Look, let’s cut to the chase: Moonstone Island’s appeal hinges largely on the fact that it’s kind of sort of a mash-up between Stardew Valley and Pokemon. That’s what the audience expected. As someone who followed the game’s Twitter marketing, that’s what I expected. It’s hard not to draw comparisons when the “cozy game” and “monster tamer” genres generally share a lot of the same basic mechanics; they’ve got very similar “skeletal structures,” so to speak.
That’s why, dear readers, I’m happy to share with you that Moonstone Island embodies most of the best traits of the games it is heavily inspired by while still fitting in some refreshing new gameplay features you won’t find in other titles.
The coziness and warmth of Stardew nest well within this monster-taming adventure, and the card-based combat has a surprising amount of depth; players will definitely be more engaged with battling in Moonstone Island than they’d be with a casual Pokemon run.
The experimental genre blend and depth of battling mechanics might alienate some of the more casual “cozy gamers.” By design, players can’t turn their brains off and just ride the vibes while island hopping. But if you’re the type of player to pull up the Stardew Valley wiki on a 2nd screen and you’re not afraid to engage with a unique card battler, this game will provide you with hours and hours of thoughtfully handcrafted content.
When Moonstone Island is at its best, it surpasses the expectations set by the premise.
Moonstone Island’s community of colorful characters is at the center of the world. There aren’t quite as many NPCs in Moonstone Island as you’d find in a game like Stardew Valley, but this is an incredibly diverse group. I instantly found myself taking a liking to Ossono, Ferra, and Tobin: all characters with unique brands of extroverted brashness.
Still, characters like Zed and Cleo will certainly capture other players’ hearts with their dedication to science and history, and Gaiana will be a standout favorite for any Stardew-Valley-Abigail-lover.
Farming is a massive part of this game, of course, and the way it works is honestly kind of genius. Exploring and Spirit taming help the player cultivate new crops; in turn, farming is a necessity for keeping more than three Spirits and exploring more dangerous islands.
This positive feedback loop is important – not unlike how farming in Stardew is a great way to keep stamina up throughout a given day – yet I think Moonstone Island farming progression is the best implementation of this feature I’ve ever seen.
The real driving force behind the game, though, is completing all the game’s dungeons and temples. Much like the Community Center bundles (or the JojaMart membership), this provides players with an overarching goal to work toward as they immerse themselves into this fantasy world.
Dungeons have a fair leveling curve as players travel outward from the main island, which helps make gameplay progression feel more natural. I didn’t often run into a challenge I wasn’t prepared for because I knew what to expect as I ventured further into the game’s wilderness. The game isn’t afraid to play rough once in a while, but players can take things at their own pace and discover the secrets of the world once they’re ready to do so.
Spirit combat itself may be the game’s strongest attribute. Many turn-based games struggle to differentiate themselves from the plethora of other titles in their genre, opting to let the narrative do the heavy lifting to keep players invested. The devs behind Moonstone Island, on the other hand, have cooked up something very special here.
Every time players start a turn, they’re dealt a hand of new “cards” from their deck. The deck is composed of the sum total of the moves learned by the Spirits players have with them.
Each move has a different effect: some are basic damage-dealing moves, some are “Bash” cards that work to lower a target Spirit’s Armor to stagger them and make them more susceptible to attacks, and some moves even shuffle the deck or apply buffs or debuffs to different Spirits taking part in the battle.
Players have the chance to use any of the cards in their hand three times during their turn, and then the turn ends. There’s a whole lot of strategy at work here, and I regularly found myself really engaging with the battling system and asking myself several key questions.
I would find myself having an internal dialogue, “Should I use three moves from the same Spirit, or mix up what kind of cards I want to use this turn? Do I use one of my cards to lower the opponent’s Armor, or do I try to defeat them with raw DPS? Do I set up some status effects and count on getting some good damage cards next turn? How do the Spirit-type advantages and disadvantages work out for my matchup?”
That level of engagement – forcing players to interact with every battle tactic and to be intimately familiar with their party’s strengths and weaknesses – is not something I feel like I get with every turn-based RPG. Moonstone Island is certainly more mechanically cohesive than many titles in the monster-tamer sub-genre, and it deserves to be lauded for that feat.
Of course, there are some small things that I found absolutely irksome about the game, too.
I wasn’t at all chuffed about how advancing relationships with the townspeople largely boils down to how lucky a player gets toward the beginning of the game. It made building relationships early on feel clunky and unnatural – perhaps the vision for this feature was a more realistic dynamic of interpersonal communication, where it’s just easier to talk to people as you grow closer to them, but it just didn’t feel right to me.
The only other really big problem for newer players is how long it takes to get ready to get out and explore. Obviously, games in this genre have a very slow progression track. Players develop routines to plug away at their overarching objectives throughout the day. A large hurdle for newer players in Moonstone Island, though, is how resource-intensive it is to explore further out from the starting island.
Worse, there’s not enough time in the day to really go spelunking too far off the beaten path – players will need to craft multiple tents to lay low in as night begins to fall, spending a ton of resources to create a series of homes that dot islands farther out from the start of the game. This is an interesting concept for sure, but I found myself growing annoyed occasionally with how much preparation I’d have to make for certain trips and taking some breaks from the game.
All in all, though, cozy gamers looking for their new gaming kick are certain to find what they’re looking for with Moonstone Island. For a game lovingly crafted by a team of only three people, this title is jam-packed with content and activities to occupy your time. The game will be supported by the development team, too – the recent Halloween update even added three new Spirits to the game!
I rate Moonstone Island a 9/10 on our very soupy scale.
Have you had a chance to give Moonstone Island a go? What do you think about the combination of farming and monster-taming mechanics? Let us know in the comments below!