Little Folk of Faery isn’t the first game to simulate caring for a tribe of villagers (see Wild Tribe, Escape from Paradise, and of course the granddaddy of them all: Virtual Villagers), but it’s certainly the one of the most stylish. Set in a beautiful fantasy realm populated with leprauchans, pixies, dryads and other fairytale creatures, the game is a visual delight even as the gameplay itself is nothing groundbreaking.
The gist of the plot is that you inherit a curiosities shop that happens to have a tree growing in the middle of it. As if that weren’t strange enough, there’s also a small community of faeries living at the base of the tree. The faery village has fallen into disrepair, however, and you must help them restore the light of the fireflies to the realm.
To restore the faery realm you’ll have to complete a series of tasks, starting with discovering a stable food supply for the faeries, and progressing to more complicated interconnected quests. There are four different kinds of villager, and they can be trained in four different skills: exploration, knowledge, music, and nature. Some tasks can only be completed by a villager who has mastered a certain skill to a certain level.
Little Folk of Faery is controlled with the mouse. You can click and drag villagers around to make them interact with things, and if you want to scroll the screen itself you have to grab it and drag in the opposite direction, which may seem awkward at first but is easy to get the hang of. You can also scroll around the map with the arrow keys, or click directly onto a mini-map to travel instantly to any location in the realm; these two small touches make navigation less frustrating than it could have been.
You can discover new areas – and new quests – by exploring a large map that hides many secrets. Some are guarded by forlorn beings known as Whistful Spirits, who will scare away explorers unless other villagers distract them with music. This is one of the game’s inventive twists. Another is the ability to organize lavish banquets to attract more people to the village.
Like most of its simulation game contemporaries, Little Folk of Faery runs in real-time, meaning your villagers can function fairly independently of you if left to their own devices. The game will keep running even if you shut it off, but unlike some other simulation games you don’t have to worry about your villagers starving, dying of old age, or succumbing to some horrid disease while you’re away. The villagers in Little Folk of Faery don’t age or get sick, and if food stores are running low they won’t stubbornly starve themselves to death but will instead simply stop whatever task they’re doing and start harvesting food instead.
While this will no doubt please a lot of people – the kind who have anxiety attacks whenever they have to shut down the game and wonder if their villagers will last through the night – a potential downside to the villagers’ immortality and tidy self-sufficiency is that they don’t reproduce either, so if you enjoyed playing match-maker in other sim games and watching your village evolve through the generations you won’t be able to do that here.
Indeed, the gameplay doesn’t have quite the same amount of depth as some of its contemporaries – notably Virtual Villagers. While the villagers are fun to watch – especially during special events like when they’re dancing their little hearts out at a banquet – much of the game’s later play involves simply waiting around for a long-term task to get completed by two or three of the villagers. Because there’s no romance or other diversions in the game, there’s literally nothing else to do but watch the villagers slowly plod away at their task, or minimize the game window and do something else like check email while you wait.
To be fair, there are four different kinds of randomly-appearing collectibles to be on the hunt for, which is a potential time-killing activity. However, even once you have a certain object it can still appear again as a duplicate, which lessens the excitement of a find.
In spite of these quibbles, we give Little Folk of Faery a positive recommendation. The game boasts some extremely beautiful, distinctive and finely-detailed visuals, and the fantasy theme is a unique twist on a genre that too often takes place on a generic "tropical island." While the gameplay simplifications (such as no villager deaths) may make the game simplistic for some, others will find the game more accessible and enjoyable for that very same reason.