It must be difficult being an optimistic developer working on a farm simulation project. Stardew Valley – A simple looking project made by one Boy, have you so effectively raised the bar for what a pure farm sim can be that, at this point, it seems almost impossible to match. The only way a new game could top it would be by introducing new ideas or groundbreaking mechanics that transform the genre in ways no one else could have imagined. Monster Harvest, the latest release from Stage Clear Studios, aimed to do just that and the results are … well, not great. There are some redeeming qualities in Monster Harvest, but this is far form the Stardew Valley assassin you may have hoped it would be.
Monster Harvest begins with a family story in which you, a disillusioned city dweller, receive a letter from an uncle you haven’t spoken to in years asking you to come take care of his neglected farm. It turns out that his uncle is actually an eccentric scientist and his farm was sidelined due to a breakthrough he made in his research. You see, your uncle found a way to create a new species of plant / animal hybrids called … Planimals … and now an evil corporation called SlimeCo. you just moved to town and may or may not have dire plans for these new entities.
It’s not a great story, and we can all agree that “Planimals” is an absolutely terrible name, but farm sims like this are hardly known for their deep narratives. What they is it so However, it is known for having a relatively deep community of neighbors that you can befriend and build relationships with over time. That element is still present and taken into account here, but unfortunately not much depth is given to the townspeople. There is only the vaguest sense that this is an interconnected community with a shared history, and the forgettable characters are mostly relegated to being shopkeepers and homeless. Those of you who appreciate that social element of farm sims will be deeply disappointed, although the gameplay isn’t too bad.
Take a look at Monster Harvest and it’s pretty clear how much this one from Stardew Valley is making, but this is a good example of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. You start out with just a few dollars and a sloppy, unkempt farm, but things start to come together little by little day after day as you diligently tend to the farm chores. There is a small variety of crops you can plant for each season, and you need to be careful to water them every day and prevent scavengers from picking them up before they are ready to harvest. Once you have a harvest, you can sell those crops for a good profit and reinvest in more crops or spend on better tools or more facilities.
If Monster Harvest simply focused more on this element of the game loop, we could be looking at a pretty good, if uninspired, take on the farm simulation genre. However, it needed something to differentiate itself from the rest, so the developers chose to merge this style of play with * check notes * an RPG that catches monsters. Not long after starting your farm, you are given access to a special type of slime that can turn a budding crop into a Planimal that instantly befriends you, while you can get different Planimals by placing the slime in different crops. Once you feel comfortable with your team, you can run to a nearby randomly generated dungeon to fight enemies and earn more gifts to build your farm.
The fights in these dungeons are where the wheels really start to fall, enough to almost completely undermine the idea of having monster teams to begin with. Making contact with an enemy in a dungeon will cause you to jump into a separate battle screen where you will be forced to endure one of the most arid and uninteresting battle systems we’ve seen in an RPG. Regardless of how many Planimals you have on your team, only the leader who was following you will be able to participate in the battle, and you only have three moves. maybe at your service.
The problem is that moves # 2 and # 3 are locked behind level doors for each Planimal, which means that most of them will only have one possible move that they can use to start. Even with all three moves unlocked, there is almost no strategy in fights, and it usually comes down to a matter of smashing ‘A’ and watching things unfold. Worse still, there are hardly any animations when using a move, so you simply watch each Planimal move awkwardly towards their enemy, immobile, while a cheesy effect flashes and their HP drops a bit more. Suffice it to say, the combat here is so disconcertingly basic that it almost seems satirical; It’s really mind-boggling to think that a game that featured monster fighting as a great sales pitch has such a simplistic implementation of the real monster fighting part. We are not exaggerating when we say that it adds any to the game, and it only serves to make an otherwise harmless farm sim that much worse.
Fortunately, Monster Harvest redeems itself a bit for its presentation, which uses a visual style similar to Octopath Traveler’s ‘HD-2D’ look to great effect. Trees, buildings, and ponds are drawn with impressive detail, and things like a hook dangling from a roof or the rustle of leaves in the wind help sell immersion in this world. Unfortunately, the cost of these beautiful images is an often unstable frame rate, which seems like it can range from 20 to 40 FPS in the blink of an eye.
We think that special attention should also be paid to the user interface, which is painfully bad for navigating through the controller. Item descriptions are often written in a small font that doesn’t look good on TV or Switch screens, while the menus themselves are often presented in a confusing way that is difficult to navigate. It only takes a minute to figure out where the damn cursor is when you open the menu, and moving it can often be a futile exercise as you often choose to select what is next to what you were trying to grab. This may seem like a minor problem, but a farm simulation like this makes you open and use menus quite a bit, and it’s always a hassle every time you have to.
Monster Harvest is a good example of why great ideas must also be accompanied by great execution. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a farm simulator with monster-trapping items, but Monster Harvest does a tough job of convincing you of that. The monster RPG content is so poorly made that it might as well not have been implemented at all, as it clearly took the focus off the decent farm simulation part of the game. Surprisingly, the farm simulation game still redeems this enough that it’s not a full-blown dumpster fire, but we’d only give the slightest recommendation to anyone looking for another entry into the genre. Trust me, it’s much better to start over with a new farm in Stardew Valley or buy Rune Factory 4.