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Moonstone Island review: Utterly enchanting and beguiling, with a hint of mystery

Moonstone Island review: Utterly enchanting and beguiling, with a hint of mystery

Travel to islands far and wide with the magic of Moonstone Island

Cosy games have become a passion of mine ever since Animal Crossing: New Horizon got me through lockdown, one islander at a time, and so when I saw Moonstone Island I knew I had to play it. My intention was to load it up the moment it launched, my review-typing fingers ready to cover every aspect of the game for my fellow cosy gamers… then my mental health took a deep dive.

Reviews got pushed to the side as I focused on getting better. However, while work plans changed, my desire to fly into the whimsy of Moonstone Island didn’t, and so I sunk my spare time into the game. Escapism was exactly what I needed, and escape I did, into a game that oozes charm through its pixel-art world, proving that, despite how saturated the cosy genre is, there’s still new life to be found there.

Get a taste for adventure with the Moonstone Island trailer below!

With curious delight, I followed the tutorial, muttering angrily to myself that I should have played PC games more prior to playing this one; I’m not used to using a keyboard and mouse, so I swiftly changed over to my Xbox controller. Once that rookie mistake was rectified, I read intently as my in-game mother and father prepared me to embark on a new adventure into the unknown.

Much like the start of any Pokemon game, your parents care little for the dangers of the world and wave you off almost too eagerly. That being said, Moonstone is different in that it's a rite of passage/coming-of-age moment, rather than your mum being sick of your crap – proper Kiki’s Delivery Service vibes, right down to you being an alchemist. While you don’t have a cat accompanying you, you have creatures who will become fast, loyal allies. Again, we’re echoing Pokemon here, though that’s never a bad thing, especially with how Moonstone creates a deck turn-based battle system to freshen up the formula.

Raw Fury

After venturing out on your own, you crashland onto a new floating island, your broom broken, your senses out of sorts. Fortunately, a kind soul takes pity on you, and thus your story properly begins, with your primary goal to be away from home for at least one year. A year seems long, but there’s a wide range of characters who rush to fill your time, not to mention you need to set up a little makeshift farm to earn that sweet, sweet moolah. In short, there are a lot of plates spinning in the air, yet the devs have managed to make it seem effortless rather than on the verge of disaster.

That isn’t to say the game is faultless, as one of my main issues is its assumption you’re familiar with the cosy farming sim setup and thus need no pointers. For example, I had to research how to find clay because, no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t unearthing it when digging and/or mining; turns out it’s a resource you can only obtain from Earth Spirits in your Spirit Barn, which isn’t obvious information.

Thus, while Moonstone Island adheres to many cosy farm tropes and mechanics, it also deviates in order to set itself apart from the rest. Yet, in doing so without guidance for players, you’re left to trial and error your way to success. In that respect, it reminded me of Summer in Mara, where you just winged it until something worked; sometimes it’s endearing to be left to your own devices, other times it’s tedious. A least Moonstone offers a brief tutorial on the intricacies of harvesting crops right at the beginning, accompanied by letters from your parents and the locals to help give you a sense of direction.

Raw Fury

Another difficulty, at least for players like myself who favour a strong story, is that the plot of Moonstone is relatively lax; it tentatively gives background, but only enough to give a reason for you leaving home. Some might argue that it's designed this way to allow you you make your own story, and there’s truth to that, but the inclusion of a more rigid storyline would be a welcome addition. I didn’t feel like I was working towards any specific, only the goals I’d silently listed in my head after setting up my adorable little alchemist tent. One of which was who I’d romance once the opportunity arose…

Romantic interests, while in abundance, also feel devoid of depth. Perhaps it’s unfair to ask the game to offer RPG-like choices, conversations, and epic romances that break your heart and potentially crush your soul. This isn’t Baldur’s Gate 3, after all. Nonetheless, I’d have preferred a more natural relationship progression, free from the stinging reality of flirting success rates; adding such percentages helps solidify the clear confines of the game, rather than allowing you an immersive experience you can lose yourself to. And although I wasn’t clock-watching while I played, I was always firmly aware of my surroundings – I wasn’t so captivated I refused to leave the safety of the in-game haven I’d tenderly crafted.

Raw Fury

But these are minor gripes at best, ones which are based on preferences I’ve had years to nurture. In the golden age of cosy gaming, it’s hard to be innovative in such a way that all elements marry together seamlessly. Furthermore, these problems (if they can be called such) don’t prevent the game from achieving what only the very best sim games can: warm fuzzy feels.

Moonstone Island is destined to become your favourite snuggly jumper, the one you always return to each winter because you know it’ll keep you warm, and it’ll make you smile despite the raging weather lashing the pane. It offers versatility in that it’ll adapt, as demonstrated by the much-anticipated October update, but it’ll also be a reliable balm, never changing to such a point you don’t feel at home in its embrace. That’s what this game delivers. In a way that few sims have managed since the likes of Stardew Valley; it wants to grow with you rather than limit your experience, which, in an age where games come to an end before we’re ready for their inevitable conclusions, Moonstone Island offers continuous sanctuary.

Pros: A rich tapestry of pixel-art locations, endless exploration for curious gamers, and hearty doses of adventuring and farming

Cons: A somewhat predictable story, a lack of direction in terms of where and how to gather resources, and lacklustre romances

For Fans Of: Animal Crossing: New Horizon, Stardew Valley, Fae Farm, Pokemon

8/10: Excellent

Moonstone Island is available on Steam, and will be coming to Nintendo Switch in the future. Review code provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Raw Fury

Topics: Steam, PC, Nintendo Switch