For a game as small as Kynseed, the amount of talent in the game’s developer – PixelCount Studios – is astounding. The studio is a remnant of Lionhead Studios, the infamous team behind the Fable series. Kynseed, in some ways, feels like a response to Fable’s limitless unmet promises when it released in 2004. In the run-up to that game’s release, Lionhead’s then-CEO Peter Molyneux broke the record for baseless superlatives. One of those superlatives alluded to the possibility to raise children and watch them grow up; Kynseed takes this concept and runs with it, offering a game whose potential is deceived by its cutesy aesthetic.
On paper, Kynseed is a sandbox life-sim RPG. Taking heavy inspiration from the meditative mundanity of titles such as Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, the game entices players to lose themselves in the satisfying routines of fantasy rural life. However, Kynseed adds a mechanic that diversifies the game from its competitors: in-game, when you die, you step into the shoes of your child, and continue life as them.
Playing a game where the player controls a lineage, as opposed to an individual, is the project’s biggest appeal; despite Kynseed’s simple aesthetic, this mechanic imbues the game with an epic sense of scope. In-game, the player’s family lineage is controlled by a legendary seed called the Kynseed, which grows a literal family tree. Each generation will have to continue on the work of the generation before it, which include running a business of the player’s choice, exploring, farming land, curating social links with townsfolk, and amassing legendary artifacts.
All these strangely satisfying activities in-game is underpinned by a wider quest to discover secrets of the Kynseed and the wider world, all under a Majora’s Mask-inspired time limit system. Players must micro-manage their day-to-day activities with cultivating these secrets while ensuring the family line lives on.
The game doesn’t lack a linear story, however, despite its open feel. At least at the beginning, the title’s tutorial follows a story path. Players assume the role of an adopted boy or girl, who has to acclimatise to life on a rural farm. Players will foster their relationship with a twin sibling of the opposite gender and an adoptive father. Once the tutorial is over, the world really opens up. Despite its Early Access status, Kynseed’s open world is a marvel and one of its greatest strengths. While the time limit feature hinders how far you can really go, when the in-game day starts, players are able to do whatever they damn please.
Not to dip into the studio’s past too much, the music, aesthetic, and overall ‘feel’ of the world very much feels like Fable. The contrasts of arable farmland, dungeons, and wacky British-inspired humour gives the game a cosy, nostalgic vibe. The art direction has a lot of responsibility for this factor, with each area of the map being varied enough, yet maintaining the project’s breezy rural aestheticism.
The zany cast of game’s characters, too, complete with their likes, dislikes, fears, and foibles clutter up the towns nicely, with relationships maturing and developing in an organic fashion. Conversing with these characters, however, is scuppered by the games conversation UI, which is awkward at best. Scrolling through the menus to talk, hand over important items, or to check the time feels archaic in the worst way, which is something the developer should definitely look into streamlining.
While the NPCs could do with more dialogue, players can find many hidden texts and proverbs hidden in the world, which are usually filled with charming or hilarious observations. A lot of time has been taken in writing this optional text-based side-content, so it would be nice if the NPCs did not fall into repetition as often; while the game’s characters are filled with personality, a little more textual flavour and variation would not go amiss.
The detail put into the world building, then, should be commended, and PixelCount can only go further from here. By its own admittance, Kynseed is only “quarter-finished”, which shows in the game’s overall lack of polish. The game is very rough around the edges on times and a few interactions with characters just come across as unfinished and plain awkward.
Unlike most retro-fetishist affairs that litter Early Access, Kynseed is tasteful with its aesthetic influences as it doesn’t use them as a crutch, they are an additive to its charms. The game nails a whimsical, dreamlike atmosphere not due to its excellent design, but due to the volume of work put into the world’s machinations. The amount of intertextual references makes the world feel like a living, breathing literary field, which is a huge positive for a title this small.
Combat in the game feels rudimentary at the moment. “At the moment” is an important addition, as the title’s fighting portion is clearly a work in progress. Right now, similar to other games of its ilk, the combat is click to kill, with some RPG-lite integration via weapon variety. Enemy design is a delight so far, too, but needs a little more variation, which the game should bring on full release. The combat is, like most of the game, brimming with potential that is yet to be actualised.
The game is, however, qualified to be in Early Access, and its potential feels huge. If PixelCount can spend resources on polishing up some of the dialogue, diversifying the gameplay, and streamlining the unergonomic menus, the life-sim RPG subgenre could have a new classic. Fable fans, too, may get that game they were promised all those years ago.