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Review: The Herbalist

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Ages 13 and up
Genre: Visual Novel
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2016
Review Published On: September 27th, 2017
Played on: Martha & Thaddeus

Available from:


Save System:

Your progress is saved automatically, so you'll never have to worry about it.

There's also no need to pause the game, as nothing happens until you do something.

Summary of
Major Issues:

Although this game is based around creating magical potions, the biggest concern is the suggestive imagery. It doesn't get pornographic, but it might be more than someone is comfortable with. See the Concerns & Issues section below for more details.


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Checking the shed for supplies

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Old jars need cleaning before they can be used again

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Game Overview

Normally I stay away from visual novels, as most of the ones I've looked at in the past were just the electronic equivalent of a choose-your-own-adventure book. The Herbalist, however, is more rightly called a game than a novel. While the interface is simple like you'd expect from a visual novel, the gameplay is more along the lines of a minimalist point and click adventure game.

The story is fairly straightforward. Slavya's grandmother has been missing for some time, and now she's curious about her grandmother's fate. The small town her grandmother had lived in is in need of an herbalist, and since Slavya seems to have the talent for this craft, she moves in to her grandmother's old home and takes up the job earn some income while she investigates.

This is where the game itself comes in. Each day, you'll need to visit different areas of the home and nearby woodlands to gather supplies. Once you have enough things ready, it's time to mix ingredients to create different potions. The trick here is that which herbs can be used as potion ingredients is randomized for each new game, so you'll need to experiment to find what works. Combining potions can create new, more complex potions, but it can also fail and create the same green sludge that results from a bad ingredient. With a little trial and error, you'll find out how to make every type of potion and become a rich herbalist.

However, this isn't quite everything. Slavya may be an energetic girl, but she's not without her limits. There's a limit to how much stamina she has for a given day, and when she tires out, the only practical thing to do is to call it a night and go to bed. This also highlights the biggest mistake you can make in this game: going to bed without ensuring that there's at least one apple in your inventory. Slavya will always start her day with an apple for breakfast. If she doesn't have one, her stamina for that day will be drastically reduced. Fortunately, apples are cheap and always available at the store. It costs no stamina to make the trip, so just get in the regular habit of stocking up on them.

In addition to making potions, you can cook up a few different types of food. Most of these sell for more than your average potion, so it's an easy way to ensure you have enough money to keep apples on hand. If you don't want to sell them, Slavya can eat them instead and gain a little extra stamina for the day. She can also consume the potions she makes, with varying (and occasionally detrimental) results.

Ultimately, I'm glad I gave this game a chance, as it's an enjoyable and relaxing way to spend some time.

Points of Interest

Good puzzle solving
Each potion you make is created by mixing the same four base ingredients in different ways. Since you don't know which ingredients are useful at first, each new game is like starting from scratch. At the same time, each trip to the woods gives you a different selection of herbs, so you may need to put some effort into finding the ingredients you need. Also, there's no need to worry about remembering what you've tried before: the game provides a journal that automatically tracks your attempted combinations, and there's another page where you can look up the recipes to anything you've successfully created.
Potions can help or hinder progress
Each of the potions you can create causes a unique effect when Slavya consumes it. Some will assist you by boosting her stamina or revealing information, but some of them have side effects that can be a problem. You see, if they change her appearance in some drastic way or make her sick (and a few will), then she'll refuse to leave the house until the effect wears off. If you don't already have an apple on hand, then the next day will be largely wasted.
Scores of challenging achievements
There are a ton of Steam achievements up for grabs. Most of them are creative challenges that aren't part of normal gameplay. For example, there's one that tasks you with filling your entire inventory with mushrooms. Most players wouldn't attempt something like that on their own -- it's not easy to find that many mushrooms, and this also means that you'll have no space to carry anything else, including key items or the apples Slavya needs every morning. Earning all of the achievements will be a task for the true completionists in the crowd.
Additional stories aren't as good as the main game
Probably my biggest gripe with this game is that the additional content from the Steam Workshop isn't nearly as interesting or detailed as the main game. Granted, this isn't advertised as being an entirely new adventure, but it's like getting an after dinner mint when you're still hungry for another course.

Concerns and Issues

Magic is center stage
Since the game's entire premise is based around creating magical potions, it's not real surprising to learn that there are a number of references to magic. However, there are no references to the occult or anything more serious than what you'd find in a fairy tale. You also don't witness the potion brewing process itself; you just drag one item over another in your inventory, and they merge into a new item.
Some suggestive and sexual scenes
Visual novels are notorious for containing adult content. The Herbalist is an exception here, as the images seen in the game stay fairly tame. They do occasionally get suggestive however, as Slavya's dress is a bit on the short side and gets pushed aside during a few cutscenes.

For example, there are a few situations where her clothing is damaged in some way. While this does show a lot of skin, she'll still be showing less than she would in a bikini. The worst-case example in the main game is when she creates a tentacle monster. If you try using this potion, the creature will attempt to reach under Slavya's skirt, but she'll manage to fend it off without exposing herself. This scene was likely included as a parody of pornographic anime -- the concept of the heroines being violated by tentacle monsters is so common that it's often treated as a joke.

There are also a few times where Slavya is depicted in the buff, but the player only sees her from the back or with something in the way. In short, she's never actually exposed despite being nude. The same cannot really be said of the fairy from the Winter story. This fairy is magically bound to a doll, and naturally, they look very similar. However, the doll is wearing a thick fur coat, and the fairy is stark naked save for a strategically placed scarf.
A small reference to drugs
One of the mushrooms has a different sort of magical property that becomes apparent once it's been eaten. The resulting "dream" is a scene out of a psychedelic and surreal take on Alice in Wonderland. Though it's likely there as a humorous aside, it might be a concern for some parents.