Harvest Island on PC
Harvest Island pitched itself as a horror farming life-sim, which immediately grabbed my attention. Another island farmer with some seriously spooky potential this October? Sign me up, am I right? Well, unfortunately, while I had high hopes for this game, I’ve struggled to find genuine enjoyment in my experience. Don’t get me wrong, the concept is great! I’m sure there will be people out there who enjoy this game. However, the execution feels a bit… lacking, for me personally, especially in comparison to recent competitors, which I’ll explain further below.
Harvest Island takes a narrative approach, placing you in the role of Will, a farming boy who lives with his father and younger sister, Samantha. Right from the get-go I was excited to see these interactions of dialogue, as powerful sibling bonds are some of my favorite dynamics in video games — think Sean and Daniel from Life is Strange 2, Yara and Lev from The Last of Us Part II, and most recently, Carmine and Kieran from Pokemon Scarlet & Violet’s Teal Mask DLC. However, I soon found myself slightly irritated by the first interaction between Will and Samantha. To be fair, this was not through their dialogue, but instead through repetitive sound effects.
You see, Samantha is excited to join her big brother on his adventure to the Island, and won’t stop jumping around as she speaks to him. But, each time she jumps around in place, a rather loud sound effect plays. On repeat. For the entire duration of the scene. I suppose this means she was certainly nailing the role of the ‘annoying little sister’ if not anything else.
By the end of this first scene, my ears felt as if they were bleeding from the noise of nails on a chalkboard, and I found myself skipping through the last sections of dialogue in a hurry to just get it over with. This may sound a little harsh, but this isn’t exactly a great way to kick off the narrative title that Harvest Island wants to be. That damn jump sound is going to keep me awake at 3 am like a sleep paralysis demon for nights to come.
Sadly, as my progression through Harvest Island continued, these sound effects did not get better, and I soon found myself growing rather sick of them. Half the time, it felt like somebody was just memeing around with Discord soundboard, and this became such an irritation to me that I had to dramatically lower sound effects in the menu, before turning them off completely. Honestly, the experience without them felt much better when I didn’t have the aggressive noise of a chicken clucking or a loud cow’s moo every time I pet or interact with a farm animal.
The soundtrack of background music for Harvest Island is actually quite enjoyable, which is why I found the sound effects to be such a shame; they were almost intruding on the calming tone that the music is trying to set.
On a more positive note, the graphics do have a nice charm to them that is more than worth mentioning. While the pixel art is nothing too modern looking, or extremely detailed or vibrant, this title takes on a slightly different approach. Instead, Harvest Island utilizes more dull tones with the majority of the environment remaining static, bringing a familiar nostalgia to old RPG games from within the GBA-NDS era.
This continues in the art for the character portraits, showcasing Will and Samantha in various poses and expressions. These portraits are very nicely stylized, and admirable, almost reminding me of elder Fire Emblem character portraits. I think the character designs, though perhaps a bit simplistic, are entirely suitable to the world in which Harvest Island has created, as they did seem to look and feel right at home in their environment.
Diving deeper into the characters, I really wanted to like Will and Samantha. Truly, I so badly tried to like them. While I did find temporary moments of joy in their presence, such as Will’s sleepyhead nature (relatable), or the scene where they both yell “HELLO GOATS!” to help Samantha get over her fear, for the most part, I found the entire family dynamic rather dysfunctional and insufferable.
Right from the moment the story kicks off, Will seems to be under extreme stress from his father, tasked with the immense pressure of delivering the Harvest Offerings and completing chores without screwing things up. He’s constantly lashing out at his little sister in mean, hurtful comments due to this pressure, because he’s terrified of disappointing and angering his father. In return, this causes Samantha to retaliate with the same remarks towards her big brother, creating a rather toxic and unenjoyable environment.
I lost count of the number of times they told each other that they hated one another within my first two hours of gameplay, and while I understand that sibling relationships can undoubtedly be turbulent from time to time, I did find this to ruin the ambiance the farm offers. I came here to work hard and explore a spooky island with a dynamic sibling duo, not feeling like I wished there was a way to jump into the world to play babysitter or peacemaker between the two.
Besides, their father is a total hardass. I mean seriously, he just stays inside all day, warm and cozy, while he throws all of his adult responsibilities onto his children. And then he has the nerve to get mad at them when they inevitably mess things up from time to time? I mean, come on, Grayson; they’re kids! Will is lucky on the rare occasions he makes an effort to teach him new skills, and even then, it’s pretty much just so he can take on more of Grayson’s work, the responsibility of playing a caretaker for his sister being drilled into him.
