Palia is a bucolic life simulator that focuses on players hanging out with their neighbors, growing crops, and building the perfect home. Most of the time, Palia offers up good vibes and a cozy atmosphere. But there’s one part of the game that leaves me cold and strips away the illusion of a community: the cash shop.

Cash shops are increasingly prevalent in online games, especially ones that are free-to-play like Palia. Palia’s store isn’t too intrusive or demanding at first; I don’t have to pay to grow my crops faster, talk to villagers, or build a beautiful house. I can get everything I need with gold, which I can easily earn by fishing, catching bugs, and selling crops. But the more I play, the more Palia’s microtransactions rankle me — and that’s partially because they’re not that micro.

The Soothsayer and Sky Captain bundles are the most expensive in the game, with elaborate accessories and stylish flare. Each bundle has three slight variations, like a different pattern on the vest, and each variation comes in three color palettes. The full bundle for Soothsayer or Sky Captain sells for 5,100 Palia Coins. That’s $69.99 Canadian dollars (roughly $51.90 USD), which is nearly enough to buy a copy of Baldur’s Gate 3, or enough to get Stardew Valley, My Time at Portia, and a cheeseburger from McDonalds.

Image: Singularity Six via Polygon

I can buy just one of the variations within the bundle for 2,550 each, but that requires me to buy the 3,650 Palia Coin bundle for just under $50. The $30 bundle of coins isn’t enough to cover the cost, and the smaller bundles simply don’t have enough coins to buy anything good. The most inexpensive outfit bundles are 1,700, which is just under $30. That’s a lot of money to spend on dolly dress-up, even if the rest of the game is free. I don’t mind dropping cash on cosmetics from time to time — I’m a sucker for fashion and will drop $10 or $15 here and there if I’m enjoying a game. But Palia’s prices made me double-take and immediately decide that these fits are too rich for my blood.

Making matters worse, the cash shop starts to intrude on the game’s world over time. There’s a tailor shop in town, owned and operated by the persnickety fashionista Jel. Jel will talk to you at length about his ideas for new outfits and cool styles, but his shop is empty. There’s just one register that connects to the cash shop. He won’t sell you anything with gold, and he won’t actually show you any of the things he talks about making. It’s a huge disappointment.

Palia does have a wardrobe full of clothes that the player can peruse and pick out for free, but none of them come close to the style and panache of a cash shop outfit. Every time I see a player in the world, I can tell from a distance whether they’re a free-to-play proletariat or a cash-shop bourgeois from their silhouette. The cash shop players are wearing big, dramatic dresses or long, swishy capes while I’m over here in sportswear and sneakers.

It’s a shame, because I genuinely love the time I’m spending in Palia. Time will be all I’m spending, however, because I simply don’t want to drop so much money on such a small return. It’s a troubling part of an otherwise sunny game, and I’m hoping Singularity Six returns to the drawing board and comes up with some cheaper items to put into the cash shop.

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