Moonstone Island took me by surprise. Not just because I completely forgot about it after hearing about it months ago, but because I didn’t fully know what I was getting into. This is a review for Moonstone Island, an updated version of my review in progress. You can put a ton of hours into this game, so I wanted to spend more time with it before giving it a score.
Before I downloaded this game, I thought it was just going to be a farming sim. I clearly didn’t remember much about the first trailer I’d seen, because it’s actually a lot more creative and intriguing. The best way I can describe this game is if you threw Stardew Valley, Pokémon, and Hearthstone into a blender.
But it’s so much more than that, I can’t just describe it as three amazing other games. Your main goal is to spend a year training as an alchemist, travel between newly discovered islands, collect adorable creatures, and build their decks of cards. On the surface, it may sound digestible. But once you really sink a few hours into this game, you’ll realize just how much you can do, and how it becomes more and more enjoyable with each play session.
The love child of many inspirations
Not only does Moonstone Island have many amazing aspects of certain games, but it really gives off that Studio Ghibli vibe. The art style, especially in the intro that plays each time you boot up the game, is whimsical and joyful. But what I love about Moonstone Island is how it doesn’t copy its inspirations, it melds those ideas into its own creation.
There’s farming, but you farm items that help you heal and tame Spirits. There’s creature collecting, but you can even hatch your own Spirits and care for them like pets. And there’s deck building, but the card-based combat is a lot more complex than what meets the eye. Every time Moonstone Island reminds me of another game, it pulls me back and tells me how it’s creatively different and special in its own right.
I’d also like to point out that while the visuals are lovely, I feel as though the soundtrack could use some improvement. Not that the music is bad, but it’s just not always present. When you’re walking around Moonstone Island, I’ve noticed that music only starts to play at one or two specific times, and then it stops after a few minutes. I think the music deserves more time in the spotlight, and it feels a little too quiet at times when there should be some background music.
So much to do, but just enough time
I never find myself bored without anything to accomplish. Even in my in-progress review, there was always something to do, maybe too much to do at times. There are always more islands to uncover in fog-of-war fashion, always items to craft to make my home nicer, and always tasks to complete. You don’t just live alone, but in a village of many colorful NPCs. Yes, there’s a friendship and romance system, and yes, it’s difficult to determine who to choose.
But that really isn’t the main focus of the game, in my opinion. What makes Moonstone Island always a joy to return to is the combat. The more your Spirits level up, the more cards they unlock, and the more complicated their turns get. It isn’t just about playing the attack cards; you need to think quite critically about which cards are most important to use. Most cards in your hand don’t even stay by the next turn, so you have to decide what’s best for the turn.
While you can meet Spirits in the overworld, there are plenty of dungeons available as well. They’re not very difficult to complete, but they aren’t as easy as you’d think, either. Sometimes, I find that there’s one chest left, and I’ve yet to figure out where it is, even when I swear I’ve explored every room. And sometimes, the Spirits in those dungeons can crush mine in battle easily, making me wonder how I can improve.
Small problems for hopeful solutions
I’ve spoken a lot about what I’m liking about the game so far, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had some gripes about Moonstone Island. The biggest issue I have is with the lack of guidance at points. Sure, it’s nice to figure things out for myself from time to time, but there come some points when I have no idea where to get a certain item. But on the bright side, perhaps it’s good to not have a game that’s too hand-holdy.
There’s also one building I thought would be easy to construct. But instead, you have to finish a quest to unlock a blueprint, and then you build the thing from that blueprint to make something to then build another blueprint item, which can then unlock the building. But wait, you still need to complete another quest to actually unlock the building. This got frustrating at times, not knowing all the prerequisites.
Other than that, I sometimes found the controls difficult. When trying to plant seeds or water crops, getting my alchemist standing in the right direction to land on the correct spot is hard at times. Also, the game doesn’t lag, but it sometimes freezes for a second or two. This happens quite often, but since it’s the only performance issue, it’s not something I’m too bothered with.
NPCs with some potential
At first glance, the NPCs who live in Moonstone Island are lovely. Everyone has their own unique design, job, and purpose. Each person has a daily routine, and while practically everyone has a job, you’ll often see them patrolling around town doing other things. But the liveliness sort of stops there.
Every day you can chat with each person three times, either to talk, joke, or flirt. There’s a percentage chance of whether they’ll respond positively or negatively. This is an interesting system, but you don’t really feel like you’re getting to know them. They’ll say a sentence or two as soon as you interact with them, but I can’t really tell you much about these people besides what I think I know about them.
This makes it even harder to give people gifts they like. For example, on someone’s birthday, I caught them saying they found Moonstone on the ground and wanted to pick it up but didn’t. That sounds like a perfect birthday gift for them then, right? Wrong. It gave me an extremely negative loss to our relationship, and they questioned why I would even give it to them. I was confused, because I thought I had just learned something about them. Maybe if they talked more about their likes and dislikes I’d understand more about them, especially since you can date them.
When looking back on my review in progress, I can see how some aspects of this game make me want to stick with it, while others make me question its longevity. There are so many puzzle pieces to Moonstone Island that it can either be exciting or overwhelming. I’ve barely touched my quests, simply because I’m so focused on exploring islands and making it through dungeons and temples.
I do appreciate that when I sometimes feel at the end of my rope in enjoyment, it introduces something new and fun. You’ll constantly unlock new abilities if you continue to do the temples. At first it was annoying having to travel between islands, but now it’s swift and easy. I’ve now unlocked more craft-ables from my various work stations, and yet it still feels like there’s much more to come.
What’s also kept me going with Moonstone Island is how amazing it feels to play on the Steam Deck. I only played it a couple of times on PC, and the controls just didn’t feel as nice as they did on my portable system. This game was meant to be played on the go and in your hands. Now I never feel like it’s worth it to open it on my PC when I can relax on the couch with this game.
An underrated gem that could use some polishing
I was pleasantly surprised with this game, and how much I’ve enjoyed my time with it. Comparing my review in progress to my final review of Moonstone Island, I’ve found more negative things to point out than positive. But that doesn’t take away from the overall positive experience I’ve had with Moonstone Island. With all the games coming out, it feels like it’s just not getting the attention it deserves. So if this sounds like your type of game, I think you should jump on it. While it feels like an underrated gem of a game for 2023, I still feel like it needs some polishing to cover up the chips and scrapes.