The concept of Monster Harvest is incredible: a farming simulator by way of Stardew Valley with monster-catching elements inspired by Pokémon. It might seem like that’s a lot of mechanics to pack into one game, but it’s executed thoroughly here. Your Planimals literally grow from your crops, and they are capable of defending you during dungeon runs. It’s a fantastic approach blending two long-standing genres.
However, things aren’t all copacetic. A number of small issues are individually excusable, but they coalesce in some frustrating ways. Is this due to problems with porting, or the game itself? This review will explore the title and attempt to figure that out.
STORY – PLANT SYNTHESIS
The basic premise is simple: your uncle has called you to take over his old farm utilizing the new experiments he’s created in his laboratory. Upon arrival, your eccentric scientist uncle shows off the life he has created: Planimals! These are mutated plant-slash-monster hybrids that will follow you around and fight against enemies.
It’s a quirky premise, and there are some additional plot points regarding the corporatization of the Planimals and life-giving Slimes that now live in the area, but overall it’s a bare-bones narrative that is tied together with game mechanics. There are only one or two town-wide events each season, so there aren’t many chances to see the townsfolk as true NPCs, as we would in something such as Harvest Moon.
I enjoyed being able to build a relationship with the town residents, but that amounted to little more than giving them a flower every day. The slow-build of the game means that players have to trust that the late-game will have some payoffs, but it’s just not enough to keep you hanging on until then.
NPCs have two functions in Monster Harvest: providing generic one-liners or becoming shopkeepers. I haven’t experienced any side- or even fetch-quests that expand more about someone’s backstory. This is a world that has a lot of different bodies moving around but very little substance.
If anything, the title is spurred on by its own mechanics. This combination of Stardew Valley and Pokémon ends up containing a half-measure of both. The individual Planimals don’t particularly matter in the long run, as most of them share movesets. Characters appear grateful as you expand access to different parts of the town, but we aren’t given much in the way of personal lives and world-building.
The fact that Planimals, enemies, and supporting characters are all essentially interchangeable is a missed opportunity for immersion. I gained the ability to automate my crops and livestock early enough that I needed other things to fill my time. Learning about and growing closer to the townsfolk would have been a great way to keep player interest as the game wore on. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t much there.
GAMEPLAY – FIGHT, FORAGE, FARM
As far as ideas go, Monster Harvest is built upon some of the best. A farming simulator in the vein of classic Harvest Moon, plus the monster-catching-and-battling of Pokémon? These two styles of gameplay really compliment each other, and if executed correctly, should be a slam-dunk. I will give it to the developers: they come extremely close to pulling it off.
The core loop of the game is that you grow crops, slather some special slime on them, and harvest a Planimal. That creature will then protect you in the caves as you journey deep and look for treasures. Almost everything the game has to offer is found in the caves, like crafting materials, valuable gems, even new crop seeds. Eventually, you’ll even have access to fishing, rideable mounts, and livestock that will provide you with additional resources.
These are all things that we’d expect in a chill farming title, and there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done before. I really enjoyed the fact that almost anything is craftable, and new seeds are quite plentiful in the caves, so I rarely had to spend my cash on anything but aesthetic purposes. Multiple shops offer furniture or tool upgrades, and your house and barn can both be renovated with additions, but you won’t have to buy your own seeds beyond the first few in-game days.
I did not expect to have to make so many decisions about what to do with my harvests. Different slime does different things, creating a Planimal, harvesting immediately, or turning the plant into livestock. You can’t even buy a horse, you harvest them using special slime juice. There are a plethora of different ways you can choose to use your yield, and there isn’t really a wrong way to do it. If you harvest multiple Screambats, they will get stored in your Planimal Pen, waiting until their time to fight.
The freedom to play the game how you want, whether it’s as an explorer or a rancher or both, means a lot in the way of accessibility and player choice. Most smaller titles have a focused expression of the player agency, so seeing that Monster Harvest granted that volition to the players is fantastic.
Unfortunately, the actual monster combat leaves much to be desired. It’s a familiar premise: monsters fight 1-v-1 and have up to three moves to choose from. These are locked behind level caps, so you must fight in order to unlock better attacks. That’s a fine idea, but the combat implementation is so rough that it feels tacked on. It’s clear during play that the focal point of the project was the actual harvesting and acquisition of Planimals, but what you do with them afterward isn’t handled very well.
There are some good ideas to tweeze out, such as how leveling up one Planimal levels up all of that type, aiding in progression and forward-momentum. But the erratic camera movement is nauseating, and the amount of text on-screen in battles really showcases one of the title’s biggest problems: the text is too dang small. But more about that later.
An issue that appears throughout the game (even after the very important Day 1 patch) is continued problems with button presses. Oftentimes, when I press a button, nothing happens. Mashing the button is the only course of action, and that’s frustrating enough. But in combat, the button presses are almost too sensitive, and I’ll blow my way through the various action messages and use attacks that I didn’t intend to use.
It’s a problem that is noticeable and impactful during battles, but perhaps most apparent when trying to navigate the menu. The menu system in Monster Harvest is not good. Directional and selection commands don’t always work, the screen is split into two or three different sections, and it’s confusing to get around. The same system is used with inventory, crafting, and storage as well, so it’s not something that you can really get away from.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – IT’S GOT SOME CHARM
I’ll admit it, the art style was a bit jarring at first. The general world, such as stones, trees, background areas, etc. all works really well, and the Planimals themselves are creative and fun to unlock. Who doesn’t love a good mutated potato? But the character design looks almost unfinished, particularly in the faces. NPCs as a whole look dull and tattered, which doesn’t fit the portrayal of Planimal Point as an up-and-coming region.
That being said, the idea of a dense local that’s been only recently touched by humans was executed tremendously. While traversing the area (especially before you obtain a mount), it’s clear that the landscape hasn’t been shaped by the town, providing a sense of newness to the area that they talk about in the game.
I cannot express this enough, the text and general user interface are both way too small. I had to perform many errors in order to be sure which crops would grow in which season because the text was too small to read. Having the title on the go was great, squinting at my tiny screen, not so much.
The sound design is great. All of the sounds match their actions, which is important! The soundtrack is heavily inspired by other farming titles, but the large number of melodies and wind instruments helps to give the game a fuller sound. You’re not wandering around to a small piano track, these are full tunes. Plus, the bird noises sound delightful in the middle of the woods.
Monster Harvest was reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A key was provided by Evolve PR.