Back in 2016 Stardew Valley was released and became an instant indie game hit. At first glance it seemed like a simple farming game, but it became so much more as it was a surprisingly deep and enjoyable experience. Meanwhile the turn based monster battling system of Pokemon has been successful for over 25 years at this point. I bring this up because today’s game Monster Harvest tries to combine these two very successful game genres into one game. As I am a pretty big fan of both types of games, I was really intrigued to see how Monster Harvest would turn out. Monster Harvest has an interesting premise that can be fun, but also feels kind of basic at times.
Your journey in Monster Harvest begins when you receive a message from your uncle a professor who has made an amazing discovery. In their research they have discovered that mixing the local slimes with plants creates sentient creatures called Planimals. This discovery has made the area famous and has lead to the town of Planimal Point forming almost overnight. This includes the company SlimeCo. who appears to be up to no good. As your uncle is now too busy with his research he has offered to give you his farm to develop your own Planimals. Can you develop a successful farm and put an end to SlimeCo.’s evil plan?
As I alluded to at the beginning of this review Monster Harvest is basically what you would get if you combined a game like Stardew Valley with a game like Pokemon. To begin the game you are given a farm and a little starting money. You are then basically allowed to do whatever you want. The world of Monster Harvest has three different seasons with different types of crops that you can grow in each season. To grow a plant you basically till the land, plant the seeds, and water it for a number of days until it is fully grown. You can then sell the crop for money or use it to restore some of your stamina/energy. The amount of tasks you can complete in a day is determined by your stamina where each action you take drains some of your energy. In addition to growing crops you can visit town to buy goods and talk with the villagers.
For the most part the farming elements of Monster Harvest are pretty much what you would expect from the farming simulator genre. You plant crops to earn money which you can then sell to make money to further expand your farming operations. As you advance in the game you will be growing more crops and can start automating parts of the process so you can focus your time on other endeavors. The farming elements are not the deepest, but they are still pretty satisfying. While I have no interest in farming/gardening in real life, something about it is pretty satisfying in video game form. If you generally enjoy these type of video games, I see no reason why you wouldn’t also enjoy this aspect of Monster Harvest.
Pretty much all of these type of farming games utilize a stamina system mostly to limit how much you can do each day. Without the limit you would be able to finish everything that the game has to offer way too quickly. Generally this is kind of frustrating, but you get over it as you gain more stamina or actions require you use less stamina. I thought Monster Harvest goes a little too far, at least in the early game, with this though. It is hard to get a lot accomplished at the beginning of the game as every action takes quite a bit of stamina. In the early game you can only plant and water a few plants before you run out of stamina. You can eat food to restore your stamina, but it restores so little that it is barely worth it. As the game is divided into day and night, each day you basically get to decide between growing crops or adventuring in the dungeon as you don’t have enough stamina to do much in both areas. As you get better tools and equipment this gets a little better, but it persists for too long in the early game in my opinion.
Then comes the Pokemon mechanics. You will eventually acquire three different types of slimes. These slimes can be added to your crops before they are harvested to mutate them in a number of ways. Blue slimes are mostly used to create livestock for your farm which you can regularly gather resources from once they are fully grown or turn them into mounts that you can ride. The green slimes mostly mutate your plants to make them grow quicker and provide you with more valuable crops to sell. Finally you can use red slime in order to turn your crops into creatures, Planimals, that will fight by your side. During the night you can take your Planimals into the nearby dungeon to fight other creatures in turn based combat. One day each week you can also battle your Planimals against another villager from town. You can choose one of three actions as you try to defeat your opponent before your Planimal runs out of health. Should you defeat the other creature your Planimal will earn experience which will raise their level, increasing their stats and opening up additional abilities. Should you lose your Planimal will be destroyed and your next Planimal will be sent out. All destroyed Planimals will give you resources which you can use to upgrade your soil so all future Planimals you create will start at a higher level.
As for the Pokemon mechanics it is pretty much what you would expect. The game seems to only have around 24 different creatures that you can create and fight with which is somewhat of a disappointment. The creature designs are pretty good though as they are pretty unique. Growing the strength of your creatures is fun. The battling system even has stakes unlike Pokemon since you lose your Planimals for good when they run out of health in battle. Each death does increase the starting level for all future Planimals, but losing a high level creature will still hurt your ability to adventure on future days. This adds some tension to battles as you need to decide when you want to leave a dungeon. Do you push your luck with another battle taking the risk of having to start with a new Planimal of the type you lost, or do you head home early obtaining less resources? I think the Pokemon-style mechanic has potential.
