Moonstone Island is what happens when you combine Stardew Valley with Pokémon, and throw a bit of card-based combat into the mix. This isn’t just some copycat also-ran though: it’s a delightful adventure in its own right.
Your journey starts with your last night at home with your parents: you’re about to spend a year away on the titular Moonstone Island as you complete your alchemy training. Exactly how you spend that year will ultimately be up to you, but you’re given a wealth of objectives to work towards. Like Stardew Valley, you’re granted a great deal of freedom in how you play: do you want to spend your days farming, using the money you’ve earned by selling crops to decorate your house? Or do you want to explore every corner of the world, discovering as much as you can?
Ultimately, you’ll end up doing a bit of both. There are over 100 islands to explore in Moonstone Island, and thanks to its procedurally-generated maps, no two worlds will ever be the same. That means you’re never going to be sure what awaits as you visit a new island. Some are hostile, with fiery grounds that damage you as you walk, or lightning-powered trees that will shock you. But all islands, even the tiniest ones, have valuable resources – and so exploration is something you’ll want to engage in at some point.
Venturing further afield will allow you to find new crops, and by using your scythe tool you can harvest seeds from them, allowing you to grow your own back at home. You’ll also gather materials that can be used for crafting, such as wood, rocks and ore. And of course, you’ll also come across various monsters – here, known as Spirits.
Like Pokémon, you’ll start out by choosing your first Spirit, gifted to you for free by your parents as you begin your adventure. As you encounter more wild Spirits, you can tame them by feeding them appropriate food, adding them to your party. Initially, you can only hold up to three Spirits; to keep more, you’ll need to build yourself a barn – something you’ll need to work towards as you play.
We love Moonstone Island’s combat. It’s card based, so if you’re a fan of something like Slay the Spire, you’ll find yourself right at home here. Both your own Spirits and your opponents have a HP number and an armour number: by reducing armour to zero you open up a foe to extra damage. You have a limited amount of energy to use each turn – three stacks to begin with – and each card has an energy cost. Most cost one stack of energy, but others can cost two or three (with some being free). You can also spend one energy on using an item – either to heal one of your Spirits or to inflict a negative effect on an opponent.
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Catching a Spirit to add it to your team means first taming it. You’ll need to spend experience points to increase your ability to tame Spirits of higher level; to begin with, anything above level five is off limits. But providing you can, you’ll need to feed Spirits appropriate food that increases their ‘tame’ rating. Get it high enough, and they’re yours, no throwing of a Pokéball required.
There’s so much to do in Moonstone Island, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of it. Many islands you’ll fly to – by using a magical balloon or a broomstick – have dungeons to be beaten, all containing powerful Spirits and lots of treasure. There are also hidden caves, which make a great place to seek out certain resources. You’ll want to gather as much of everything as you can: not only do resources come in handy for completing quests, but you’ll also need them for crafting. Whether you’re building an important functional object or something decorational for your home, you’ll want to have a bursting inventory filled with all kinds of useful materials.
If you want to take things a bit easier, you can hang around Moonstone Island’s main town and get to know its villagers. Like Stardew Valley, you can forge relationships with your fellow townsfolk, becoming friends or even kicking up a romance. It’s a bit of a slog increasing your friendship level, though: it’ll take patience, a lot of daily chatting and regular gift-giving. Well, providing you give the right gift: hand over something a villager doesn’t like, and you’ll find your friendship heading in the opposite direction. Rude.
While the story of Moonstone Island has you spending one in-game year on the isles – 112 in-game days – there’s a very good chance you’ll want to spend much, much longer enjoying everything the game has to throw at you. If you’re used to being guided through adventures, you might find the freedom here a little overwhelming to begin with. But once you start exploring the vast world, collecting all kinds of weird and wonderful resources – not to mention those Pokémon-like Spirits – you’re going to find it difficult to tear yourself away.