To say I was excited when I saw this game would be an understatement. At first glance, Monster Harvest looked to be a wonderful cross between Stardew Valley and Pokémon, two of my favourite franchises. I love a good life sim game, but I also enjoy having animal companions who I can battle. The fact that this game decided to combine both of those aspects was very appealing to me. I was very kindly granted a key by Merge Games, and as such here’s my Monster Harvest review for Xbox One.
This is undoubtedly a fun game with a unique concept, but it’s also far from perfect. I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of my experience throughout this review, but on the whole, I did enjoy it. It’s always great to see new games coming out from indie developers. Monster Harvest is no exception, and I’m really glad that I got the chance to play it. Obviously, it’s my duty to give my honest opinion, and so I do bring up quite a lot of flaws. However, much as you should let that inform your decision, as only you know what your own deal-breakers are, I do want to stress that I still had fun with it.
The game opens with some backstory on what’s happened so far. You’ve moved to a town called Planimal Point which ‘seems to have sprung up overnight’. Seriously, they use that phrase A LOT. I find this hard to believe considering that one of the few facilities this town has is a graveyard. The town can’t be that recent if it’s full of corpses! Anyway. Your uncle was doing research, and discovered fascinating creatures. They’re part plant, part animal, and so he called them planimals. As a professor, he’s fascinated by this, and has called for your help to run the farm while he’s in his lab. That’s such a standard storyline in these kind of games, I had to smile. ‘Insert relative here has died/ retired/ moved away, so you need to take over their old farm’.
However, there’s also a darker edge to the story. A mysterious company called SlimeCo has moved into town. They’ve been doing work deep in the dungeons, and are pumping slimes throughout the pipe systems. They claim to be using the slimes to help power Planimal Point, but our uncle is suspicious. He’s noticed that ever since they moved to town, the slimes have been venturing further and further from the dungeons. It’s cool to have an exciting side quest like this, and the story develops the more you play. I do rather like the premise of this game. It’s simple but effective, and allows more focus to be on the gameplay.
The movement controls in this game are nice and responsive, which is always a relief to see. I would’ve liked for our character to be able to move a bit faster, however, it’s not unbearably slow. It’s very rare for life sim games to have a sprint button, so I’m not surprised that Monster Harvest doesn’t have one either. There is a dodge button, but honestly the recovery time is so long that you don’t save any time with it.
You have three bars at the top of your screen that measure important statistics. The first is your stamina bar, and it’s the most vital. Almost every action you take requires stamina, and so it’s a real task to try and balance how to spend it. Personally, I think the stamina bar depletes way too quickly, especially as there’s no way to increase it (at least not as far as I’ve discovered). There are various food items that will increase stamina, but this doesn’t offset just how quickly it gets used up. Just watering my small amount of crops each day uses up nearly a third of the bar.
The next bar shows your experience points. As you level up, you get access to new crafting items, which can really improve your game. Most actions in the game will grant you at least a bit of experience. So with each tree you chop, or rock you smash, you know that you’re gaining xp.
Finally, the last bar shows your money. Money is a vital resource in Monster Harvest, and is needed in order to progress. You’ll need it to buy seeds for your farm, or upgrades to your tools, to expand your house, to get new buildings, and to buy any number of items from the various shops in town.
The daily routine in this game is a little lacklustre until you unlock the dungeon. You have the farm in Planimal Point, but the issue is your lack of stamina. You’re so limited in what you can do, so other than chopping down a tree, or breaking a stone, you’re out of luck. You do have to tend to your crops every day, but that’s about it. You also have to do it manually until you unlock the ability to craft pipes, which takes a long time. However, one thing I do like, is that tools lock onto a grid. I’ve played games before where you have to be really sensitive with the controls to get the tools to affect the right asset, so it’s handy that floor tiles get highlighted when you’re using a tool.
Seeing as I didn’t have much stamina to use, I figured I’d explore Planimal Point and get to know the NPCs. Boy, was I in for a disappointment. There’s no relationship tracker in this game! I could deal with the lack of romantic interests, but I can’t even make friends? I can give them gifts, but aside from a brief thank you, it makes no difference to our interactions. Each character has about 2 or 3 lines of dialogue, that’s it. It really makes the town and its people feel very 2-dimensional. I would have loved more dialogue options, and the ability to befriend the NPCs. As it is, there’s not much to do all day. Thankfully, you can sleep till evening, which replenishes some stamina, and means you can start playing in the dungeon.
Inventory, Storage, and Crafting
There probably are a few games that I’ve played which have worse UIs, but if there are, I’m blanking. I cannot get over how unintuitive and frustrating the inventory and storage systems are. Even when I looked at the controls (it’s convenient that you can view them straight from the start menu) I was a bit stuck. Navigating through the first row of your inventory is okay, but other than that, it’s a nightmare. When you upgrade your backpack, you have to manually go into it, and swap any items you want from the second row into your first row. There’s no option to switch between rows on your quick bar at the bottom. It’s so convoluted, and slows down gameplay.
It’s even worse when you try to use your storage. You have to literally click on the exact space you want to move an item to, you can’t just quickly put an item in storage. If you already have some of a certain item in storage, it won’t automatically stack any new ones in there. There’s no option to split, so if you have lots of an item, and you want to move just one into your inventory, you have to take the lot. The same issue happens with your consignment board (selling things). You have to move an item from your inventory, over your backpack, and select the exact space on the consignment board, even though it makes no difference. The controls are super sensitive too, so you’ll often misclick.
Crafting is great, though. You just hover over the item you want to make from your crafting menu, and click it. As long as the items are in your inventory, you’ll craft it immediately. Simples.
