What would you get if you put Studio Ghibli, Pokemon, and Stardew Valley in a blender? Probably something like Moonstone Island, the newest offering from developers Studio Supersoft and publisher Raw Fury. Now, while that all sounds like a great combination, let’s continue with our Moonstone Island review to see if it works as well in practice as in theory.
The plot setup for Moonstone Island is very much a cross between Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky. You come of age and set out from your parent’s house to live as an alchemist on your own for a year, crashlanding on the titular Moonstone Island. And, like the other islands in the world, Moonstone Island floats in the sky. So, y’know, don’t fall.
After you crash, you meet the local innkeeper and bartender, Ossono, and after a quick introduction, you’re given the run of Moonstone Island to decide where to set up your base camp and what you would like to do from there. While there are quests and a few over-arching narratives that are introduced, the game is not particularly story-heavy, and your real limiters for what you want to do next are the strength of your Spirits and the power of your equipment.
Moonstone Island Review: Prepare For (Card) Battle
Spirits are the natural animals that live in the world of Moonstone Island. Much like Pokemon, they are found in the wild and can be vanquished or tamed, and you carry three of them with you at all times. Do I love having a tiny dinosaur following me around everywhere? Yes, I do, very much. You fight with all three of your Spirits at once and can be fighting up to three wild Spirits at a time in a card-based system that relies heavily on the elements involved.
Each Spirit gains one additional card when it levels up, and the pool of your currently equipped spirits’ cards from your deck, with new cards being chosen each turn. The system is less complicated than it sounds, and there are plenty of opportunities in the game for you to upgrade cards and add new ones to your deck, or erase bad cards if you choose.
Unfortunately, the elemental battle system is where the game trips up. Each Spirit has a type it’s associated with and two types that it’s weak to, information which can be easily found by checking on your Spirit in the medallion. However, since all three Spirits are always in battle, elemental weaknesses can’t be avoided. My water-based Sandcrashle went down like a sack of potatoes the minute I got into a fight on a lightning island, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Since this means there really isn’t any value in having a balanced set of Spirits in your medallion, you will need a balanced team of Spirits in your barn that you can choose from. It does make it a bit of a chore, having to keep about 12 to 15 Spirits all at the same levels at any point, and if you accidentally end up on an island that you’re weak to, you may be ambushed in battle before you have a chance to take off again.
The card-battling system with Spirits is great, and it’s one thing that definitely sets it apart from many other monster-battling games. However, the three-on-three battles and heavy elemental weaknesses do make it a chore to ascend to the higher levels in any sort of swift manner.
But Wait, There's More
Beyond battling, you have the option to farm resources, make friends with or romance the local population, explore dungeons, and make concoctions and charms to sell or to help you on your quests. With over 100 islands to explore, you are a bit bottlenecked at the start of the game when you’re solely reliant on a balloon to get from place to place, but once you are able to craft a new broom, or better yet a glider, you’re in business.
Both the social and resource systems in the game are fairly simple to deal with. You can chat, tell a joke, flirt with people, or give them gifts each day, and eventually, you can attempt to ask them out if you’d like. Resources consist of basic things like stone and wood, and the only metals that you use are Copper, Iron, and Moonstone.
The difficulty of obtaining Moonstone can get very frustrating, even as you get further into the game. Moonstone can only be seen at night when it gives off a faint glow, unless you decide you want to do the equivalent of carpet-bombing a landscape with your scythe and axe. Even then, only one Moonstone spawns per island per day, and yet I have gone days without Moonstones spawning on the titular island, so it seems to be an upper limit rather than a hard and fast rule.
For all that I’ve complained about the frustrations of the game, I have had a great time playing it. The Spirits are all cute with inventive designs (albeit sometimes weird ones) and a game where your objective is to explore as much as possible is completely up my alley. With the exception of the horny blacksmith, all the characters are charming and fun to talk to, though they don’t have a huge amount of depth.
Moonstone Island’s pixel art style is also adorable and whimsical, which works particularly well for the Spirits but also for the general setting. There are weird plants like Stunflowers, rainbow-colored psychic storms, your own sweet little avatar, and a variety of island biomes to explore. The colorful and bright pixel art works well in conveying that this is a (mostly) safe, fun world, where you’re free to explore without the usual horrific consequences.
Overall, Moonstone Island was a pleasant surprise, as I don’t usually enjoy many town-centric games. The Spirits are fun to find, even though the battling system can be frustrating, but the plethora of islands to explore and the kind villagers more than makeup for it. It does take a while for the game to really get going, but once it does, you can glide right through.
Moonstone Island was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the Developer over the course of 16 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Gorgeous pixel art
- Fun and unique Spirit designs
- So much to explore!
- Card battling system brought down by heavy reliance on elements
- Moonstones are a key resource yet tedious to find