Farming sims and monster collectors are two sub-genres that often fall prey to the same shelf-life-ending habit: attempting to emulate bar-for-bar what makes their predecessors great. This often makes indie projects within these circles feel flat, like a cheaper version of a readily available, more entertaining game.
I’m happy to report that’s not the case for Moonstone Island. While it may look like Stardew Valley at first glance – a magical life-sim many devs have tried to recreate – Moonstone Island is so much more. It is a whimsical and mysterious experience that merges new mechanics with familiar ones. And as you’ll see, all of these mechanics work in tandem with one another, making sure you don’t miss out on any of the fun.
- Developer: Studio Supersoft
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC
- Release Date: September 20, 2023
- Price: $19.99
A Young Alchemist & a Never Ending To-do List
When you start Moonstone Island, you’re immediately introduced to the basic mechanics of farming. It’s pretty comparable to Stardew Valley, although the way you get seeds is different (better). Instead of buying or foraging for seeds, you can use a scythe on your crops to turn them into seeds. It’s brilliant and adds a layer of crop management that’s quite enjoyable.
But then your dad puts on his Professor Oak cap and has you step into the monster realm, where you select one of three Spirits to be your first companion. Of course, it wouldn’t be a monster-taming tutorial if there wasn’t an elementary battle involved.
After defeating the wild Spirit, you talk to your mom, say your goodbyes, and hop on a broom for the long journey to start your alchemist training. That’s right! You’re not just some podunk farmer who inherited some land. Instead, you’re given a fairly interesting goal from the onset to follow in your family’s footsteps.
I really like the way Moonstone Island set up your adventure. From the moment your endearing parents offered their heartfelt goodbyes, I was filled with determination not to let them down… until the sidetracks started appearing.
A Pocket Full of Monsters
At first, I wasn’t sold on the monster-collecting and battling portion of Moonstone Island. It felt like a throwaway idea, especially since the three starter monsters (of whom I chose Capacibee) were underwhelming. But that feeling lasted less than an hour as I discovered more and more of these fantastic creatures.
Two of my favorites are Sandcrashle, a bucket full of living sand, and Octopup, a half-dog half-octopus wearing a pirate bandana. I loved encountering each creature and couldn’t wait to see what fun new designs awaited me on the next island.
That’s not to say there aren’t any stinkers. For every Claudio, there’s a Starsee, but there are a lot more brilliant designs than there are lackluster.
Of course, collecting them is only half the battle. The other half is actually battling, which is a lot more fun the deeper you go. It’s like a mix of Pokemon, Hearthstone, and Final Fantasy. You can have three Spirits in your party at a time, each having their own elemental attacks and weaknesses. But it isn’t a simple turn-based battler like the world-famous Pocket Monsters.
Each Spirit has a deck of cards that grows by one card every time they level up. When you have more than one Spirit on the field, these decks merge, allowing you to draw from a larger pool of cards. Some cards deal direct damage to the opponent, while others chip away at the enemy’s armor.
If a Spirit’s armor is depleted, they will be vulnerable to attacks and will not be able to act on their next turn. So, the player’s goal is to widdle down a wild Spirit’s armor before letting loose with attack cards.
There are also support cards that have a range of effects, such as negating the cost of certain cards for a turn, replacing your entire hand, and buffing your attack damage. It’s a really interesting system that’s easy enough to pick up and really hard to put down.
That said, the best part of the monsters is having them follow you around in the overworld. All three of your party members trail behind as you explore various islands, making your journey feel like a buddy adventure instead of a lonely nomad’s voyage.
Let’s Go On A Date!
What life-sim would be complete without a bit of romance? There are ten villagers you can wine and dine in Moonstone Island, and they are all gorgeous people. I feel like a little child who has been rolling around in the dirt all day compared to the tall, hunky Tobin (anything for you, Tobin).
This is what I meant when I said sidetracks started appearing. Yes, I wanted to discover all of the Spirits, but not nearly as badly as I wanted a lifelong companion. When I was rescued by Ossono in the opening moments of the game, an immediate crush was formed. She was my heroine, and I was smitten.
But then I met Ferra, who stole my heart with her flirty yet snarky attitude, pink hair, and bandaged nose. I never looked back.
Romance in Moonstone Island is, again, very similar to Stardew Valley. You can give each resident two gifts a week (don’t give Ferra round things. She hates round things.) and have a conversation with them each day.
However, it’s also very different. When you have a conversation with someone, you have three prompts – talk, joke, & flirt – each with a percent chance to succeed. You can pick three actions during each conversation; if you succeed, you earn hearts with that person. If you fail, you lose hearts. It’s a bit of RNG that improves the more you get to know that character.
Additionally, you can start dating people from the get-go. Again, you have a percent chance to succeed on the ask-on-a-date roll, but that adds a bit of suspense to the dating game that’s sometimes missing from life sims. These dates are where you peel back layers and really find out who your neighbors really are.
The Loop That Keeps On Giving
Okay, I lied a bit when I said I got sidetracked, as the sidetracks weren’t ever really side-anything. I didn’t know this at first, but a few hours in, I realized how all of Moonstone Island’s systems intertwine.
With so much to do from the very beginning, it can be easy to assume that each system or mechanic is its own separate entity. Despite the game blatantly telling you otherwise, I thought farming was for farming and didn’t interact with other systems. But I was wrong.
You need to farm Flax Flowers so that you can tame Spirits. You can forage Flax Flowers to start, but you’re going to need a lot more than nature will provide on its own.
You need to tame Spirits so you can make your way through dungeons and mines. Dungeons hold crafting recipes and treasures that you can’t get anywhere else. Mines hold ores that are used to upgrade tools. Upgrading tools buffs their efficiency, so you lose less energy while farming resources to build. Building a barn will allow you to tame and care for more Spirit. More Spirits means easier dungeons, and the cycle repeats.
And the best part is, it all feels so relaxing. Even “high-octane” battles against bosses with massive health bars feel like attempting to solve a comfy puzzle. To be honest, I felt more pressure asking NPCs out on dates and attempting to maneuver those social situations than I did while exploring crypt-like dungeons.
Moonstone Island is a refreshing blend of some of the most beloved cozy genres. It’s art style is gorgeous, the music is fantastic, and the world it’s set in is fascinating. With 100 islands to explore and a hefty amount of creative freedom, there never feels like a lack of things to do, which is great when I hardly feel like leaving my floating home.
As precious as Moonstone Island is, it won’t be for everyone. But if you like Stardew Valley and want something a little more adventurous or challenging, I say give Moonstone Island a try. It’s well worth its price of admission, and it’s a game I can see myself coming back to when I feel that cozy itch.
9 / 10
|+ The world & pixel art style are gorgeous|
|+ NPCs give me butterflies|
|+ Most monster designs are fantastic|
|+ Battling is super fun & interesting|
|– Slight grinding to progress through more challenging Dungeons|
|– Early game days can feel a bit repetitive|
Gamepur team received a PC code for the purpose of this review.