Harvest Island has attempted to establish itself as a spooky take on Stardew Valley, however, I just can’t seem to find the same level of quality in the title that is present in Stardew. The game feels somewhat unpolished or unfinished as if it needed a bit of extra time and care put towards fine-tuning mechanics, adding in extra features to tie things together, and generally wrapping things up nicely. Sadly, I don’t find Harvest Island to meet the same level of standards that Stardew or even other recent life-sim or pixel RPG games have delivered, such as Moonstone Island or Sea of Stars.
In Harvest Island, the farming tasks grew repetitive and boring rather quickly, and that was with me playing on Story Mode, which reduces the farming grind in favor of narrative. Unlike Stardew Valley and Moonstone Island, Harvest Island lacks a township or community of NPCS in which you can interact and build relationships.
Instead, you’re stuck on the family farm, wrapped up in the iffy relationships between your annoying little sister and intimidating father. While you do get to use Bless to upgrade your farm and craft new tools, it just doesn’t quite carry the same charm as rival titles.
Another thing that I found quite significant frustration in, was the fact that the game will often prompt new Quests, but give no sense of direction in where you’re supposed to head to complete said Quest. For example, one of the tasks listed was ‘take Samantha to the Island’ — yet gave no indication of where the Island was located. This left me wandering around the farm for way too long, getting irritated that every pathway seemed to be locked.
Fifteen minutes later, and I’d finally found my way, by pure luck. Maybe I missed an obvious sign in this scenario, I don’t know, but I did find it irritating that the Quests in your Journal were rather vague. This is fine for fetch quests and crop planting, as they’re fairly self-explanatory. But for main quests that push the story forward? It starts to get a little draining.
Harvest Island has also marketed itself towards horror, which I think needs to be discussed. Pixel games have proven on multiple occasions that they more than have the capability of delivering great horror titles that are genuinely scary and frightening to play. However, Harvest Island does not deliver this same experience, which is a letdown.
The game definitely has subtle influences through a slightly spooky island, with odd flashes of blood or animal parts here and there, a demon, and a few minor jumpscares. However, it is by no means a ‘horror’ game. Harvest Island is not scary in the same way as other titles can be, and instead, it would likely be better off viewed as a dark mystery RPG mashup. I’ve caught glimpses of a few different titles that have been a much bigger success when it comes to a clash of the horror and life-sim genre, with Pumpkin Panic and Graveyard Keeper immediately coming to mind.
In comparison to these titles, Harvest Island just falls flat, so the idea of comparing it to Stardew Valley feels almost a bit deceptive. There’s no seasons mechanic, a lack of friendly faces to converse with, and crafting seems to feel quite bare-bones. I can’t help but feel like Harvest Island was completely mismarketed with the references to Stardew Valley, which created false expectations for my playthrough.
The game also appears to still be quite buggy, which created a huge negative impact on my player experience. I found from time to time the camera would have a slight flicker as it struggled to pan following Will and Samantha, and on more than one occasion my game froze up completely, leaving me with no option other than force closing it. Harvest Island also doesn’t have an autosave feature, so every time this happened, I lost a small chunk of progress. These types of bugs make things feel extremely frustrating, and to be quite honest, dull my intentions of wanting to pick it back up.
Harvest Island was a brilliant concept that had massive potential. Unfortunately, the game is held back by its level of polish in certain areas, and being inaccurately marketed. In most scenarios, I’d truthfully find it very hard to recommend this game to fans of life-sims or horror games.
However, I think if I’d known to approach this game with the mindset that I would be going into a dark mystery narrative RPG with a slight nostalgic and retro feeling, I would have found much more enjoyment in the title. The gameplay, dialogue, and story at the beginning of the game are particularly painful, but once things pick up and the mystery starts unfolding, there is quite a bit of intrigue to be found, so the title may still be a worthy contender for fans of this genre.
Sometimes the direction in which the story leads is a bit predictable, but for the most part, there’s a fun sense of exploration, and despite not being particularly ‘horror’ worthy, things still get quite twisted. Unfortunately, the game takes too long to break into its strongest part of the story, which all unravels near the end of the game. This is a shame because while I was not thrilled by my Harvest Island experience, there was a fun sense of subtle terror in the last moments; you just have to drag yourself through the worst parts of the game to get there.
The gameplay has a nostalgic charm
Character art is very nicely stylized and lovely to look at
The story, though slow and/or predictable at times, is mostly easy to follow
Two different modes to choose from, a ‘Normal Mode’ and a ‘Story Mode’ that is much lighter on farming, prioritizing the narrative
Poorly marketed in comparison of how it has been pitched to players, and what it actually is.
Loud SFX often drown out the background music, creating disturbance
Characters do a poor job of portraying a genuine, feel-good relationship, which creates a bad first impression
Quests will often be presented to you with no direction on where to go or how to complete them
An abundance of fetch quest style tasks, which can pile up and get exhausting to complete
While marketed as having strong horror aspects, very little genuine moments of horror are to be found
Game is still quite buggy, which impacts the player experience
October 10, 2023
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