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Kynseed review: a promising RPG, but not all its promises are fulfilled

More puns than RPS straplines

Playing Kynseed is kind of like being allowed too much freedom at the pick-n-mix. It’s not that all the separate parts go badly together, having chocolate jazzies and cola bottles all jumbled in together is exactly what I want. The problem is that it can’t possibly live up to what you hoped for when you’re scooping treats into that weighty paper bag. There’s a surprise chalkiness in the chocolates, some of the gummies are glued together, and in your haste, you’ve nabbed two lookalike sweets and mismanaged your expectations. At a glance, it’s precisely the rainbow-coloured jumble you wanted, but often it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Kynseed is an RPG, and a life sim, and a sandbox. It is also Cooking Mama, and Moonlighter, and a dungeon crawler. It is gentle vibes ASMR relax-and-watch-the-seasons-change, and also crass and knowingly subversive. It does some of these things excellently, while other parts just don’t hold up.

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You begin your adventure as a child who - together with your sibling - gets adopted by a benevolent uncle and rescued from your life of poverty with The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe (you know, the one with so many children she didn’t know what to do). He sets you to work on his farm as he’s getting stiff and creaky in his old age, so you're tasked with feeding the pig, watering crops, and ferrying gifts of fresh milk to local NPCs with punny names. But then you make a magical deal that sets Kynseed apart from other farming sims: plant the titular kynseed and a part of you will live forever in the generations that come after, but you have to pay with years of your mortal life now. As the sapling grows into a branching tree it tracks your character's stats, and then passes on special bonuses to your character's children, and then their children's children. In this way, a part of you will live forever in the generations that come after you're long gone.

It took about sixteen hours to get into a comfortable rhythm, which is a fairly hefty price of admission

The transition to the world opening up post-prologue is clunky, which is a fair representation of my time with the rest of the game, too. The constant tug between discovery, desire, and roughly paced instruction means there's no real distinction between “learn this thing right now” objectives and plotty slow burn objectives, which left me running around the map hunting for alliums like my life depended on it. It took about sixteen hours to get into a comfortable rhythm, which is a fairly hefty price of admission.

The best promise of Kynseed is its vastness. If I really like its dungeon system, I can grow crops and cook meals for the best stat boosts – or I can mine for ores and smith better weapons, and have my spouse manage the farming and cooking – or I can send my spouse dungeoning while I cook for them, and sell both their spoils and my excess meals in the general store. And if I tire of that loop, I can uproot the kynseed and pass on my skills to my child, but with their own bonus traits that set them up as a better chef, or smith, or fisher.

I generally dislike writing about bugs in reviews. The review is final, but bugs get patched, often between the version of the game I play and the version that’s released. That said, almost every major system I interacted with in Kynseed was broken at some level, and it was all the more frustrating because of how much you can invest in these features before cracks show.

I get a letter about an upcoming cooking festival and spend time practicing all the cooking mini-games only to show up to the event to find nobody there. After plying an NPC with gifts, I ask them out on a date, but they never recognise that we arrived at their chosen date spot. I go through the seven-day ritual to propose, which includes picking a rose on the one day a week it grows, in the specific seasons it grows in, but after my spouse moves in, they randomly stop doing their household tasks. We conceive, with the help of goddess offerings and virility-aiding foods (yes, really!) and the stork never comes. I sell vegetables and tools made from ore I mined until I have enough money to buy a store and then discover that it's economy only ‘works’ if someone else is running the store in my absence. Even the kynseed's generational powers - the ability to pass on special bonuses to the next generation and one of the main new things in the 1.0 release - resolutely left half my stats at zero.

Maybe the most disappointing part of Kynseed that isn't a bug is that the writing is deeply underwhelming. Nobody reacts to you disappearing for years at a time – even people you had strong relationships with. Most of what characters have to say is generic and frequently repeated, while forming relationships largely results in free titbits about the world – did you know that you can get better quality apples with slingshots? It seems like there are dozens of date spots but going on a date gets you one single unique line of dialogue about the location and nothing new about your partner. A lot – and I really do mean a lot – of the text in the game is fart jokes.

Visually, it’s a beautiful game, and combined with the soundtrack each map has a really strong sense of identity – which is impressive given their sheer size

In other places, Kynseed has exceptional attention to detail. Visually, it’s a beautiful game and combined with the soundtrack each map has a really strong sense of identity – which is impressive given their sheer size. Exploration is rewarded, and I’ve discovered one or two world-expanding secrets that are very suggestive of more secrets to come. There are tiny, charming details too – like how pigs as mounts skitter around corners rather than just being ‘you but faster’, and how you can grow pork on trees if you’re too soft-hearted to get your meat the old-fashioned way (guilty).

The cooking mini-games and combat system genuinely excel, brimming with visual detail and variety. You want attack combos? You’ve got attack combos. You want horrible little creatures? You’ve got horrible little creatures. You want multiple different ways to make stat-boosting soups, sandwiches, jams, and stews? You can eat them on your way to attack combo the horrible little creatures, and your pets will help!

I compare Kynseed to pick-n-mix intentionally. The disparate parts of it do, as concepts, mostly go together. It isn’t thoughtless or careless, but it promises more than it can offer right now. You could indulge yourself in some very precise aspect of it and try not to touch the parts of it that aren’t working, but you’d have to pick your way through carefully. It’s an intriguing promise, though, and I can see it being an incredibly captivating game – when it’s finished.

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