Moonstone Island on PC
Moonstone Island has piqued the interest of gamers for making an ambitious attempt to combine the beloved farming and building core aspects of a life-sim game with monster catching and collecting, referred to by many at first glance as a Stardew Valley and old-school Pokemon crossover. I must admit, while I often struggle to maintain interest in life-sim games due to the repetitive gameplay style, I’m a huge fan of monster-taming titles and pixel art in general, so I jumped at the opportunity to explore Moonstone Island – and boy, oh boy, was I impressed.
Right from the second you load into the title screen, you’re met with gorgeous, detailed pixel art and relaxing atmospheric music that sets the tone for the adventure to come. In-game graphics utilize a lovable chibi art style that makes the characters look super cute, friendly, and approachable, and the Spirits (tamable monsters) even more adorable. Furthermore, the world in which you explore is procedurally generated, which means the islands you discover are unique to your playthrough, and no two players will have the same experience.
While I often find myself drawn toward titles with a strong narrative, Moonstone Island’s simplistic approach is oddly refreshing and charming. You’re an Alchemist following tradition and leaving home to explore the world, navigate the obstacles and dangers it has to throw at you, complete your training, and grow along the way – nothing more, and nothing less.
What you choose to do, the Spirits you wish to tame, the plants you grow, Potions you brew, items you sell, and friends you make along the way are all up to you as the player. In a sense, you’re writing your own story, which is rather easy and comforting to get lost in. Simply choose your starter Spirit, grab your first set of tools from your parents, and away you go!
In Moonstone Island, there’s a ridiculous amount of activities to keep yourself occupied as you progress through your days of Alchemist training, bringing together everything you could ever want in a cozy life-sim title. Gorgeous pixel graphics, a soothing, relaxing soundtrack, Quests, monster catching, turn-based battles, deck building, exploration, farming, Dungeon diving, foraging, crafting and building, treasure hunting, collecting, hidden mines, lovable NPCs, and multiple ways to traverse the lands and make new discoveries.
Because of the sheer amount of things this game has going on, from collecting and taming wild Spirits, helping out the community, crafting and upgrading your own house, carefully choosing cards to add to your deck for combat, completing dungeons, uncovering hidden mines, collecting various treasures, plants, fish, and more, gameplay can be a little overwhelming at first. There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to memorizing all of the different mechanics from tools, to combat, to crafting, but once you stick at it for an hour or two, you should get the hang of things with no problems; and this is when the fun and excitement starts to sink in.
The more time I spent enjoying Moonstone Island, the more obvious the time and care put into the game became, with the appearance of small features that make all the difference and truly go a long way. For example, if you go AFK, the game will automatically pause itself after a brief moment to ensure your in-game days don’t get away from you. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been distracted looking up inspiration for my house whilst playing titles with a similar approach, only to find I’ve lost my valuable in-game hours and ruined my crops as a result! Thank you, Moonstone Island, for considering this – it brought me a ridiculous amount of joy.
NPCs are charming and make you feel right at home from the moment of your arrival, complete with intriguing personalities and quirky dialogue. These characters create a friendly environment that feels relaxing to explore and grow in, making them so much more than just the faces behind the counters of various stores around town. You can spend time each day developing your bond with your favorite characters by chatting with them, gifting them items, and even asking them on dates to explore the potential of romance.
While daytime and well-lit areas bring crisp, clear graphics that are bright, bold, and eye-catching, nighttime is when Moonstone Island truly shines. Utilizing beautiful dynamic lighting, nighttime adventures, and Dungeon exploration feels that much more mysterious and intriguing. Speaking of Dungeons, much like the rest of your world map, these will be randomly generated for you to stumble across. Each Dungeon will contain a set of puzzles that you can complete to uncover valuable goods from inside Treasure Chests, plus a final boss Spirit to defeat to mark a Dungeon as cleared.
For each Dungeon you clear, you will be provided with a permanent increase to your Stamina, meaning Dungeons are not only fun but also extremely worthwhile to your long-term gameplay. The puzzles within Dungeons are fairly simplistic and straightforward to navigate, for the most part, but remain entertaining, nonetheless. Each Dungeon is also unique, meaning completing them in repetition still feels like a new adventure each time.
While Moonstone Island also has monster-catching focuses, this is tied into a unique deck-building mechanic that separates it from other titles within the same genre. Every Spirit you tame will have several cards which are played into your deck. In combat, you will draw a random hand of cards each turn, depending on which Spirits you have in your party. These cards each have a specific Energy cost and are responsible for determining your Attacks, Buffs, and other moves. You get a certain amount of Energy per turn, which can be used to play cards, use items, or flee a battle.
Upon leveling up a Spirit, you will have a choice to buff a stat of your preference and get to add more powerful cards to the critter’s catalog, which makes for much more powerful turns in battle. If you’re the impatient type and turn-based combat becomes frustrating for you, then there’s also no need to worry; Moonstone Island has considered these players and enabled a ‘Fast Mode’, which skips animations on the enemy’s turn and makes battles much more quick and efficient. In all honesty, this card-battling combat is an absolute joy to experience, and one of the highlights of the game.
Moonstone Island is truly unlike any other life-sim game I’ve experienced and marks the first time I’ve found myself wholeheartedly absorbed into a title within this genre. I absolutely adore everything this game has to offer, and though I spent my time playing the PC edition, I can easily say with confidence that it will also make the perfect game to pick up for Nintendo Switch and play on the go. The main in-game story will last a year (100 days), but you can continue your adventures in the sandbox after this for as long as you’d like, meaning your experience only truly ends when you decide so.
If you have your doubts about the life-sim genre or various in-game mechanics, then just keep in mind that historically I haven’t been a big fan of previous, vaguely similar titles, such as Stardew Valley, or Animal Crossing. However, Moonstone Island blew my mind in the best way possible, allowing me to get completely lost in the fun. I had to dig deep to even come up with the slightest complaint or negative aspect to reflect on, so if that’s any indicator, you should just give it a chance and experience the wonders of this game for yourself.
Set up a home on any one of 100 randomly generated Islands, unlock recipes to craft items and decorate your space, discover hidden treasures, bond and build relationships with your new friends, aim to discover and tame all wild specimens, or perhaps even set out to hunt for a Holographic Spirit (shiny) – What will you do first? The choice is yours.
A successful combination of several game genres / mechanics, all within a life-sim experience.
Gorgeous, simplistic pixel art style.
Open, procedurally generated world to explore.
100 different Islands to discover.
Endearing Spirit (monster) designs.
Relaxing, cozy gameplay with calming music creates a comfortable ambiance.
Dynamic lighting makes nighttime exploration intriguing and pleasant to experience.
Lovable NPCs with quirky dialogue.
Simple, yet entertaining Dungeon puzzles.
Fun, deck-building aspect to leveling Spirits and combat.
Familiar foraging and farming mechanics that are easy to get the hang of.
Unlike any other life-sim I’ve encountered.
Lack of character customization.
Small learning curve due to everything there is to keep in mind throughout each day.
All of the different mechanics can be a little bit overwhelming until you get the hang of things.
Spirits don’t evolve.
September 20, 2023
PC, Nintendo Switch
Copy provided by Publisher
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