Ultimately the combination of both mechanics leads to a game experience that is pretty fun. If the idea of adding a Pokemon style mechanic to a Stardew Valley style game intrigues you, I think you can have fun with the game. The game does a good job creating a laid back feel where you can take your time and do relaxing tasks such as running a farm. The game succeeds at being one of those where you can put in some time and wonder how the time flew by so fast.
While I had fun playing Monster Harvest, it just felt like something was missing from the game. Probably the best way to describe it was that the game kind of felt shallow/limited. This applied to both aspects of the game.
Let’s start with the farming/Stardew Valley aspect of the game. First the number of crops that you can grow each season is not as large as I would have liked. You can combine seed types together to create combination seeds, or you can mutate them in a number of ways with the various types of slime. In addition to less crops your farm itself is smaller and there appears to be less customization options. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but it just feels like the farming element isn’t as deep as that of Stardew Valley. This also affects the town itself . The town has a number of characters that you can interact with, but the relationship element of the game is quite a bit more limited than Stardew Valley. The characters may be interesting but I never really got that feeling as the dialog is pretty limited as they mostly just repeat the same messages over and over again. You can give characters gifts to receive special items or get discounts at the stores, but it doesn’t feel like you are building relationships with the characters like you do in Stardew Valley. Monster Harvest is still a fun farming game, but it just feels like it is lacking the character of Stardew Valley.
I would say the Pokemon aspect of the game has it worse. I believe there are 24 different Planimal creatures that you can create. While I wish there were more, this isn’t the main issue I had with this aspect of the game. The problem is the combat itself. The combat just feels basic. The game doesn’t feature different classes/types like water, fire, etc so there isn’t much strategy in choosing which Planimal to send out. The only difference between the various Planimals is the actions available to them. On top of this each Planimal only has access to three different actions and can’t acquire more after those three. I couldn’t even find a way to switch out Planimals in the middle of a battle if one of mine were running out of health. Basically once a battle begins your creature and the other creature will trade blows until one dies. Thus there isn’t much strategy to the battles leading to the battle aspect of the game being kind of boring. This is the aspect of the game that left me the most disappointed.
The fact that both main mechanics could have been deeper is a real shame as I think the game had a lot of potential which it never reaches. It feels like the game is trying to do too much where none of the mechanics received the attention that they probably needed. If the developers continue to work on both of these elements I could see the game improving immensely. The good news is that the game appears to have plans to add quite a bit in the future so hopefully this adds some more depth to the game. I enjoyed playing the game, but at this point you might be better off playing a dedicated farming or Pokemon-style game as the mechanics will be further developed. If you don’t mind that both mechanics are pretty basic though, you may be able to overcome this issue.
Generally I like to give an average length of how much time you can expect to get out of a game. In the case of Monster Harvest though I can’t really give you a length. First I am probably not even close to beating the game. Second the length of these type of games always depend on how much you want to put into them. The game could be limitless if you just enjoy building up your farm and increasing the strength of the Planimals. While this is possible, I don’t think you will get as much time out of the game as a game like Stardew Valley. If you want to acquire all of the Planimals and complete the main story I would guess that it would probably take at least 15 hours and likely more unless you rush through the game. If you don’t mind the main gameplay loop of Monster Harvest I can see you pretty easily getting your money’s worth out of the game.
Ultimately I had pretty mixed feelings about Monster Harvest. There are things that I really enjoyed about the game, but it also left me kind of disappointed as well. The game is basically what you would get if you combined a game like Pokemon with Stardew Valley. You have your own farm which you can grow crops on to make money and expand your farming operation. While I wish the game gave you more stamina, this is pretty enjoyable like most games in the farming genre. Instead of selling the crops for money you can also use slimes to turn them into Planimals which you can use to battle other creatures in the dungeon. The battle system is similar to Pokemon and it is fun to increase the level of your Planimals. The problem with both elements of the game is that both feel a little simple. It feels like there is something missing from both of them.
Basically my recommendation for Monster Harvest comes down to your thoughts on the premise and whether you mind that the mechanics are on the simpler side. If you don’t really care for the premise or are hoping for more developed farming and combat mechanics, the game may not be for you. If the idea of a Pokemon Stardew Valley hybrid sounds interesting though and you don’t mind that the main mechanics are kind of simple, I think you will enjoy Monster Harvest and should consider picking it up.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Maple Powered Games and Merge Games for the review copy of Monster Harvest used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.