Title: Monster Harvest
Developer: Maple Powered Games
Release Date: August 31, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Merge Games
Genre: RPG, Simulation
I remember playing my first farming simulation game back when I was a kid. Simply performing mundane tasks was relaxing, and when other titles started mixing the genre with action RPGs, I fell in love all over again. So, when I heard about a title that wanted to throw monster raising into the mix, well, I had to see what it was all about.
Your uncle has discovered a mysterious slime that, when applied to plants, turns them into an animal-plant hybrid aptly named Planimals. A small town, Planimal Point, has sprouted up around his lab seemingly overnight. Every inhabitant has fallen in love with and has begun growing their own planimals. Knowing that you need a change of pace, he asks you to join him and grow your own planimals on his old farm.
The story isn’t essential in most farming games. Usually, a dead relative gives the player a farm, and they take it over, either out of love or a desire to leave their old life behind. So, having your uncle invite you over after making a life-changing discovery was pretty unique. If that’s all there was to it, I would have been happy to leave the story at that.
However, Monster Harvest tries to throw in a bit of mystery surrounding a company called Slime Co. This company sprung up not long after Planimal Point was founded and messed around in the dungeons where the slimes originated. The critique I have with this is that it is undeniable that the company is up to insidious deeds to the point that its head threatens the player to leave the dungeon alone.
After that point, there aren’t many interactions with Slime Co. at all. Evidence of their machinery is left all around the dungeon, and the villagers keep talking about how fishy they are. Still, outside of that one interaction, the company might as well not even exist. It feels like everyone talks about Slime Co. but never bothers to show the player exactly what they are doing or why it isn’t good.
I honestly found it hard to care about what was going on with Slime Co and, to a bigger extent, Planimal Point. Talking to NPCs is a vital component of the simulation genre to form attachments to the townspeople. The player gives gifts to get closer to the townsfolk, and they slowly reward the player with insight into their lives. This simple loop allows the player to form connections and gradually become part of the community.
It’s a gradual process, and during it, you are bound to run into repeating dialogue. I am convinced that none of the NPCs have any character, though. Even thinking back, I can only recall one character, and all I know is that she and her mom run the clinic since that’s practically all she spoke of.
The same holds true for every other character you speak with. They all spit the same three to four lines out at you. I eventually stopped hunting characters down to give them presents. Instead, if they were in my path as I ran to the dungeons, I would mash through their dialogue, throw a flower in their face, and then continue on my way.
The social aspect of this genre has been totally botched in Monster Harvest. The farming is exactly what you would expect it to be, though. You have various weather types and seasons that you grow crops in, and crops die if not planted in the correct season. The only notably odd aspect is that months only have twenty-one days to a season rather than thirty.
Only having three weeks is a simple change, but it drastically altered the gameplay pacing of growing crops. Before I knew it, I had lost an entire harvest because I assumed I had another week. Instead, I was shamefully digging up my plants, several of them destined to be added to my team.
This lack of depth in the social and farming aspects means that the battles will be the most in-depth part of the game, as this will be the component the player will interact with the most. Unfortunately, I feel like this is the most disappointing feature of Monster Harvest.
Once you apply red slime to any crop, it becomes a beast that automatically gets added to your team. The only part of the map you fight in is the dungeon, which you can only explore at night, or the rec center where you challenge the other townsfolk. The mechanics of a fight are rather straightforward, throwing you into a turn-based brawl.
Every planimal has only three attacks shared among its species and unlocks once the appropriate level has been reached. This lack of customization makes every planimal feel similar. I opted to spam the strongest attack I had unlocked, disregarding all sense of strategy. Further adding to this lack of strategy is that once you engage in a battle, that’s it; you are stuck there until one of the combatants is dead. There is no switching out or running away, even from a wild encounter.
Instead, it is encouraged to let planimals die every time players venture out, as they are rewarded heart slime upon the poor creatures’ deaths. This heart slime is then used to upgrade your land so that the next planimal you grow will start at a higher level. So, there is no reason to get attached to any of the planimals you grow as their deaths only make you stronger.
This lack of care about the creatures makes any action I perform feel useless. I don’t care about the evil company invading the town. I don’t care about the town or the inhabitants of it. I especially don’t care about the planimals I painstakingly grew. So, in the end, is there anything left here actually to care about?
Monster Harvest feels like it wants to set itself apart from its counterparts in the genre, and there is undeniable potential here. However, I felt like I was playing an early access game despite being fully released. So much of the world feels like fundamental revision and polish are missing, and I can’t see myself revisiting Planimal Point anytime soon.
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