concludes with one of the more shocking things I’ve seen in a game for a long while. There are hints at this…event…let’s call it, during your childhood, but the audacity of it still impresses me now looking back. I wouldn’t dare spoil it but suffice to say your life shifts on its axis as you find yourself in a legally binding contract with a rather fetching and powerful being. Here you nab yourself the titular Kynseed, a magical item that will allow you to effectively move your spirit through generations, accumulating knowledge and experience to deploy for decades to come as you see fit.
From this point on Kynseed expands into a full-blown life sim, complete with a daunting number of paths to walk, people to meet and jobs to be done. The top layer is a simple but engaging farming sim that riffs on the pixelated homestead genre with ease; buy your seeds, sow the land, water, harvest, and repeat. This expected loop is the undercurrent for the game’s more complex and involved systems, as your bedrock operations fuel and fund a bevy of minigames and microeconomies. A crowning jewel is Kynseed’s cooking minigames, gorgeously rendered and involved processes that see you chopping, boiling, and serving a staggering variety of meals and tonics.
Throughout Kynseed you’ll find dozens of cool ways to engage with its world and systems.
Cooking is just one of countless ways to engage with this world though. As your bloodline lengthens and your wealth accumulates you can buy and run small businesses. To extend that bloodline though you’ll need to find a partner among Kynseed’s seemingly countless NPCs. Tire of the grind and equip your magical lantern and pierce the veil between worlds to uncover the mysteries of Quill. Explore new lands and find map markers to fill out your index. Race your prized pig. Attend a farmers’ market. Work toward filling out one or all the game’s several skill trees. Appease a goddess with an offering. Go fishing. It goes on and on like this. Kynseed is a fully realised fantasy world, and while there are the occasional scope-related issues (some NPC dialogue is a bit dull or the odd unbalanced minigame), the breadth of Quill and its inhabitants is a sight to behold.
If you’re more of a fighter than a lover though, Kynseed has you covered with a simple to grasp, tough to master combat system. There are several dangerous forest dungeons around Quill which can be entered to complete quests and just generally go hunting for rewards. Once you’ve equipped your weapons (which you also craft in yet another involved minigame), you’ll enter the gauntlet. Battles play out across three lanes – top, middle, and bottom. You shift between these spots with the face buttons, using your positioning to lob projectiles or launch stamina-based melee attacks on the enemy’s corresponding lane. Throw in a decent variety of weapons, foes, and battle systems and Kynseed’s combat is yet another of its rich and rewarding components.
Kynseed’s combat is simple to grasp and tough to master.
I can’t deny that these interlocking systems were frequently intimidating, but Kynseed smooths out a lot of mechanical overload with its genuinely stunning art direction and tone. The events and world of Kynseed are heavily influenced by various folklore and mythology, giving the land of Quill a dreamlike nature that shifts between warming and mildly harrowing. Packaging these story beats and themes in an ostensibly wholesome vibe leads to some fun dissonance and thoughtful moments. Plus, just look at this thing— Kynseed’s pixel art is incredibly detailed, offering textured and hugely varied landscapes with expressive layers like weather, character design and a healthy dose of fancy lighting.
I may not have seen credits on Kynseed, but after several weeks on and off with the game, I’m not sure that matters too much. This is a huge, sometimes unwieldy but frequently dazzling journey through generations. From its gorgeous art style to its multi-layered and interlocking systems, Kynseed never leaves you wanting for something, or somewhere, or someone to see. Just like our real world lives it can be a bit much and may require a bit more of your patience than you’d like, but meet it halfway and Kynseed blooms.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- PixelCount Studios
- PixelCount Studios
- November 8, 2022