Crops, Livestock, and Planimals
Time to get into the USP of this game. Obviously, there’s the farming element, and you plant crops which you water daily. Left to their own devices, they’ll grow normally. You can put grown crops in a pickling jar, or cook them up, or just sell them for money. However, what you can do instead, is apply slime to them whilst they’re growing. You can get slime by killing roaming slimes with a sword the professor gives you. They can be found in the dungeons, or in certain places around Planimal Point. Otherwise, you can buy slime from one of the shops in town. There are also crossbreed crops that you get by combining seeds in the professor’s lab, but these can’t turn into livestock or planimals.
There are 3 colours of slime, as well as super slime variants of those colours. Green slimes simply speed up the growing process. So, if you apply it to a seed, it will immediately turn into a fully grown crop. Blue slimes are rarer/ more expensive, and will turn your crop into a livestock animal. Unfortunately, the barn in my game was glitched, so I never got to go inside and see my livestock. From what I can tell online, that was a relatively common issue.
Red slimes, however, are used to make planimals. Once harvested, they can either live in the pen in your farm, or they’ll follow you around as part of your party. You can only have one of each type of planimal with you at any time. They are used in combat, and you can’t enter the dungeons without them. When they die, you get hearts, which are used to improve the soil, and grow stronger planimals.
Easily my favourite part of Monster Harvest, the dungeons are first accessed a few days into playing. The professor is concerned that SlimeCo is up to something in there, and sends you in to confirm his suspicions. Apparently the dungeons are too dangerous during the day, so you can only enter them at night. Annoyingly, you can only enter them once, so there’s no option to loot, go home and put items in storage, and then come back. However, I do understand that it might have made things too easy otherwise.
In the dungeons, you move through rooms looking for the main boss of each level, so you can move deeper into the dungeons. The rooms appear to be randomly generated, and contain things like ores, and crystals. The crystals are used to craft slimes for use on your crops, and ores can upgrade your tools or be used in crafting. Most rooms will have a planimal inside, which you’ll have to fight if it catches you. You can always try to avoid it by safe-spotting with the rocks in the room. I must admit, there’s a rush of adrenaline when you’re being chased by a planimal as you desperately try to make it to the exit.
The loot gets better as you progress deeper, but the enemies get more terrifying as well. There were many occasions where I went in with nearly a full party of planimals, and left with only one left, on low HP. But seeing my loot at the end made the dangerous trip seem worthwhile. I also like that you get to keep your items if you die. The only downside, again, is the lack of stamina. There are items that recover some stamina, but the amount is marginal.
This had the possibility to be so great. I was ready for a fun, Pokémon-like experience, but what I got was a rushed, incredibly basic combat system. It almost felt like they’d put so much thought into the concept, that they forgot to spend any time on the execution. Whilst not terrible, there was almost no nuance to it, and it felt like something was missing.
You pretty much take it in turns hitting each other, as there’s no option to use items, or to switch planimal. There are Fury Points that can be used for slightly more varied skills, such as doing double damage for a few turns, or weakening the opponent. However, on the whole, it’s pretty boring. It’s a shame, as it had so much potential. Even just being able to switch planimal mid-fight would be better, rather than resigning to losing a planimal you may have developed a sentimental attachment to. You can’t even heal planimals outside of battle, which feels ridiculous to me.
On Fridays, you can battle other people at the Community Centre. I was looking forward to this, as I naively hoped it might be different. I thought that maybe we’d have more options than we do for battles in the dungeon. Unfortunately, however, that’s not the case. You can’t even see how many planimals each opponent has. You just go through, taking down all the opponents, until you get to the end and win an okay prize. It didn’t deserve the hype of being this exciting event that only happens once a week.
Graphics and Audio
I’m not usually a fan of pixel art, but honestly I quite like how it was used in this game. It was cute, and I enjoyed the way that details were incorporated into the assets. I felt that the blocky design worked well for the buildings and settings, especially trees. However, I must admit, the NPC designs weren’t great, as often their pixel art looked nothing like the 2d designs you saw when speaking to them. There were also cutscenes done in the style of the game. This worked well, as sometimes cutscenes are higher quality, which makes the rest of the game look worse.
At the start, there’s a small customisation screen. I was happy to see it, as I like being able to choose my character, but the options were very limited. It was good that I could choose between genders, and that you could be black or white. However, there was no option for Asian or mixed race people such as myself, and I feel that it would have been nice if they could have included a skin colour in between. Also, some extra options like changing clothes/ hair etc would have been nice.
I really liked the music in Monster Harvest, as it was upbeat and cheerful, yet relaxing. It helped set the tone for the game, and I liked that it varied between areas. There were whistles, and piano sounds, and it all felt very natural. There are also ambient sound effects, like birds chirping, and some kind of buzzing in the background. That made night time feel all the more ominous, as there was no music, just distant howling. You could hear almost nothing except your own footsteps.
I have mixed feelings about Monster Harvest. Some elements, such as the dungeon, were really fun. I also liked the concept of the game, and it was exciting to grow my own planimals. However, there were just so many flaws that detracted from the experience. Aside from the ones I’ve mentioned, it also didn’t show the selling price for items. At one point I sold excess seeds, thinking I’d get about half the price. Instead, I got less than a quarter of what they sell for in the shops. In fact, money in this game is very slow, and scales poorly.
Having said that, I still enjoyed playing it for the most part. I think there are definitely better farming games on the market, and the combat element isn’t developed enough to make this one stand out. But if you’re a big fan of this genre, and you’re looking for something new, then I think Monster Harvest is worthwhile to tide you over until something bigger and better hits the scene.