Cozy, fantasy-themed life simulation titles have been beloved sources of entertainment since the first Harvest Moon game hit store shelves in 1996. Deiland follows in these footsteps, entrusting players with the task of building a life on a mysterious planet.
Originally released for PC and PlayStation 4 in 2018, this new release is designed specifically for the Nintendo Switch. The team has included all existing content updates as well as some upgrades and improvements specifically for this version. The result is a solid adventure/simulation that mostly suffers from pacing issues.
Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition will be released on April 15, 2021, for Nintendo Switch.
STORY – ANOTHER LITTLE PRINCE
The basic storyline is extremely cute and very much inspired by The Little Prince. You take the role of Arco, a young boy of a mysterious origin who finds himself on a small, uninhabited planet. Through conversations with extraterrestrial visitors (and a space cop), a deeper mystery unfolds as you discover who you are and where you’re from.
Like many young adventure boys, Arco doesn’t know much about who he is or how he got here, but he’s excited to help people any way he can. I liked the variety of characters that I encountered along the way (once the story started moving), and I found the interactions to be fairly unique.
To be clear, there aren’t any existential moments that gave me pause and wrenched me emotionally. This was a fun jaunt through space while feeding chickens and picking mushrooms along the way. Thematically, the biggest moments seemed to be about the importance of being kind and helping others, which is certainly an admirable intent.
The team at Chibig insists that they aren’t developing games; they’re “creating a universe.” Each of their titles takes place in the same canonical world, with subtle references and crossovers. I didn’t see too many references to their other title, Summer in Mara, but that’s probably got more to do with my limited experience with that game than a lack of connection on the part of the developers.
However, for all of the cute fun Deiland provides, it had to grow on me. Normally that wouldn’t have been a problem; I adore these types of games. Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon were formative series for me, and as we’ve learned recently, Calico is a stunning recent release that we could compare this to. But the pacing is stuck at such a strangely sluggish pace that progress felt like pulling teeth.
Progress is made almost entirely by performing quests for visiting characters (more on that mechanic in the gameplay section below), but incoming ships will appear seemingly at random, sometimes with days in between without seeing one in the sky. Even then, who lands on the planet is also randomized, which means you could be barred from furthering your abilities if the cook keeps flying by instead of a magician.
The advancement beats eventually even out, with new planets even becoming available to visit. My frustration may have been abated by a more fleshed-out tutorial system, but much of the game’s outset is managed without aid. In a more established series, I’d have probably found this to be acceptable, but for the first entry, there wasn’t much to intuitively pick up.
To note, I did really enjoy the conversations between characters. The dialogue was well written, portraying Arco with a sort of Goku-like naivete, but it really landed with the relationships between secondary characters. I immediately felt for the alien couple who was dealing with a breakup. A pirate that used the long-familiar chef as a hostage portrayed his emotions and motivations stupendously. It all just took too long to get there. If there had been even one more character on the planet to be with you along the way, I don’t think the initial playtime would feel as barren as it does.
In some games, a slow build-up is a welcome thing. But the trail has to include plenty of breadcrumbs to maintain interest, and the seemingly random appearances of flybys don’t happen enough at the beginning to keep you motivated. After some frustrating loops of run-around, sleep, repeat, I finally had enough tools and options available to feel like I had made some progress.
GAMEPLAY – SURVIVAL FARMING
The main gameplay loop is very similar to a title such as Rune Factory or Fantasy Life. Using a combination of farming, foraging, and (in rare instances) combat, players will guide Arco through a series of fetch and crafting quests given by planetary visitors. The rewards for these quests are usually some sort of new materials and crafting recipes.
I honestly really dig the traversal mechanic on the tiny planet. Literally the size of a Super Mario Galaxy planet, Deiland is a “minor planet” with trees, a spot to fish, and a bunch of mineable rocks. As you move further through the game, more things will appear, such as animals to care for and additional types of harvestable flora. Every item can be used as a material for a more involved craftable, and I liked unlocking new options.
As I touched on above, I was really frustrated with the slow rate of progression towards the beginning of the game. Yes, this gripe is going to be covered in the gameplay and story sections of this review since it’s that important.
If more gameplay elements had been available earlier on, this wouldn’t have been a problem. As the ball gets rolling, so to speak, the time between visitors and quest markers is easier to manage since naturally, there are more things to do. I don’t mind as much waiting for the pirate ship to return since my large acorn harvest will keep me busy.
That harvest will go a lot faster, of course, if I decide to (or accidentally) burn the entire forest down with a fire spell, but that won’t give me as much wood, and if I want to make some nice fences, I’m going to need as much material as I can get. In a pinch, different elements and actions can work together to reach an unintended goal, a fun feature that provided a severe panic when I saw all my apple trees ignite.
There is plenty of time to rebuild, of course. The game is split into all four seasons and included a day/night cycle, with different crops available to grow depending on what part of the year you’re in. Seasons only last seven days (it’s a small planet), so you won’t be sick of carrots for too long. That also means that if you’re in the wrong season for cotton, you won’t need to wait very long for the chance to plant more.
My biggest concern is still with the onboarding process. It would have been incredibly easy for me to bounce off the game without ever visiting a new planet, simply because there wasn’t very much that kept me sucked in. Arco’s personality is enthusiastic and eager; if even the character is looking for things to do, maybe there should be more.
There are some ongoing points of friction that I continue to encounter. The title can only handle a limited amount of events happening at a time, which means that you can’t go mining if you have crops ready to harvest and it’s raining. Certain actions are inaccessible while other beings are on the planet, but they take a long time to leave, so I found myself sitting around waiting for them to leave before I could move on.
The basic nature of the game is solid enough, and I am really invested in seeing both where the story eventually goes, as well as what all of my empty recipe slots are for. I’d be really interested in seeing what a Deiland 2 might look like since at this point, Pocket Planet Edition could have probably been a solid Apple Arcade title.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – SOUNDS OF FANTASY
Have I ever mentioned that I love cute art direction? If anything ever gives me Quest 64 vibes, I’m down. That’s a huge vibe I got from the cartoonish character models during this playthrough. Arco fits the young-boy-who-has-a-destiny-and-also-magic role, and nothing was presented in such a way that it was confusing.
Sometimes in smaller titles with decently large ambitions, the sheer amount of art that needs to be created can suffer from a quantity problem. I loved to see that Deiland doesn’t have that problem. It’s a game that made me happy to simply collect blueberries and mine some rocks while I waited for eggplants to grow, simply because the blueberry bushes look so cute when they’re ripe and ready to harvest.
The spherical planet you spend your life on didn’t give me any problems when it came to venturing around, a surprisingly pleasant discovery as it can be hard to navigate your direction on a constantly spinning ball. Additional locations are found on larger planets and don’t have the same circular gimmick, which gives me even more hope for a potential sequel that can expand on the groundwork the team has built here.
I adored the sound effects and music. The soundtrack is filled with chill, lo-fi space music that fits the mood really well, and the sounds of tools are clear and well-made. Specifically, the sound that ships make when they land is extremely satisfying. Something about the hiss of their hydraulics as the legs fold out, or the *THUNK!* of the hull landing on a grassy field has a weight to it lets you know that this is an important moment.
Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition was reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A key was provided by Evolve PR.