Title: Moonstone Island
Developer: Supersoft Studios
Release Date: September 20, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Raw Fury
Genre: Farming Sim, Deck Builder
There is something about farming in video games that relaxes me. After a long day of work, I like to open up a can of Dr. Pepper and spend a few hours tending my crops. The world would align, and everything would feel right again, but what if I could also tame creatures in turn-based battles? Well, Moonstone Island is here to show what farming and creature collection can do to a man.
Moonstone Island opens up on the player character, only known as the Alchemist, as they are napping on a floating island. It isn’t long before the appropriately named Father decides to spring some impromptu training on the Alchemist before sending them off on their own on a magic broom. During the initial flight, a storm happens to be passing by one of the other islands, forcing the Alchemist to crash land and destroy their broom.
Now the player, trapped on Moonstone Island, must complete their training and help the small population with their problems within the span of a year. They’ll be diving through dungeons, taming creatures, and perhaps discovering a little thing we like to call love along the way.
I’ll admit that a few things about this introduction to Moonstone Island felt too familiar at first, with my initial thought being that it was already feeling like Kiki’s Delivery Service. Both parents are sending their children off on a magic broom to finish their training in some magic art. It wasn’t until I started interacting with the town’s folk that the charm of the story started to shine through.
Most of the townsfolk are surprisingly friendly, especially to a new alchemist who unexpectedly crashed into their lives. However, each resident will warm up to players at different speeds. For example, Ferra, the local blacksmith, and Ossono, the innkeeper, are both outgoing and love to talk, making them particularly easy for players to get affection points from by talking every day and giving gifts. On the other hand, Gaiana, the little sister of the local botanist, and Rowan, the storekeeper, are more reserved, and will take longer for players to build any sort of relationship with.
The other characters – Paolo, the local carpenter; Chloe, an archeologist; Zed, a spirit researcher; Ofelia, the botanist; Tobin, a laid-back fisher, and Quill, who helps out at the inn – are more neutral towards the player. However, these stances make each of the characters memorable, with interactions that are rewarding when getting the attention of those reserved characters, with the game even having them talk about happenings between them and the other characters.
This simple little choice of having the dialogue include the other characters and past topics outside of date events makes the town feel alive. However, one thing does stick out with the characters, and that’s how you gain affection points. In most other titles in the genre, simply talking to the person is enough to gain a small amount of affection. In Moonstone Island, there are three options to choose from when talking to any villager; chat, joke, and flirt.
These options come with a stated percentage of success, with chat being the highest at 70% when being at less than a single heart of affection. When the interaction succeeds, players will gain affection, but if it fails, then their affection will fall. I know that this is supposed to simulate real life, that sometimes a joke may not go over well or a topic offends the other person. To me, it feels too forced and out of my control, as there are times when I initiate a conversation just to be worse off than if I had ignored the character.
Although, the date scenes more than make up for the daily interactions as these not only give further insight into each character but a small glimpse into the world itself. For example, when I was on a date with Ofelia, she talked about being older than everyone else on the island by at least five or so years and how everybody would come to her for advice, so she would know who had a crush on who and what was going on.
One of the biggest revelations is that the characters will sometimes mention that the world was torn apart, which is why they have to live on floating islands now. This kind of information is a good example of world-building that, while it isn’t important, can show why Alchemists are even needed in the first place. This includes the taming of wild spirits that have been increasingly agitated and attacking people.
These spirits have different typings; earth, water, poison, psychic, electric, and fire. Each, of course, will have an advantage over another type that players will need to pay attention to to succeed in battle. The flow of combat is pretty simple for newcomers to deck-building systems to understand.
Each spirit in the party will have a set amount of cards inside their deck that get shuffled together. At the start of the turn, the player will draw five cards from the deck and have three energy. Each card will have an energy cost associated with it, and the more utility and damage a card will do, the more energy it will cost. Spirits have both an HP and Armor stat, where armor represents the amount of damage that can be blocked from an attack, while HP needs to be whittled down to defeat a spirit.
Players can influence battles by lowering enemy armor with the use of bash cards and exploiting weaknesses or by feeding spirits. Feeding can significantly turn the tide of battle, even to the point of turning some encounters that should be difficult into a cakewalk, provided, of course, players have the correct items to feed.
I only fed enemies when I was sure that I couldn’t win otherwise because feeding a stat debuffing item to a spirit can lower an enemy that had ten armor and almost two hundred health into one that only had four armor and twenty health. It ruins the balance of the game as players should grow stat debuffing items. It turns a play style that could be utilized into a strategy that is so optimal that players feel like they have to be using this.
This is a disappointment as the game is already easy from a combat standpoint. I can recall only losing a battle twice in the twenty hours that I spent with the game, and these were mostly due to bringing weak spirits into a fight. I eventually would only initiate fights when I knew there was a chance to obtain rare materials, tame a spirit, or fight a boss.
Otherwise, combat was so trivial that it felt inconsequential to actually level up my spirits past any point because I could just use a stat debuffing item and bring any foe that was above me to their knees in an instant. This is a shame, as combat is fun and can be satisfying when done correctly. I think if feeding enemy spirits was either balanced better to have them refuse from time to time, or only used for taming spirits, that would bring more relevancy to grinding.
Speaking of, taming spirits wasn’t very intuitive at first, but once I got the hang of it became an aspect of the game that I started to enjoy. Taming them requires certain crops that, if fed to a wild spirit, will increase their tamed meter. Once this is maxed out, they will decide whether or not they want to join you. This can be done as many times as the player has the energy to use. Breaking enemies’ armor will not affect their decision, and, in fact, players cannot feed a spirit that has been broken.
So once a battle has started, if a spirit I have been searching for happened to be part of the enemy team, I would single out the spirit and feed it until it joined me. Generally, this was either so I could use it in future battles or to keep it on my farm to get resources and do chores around my house.
Moonstone Island is a game with clear strengths and faults in its mechanics, both inside and outside of battle. However, there is something about that title that I absolutely love; between the characters and battles, I found myself constantly returning to the game. It manages to stand out among its peers in the farming sim genre without feeling bloated or too different. It’s a fresh take that I can’t wait to see others have fun with.
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