Harvest Island Review
Image via Yobob Games

Review: Harvest Island Can Be Fun, Tense, and Inconclusive

I have very mixed feelings about Harvest Island. The combination of farming sim-lite elements and a horror story drawing from fables sounds really appealing on paper. However, at least one of these two elements needs to deliver for the game to truly work. In the case of Harvest Island, its farming mechanics are pretty barebones and repetitive. It was its enigmatic story and endearing characters that kept me invested until the end. Unfortunately, the end left me hanging and without closure.

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Let me be very clear, I had a good time playing Harvest Island. Often a great time! While developer Yobob Games advertises the game as a story-driven horror farming simulator, the gameplay loop is closer to that of an RPG (the game is developed on RPG Maker MV, after all). This is no Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley. When playing it with that in mind, the gameplay loop seems more apparent, and it really clicks that way. Players go through their daily farming routines, tending the crops, milking the cows and goats, gathering eggs and whatnot. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to appease the Gods every day!

Harvest Island Review
Image via Yobob Games

In Harvest Island you play as Will, a young boy accompanied by his little sister Samantha. They both live alongside their stern and distant father Greyson. These three are all the characters you will get to meet in the game. There are allusions to Will and Samantha’s mother, and other people that might have inhabited the titular Harvest Island in the past, but they never make an appearance other than the three discussing them in dialogue. Instead, the player’s attention is drawn immediately to the Gods that the family worships. While they are a vague figure, they are certainly real. By completing daily tasks, the Gods gift Will and Samantha with Bless, a sort of mystical intangible property that can manifest everything, from seeds and animals for the farm, to other items (acting as a currency of sorts, in-game), and even powering up machines or manifesting strange things.

The existence of the Gods is never doubted, but their whims and requests are quickly put into question after Will and Samantha fail to make one of their daily offerings, instead using a strange coin to please them, which in turn opens a strange area of the island that seems to harbor mechanical contraptions that the kids are unfamiliar with. While their father forbids them from investigating further and orders them to continue with their duties, Samantha and Will soon embark into an adventure to figure out what is outside of the confines of the family’s small farm.

Image via Yobob Games

Harvest Island progresses at a mostly decent pace, although reaching some upgrades can take a bit more time than necessary. The inclusion of a normal mode, focused on the farming aspects, and a story mode for those more invested in the narrative, is a nice touch. I would personally recommend going for the story mode, as the farming elements are still a big deal in this mode and are absolutely mandatory to progress. What story mode does is simply make it easier to get through the more repetitive parts of the gameplay loop. Farming mostly consists of gathering daily produce and dairy items, and using them to upgrade facilities in the farm, cook, or make new tools. It’s nothing flashy, but it scratches that farming sim/RPG crafting itch. If anything, I found that tending to crops takes forever, and it’s not the most engaging activity. In addition, fishing is very lackluster and the success rate is abysmal, which led to me not engaging with this mechanic unless I absolutely needed to. Instead, I found myself spending a lot of time with the farm animals, which lead to really cute interactions with the kids.

Will and Samantha are both great protagonists, and the standout aspect of the writing. Their characters feel very accurate to how young siblings often interact. Will is often annoyed at Samantha due to him having to teach her about farming and dealing with offerings to the Gods. He will often tease her and can be a bit mean at times. Meanwhile, Samantha loves and looks up to Will a great deal, but is not one to mince words when bickering with Will. Despite Will initially being standoffish to Samantha, he quickly grows on you, as it’s apparent that he’s sad about his mother no longer being in his life, and wishes she could be there to teach both him and Samantha, instead of his father delegating everything on him. This air of child-like innocence lured me into a false sense of security, and made me care a lot for the pair. Which only enhanced the horror elements of the game. The weakest aspect of the writing is the heavily reliance on referencing anime and video games. This is just annoying in optional dialogue, but it’s very grating when the main story and lore of the island straight up apes or copies Attack on Titan. These moments are ham-fisted and unnecessary.

Harvest Island Review
Image via Yobob Games

I would personally consider myself a horror veteran. Not many stories manage to get under my skin anymore. With Harvest Island, I was somehow in a constant state of tension. After a few hours of gameplay, it is clear that there is someone else in the island. A fourth person involved, maybe even more, but you never really know for sure who or what is going on. This, coupled with the vague idea of the Gods, creates a constant sense of danger. Exploring a mysterious cave near a lake, or repairing a bridge leading to dark corners of the forest is imbued with a sense of anticipation and anxiety. Exploring the island evokes the feeling of being a child, exploring the countryside with your friends late in the evening, and getting the heebie jeebies whenever a branch rustled or a bird made a noise. The game never really shoves anything on your face, and when it does it earns it. The island itself is surprisingly big and complex. This might sound strange, but the layout reminded me almost of a survival horror, in the way the God Statues used to save the game and give offerings to the gods are located. These statues double as fast travel points, which offers its own twist. Instead of teleporting to each statue, activating fast travel turns the world map into a smaller, one-screen map, like in older RPGs.

The music and sound effects perfectly match the tension and tone of the game, with the more tense exploration segments accompanied by subtle dissonant music, and the daily life farming scenes featuring whimsical and playful compositions. Exploring caves invites foreboding drones into the background, crickets and bugs sing when going out at night, and the waves crash into the sand when exploring around the shore. All in all, the music and sound design of Harvest Island are genuinely great. Likewise, the art style of the game is very striking. It has that characteristic RPG Maker vibe to it, and it makes the most out of the engine. The pixel art is detailed, environments are distinct and varied, still images during certain bits of dialogue and character portraits are beautiful. Harvest Island manages to have a lot of character. Character sprites even have two variants, with one used inside dimly lit caves and certain creepy subterranean locations. Some parts can be a bit more detailed than others, but it never stops being pleasing to look at.

Image via Yobob Games

My biggest problem with Harvest Island is that all of the buildup and tension suddenly goes away when the game just… ends. Just as you reach the climax and shed some light into the past and the present of the island, the game ends without a proper conclusion. Instead, you get a teaser for the developer’s next game, The Chains That Bound Me, which is a prequel set in the same world as Harvest Island. I personally don’t mind the idea of fleshing out a shared world with a prequel. However, not giving the characters and narrative of Harvest Island a conclusion, and instead ending on a cliffhanger, left me feeling very unsatisfied. For all of the fun I had getting to discover the mystery of the island, a lot of that fun vanished the instant I realized I was not going to get closure to the game’s present events. Fortunately, Yobob Games mentioned on social media that they will be expanding the game’s ending.

Despite my gripes with the lack of closure in its narrative, and referential writing, Harvest Island can be a fun horror RPG/farming sim hybrid. The gameplay loop is simple, perhaps to a fault. However, the character writing and moment-to-moment story beats evoke the vibe of classic RPG Maker games, such as To The Moon, The Witch’s House, or Ao Oni. While Harvest Island is a flawed game, it shows a lot of promise in developer Yobob Games, particularly when the game is focusing on telling an original story, and exploring a detailed and engaging environment.

Harvest Island is now available on PC via Steam, Epic Games, Itch, and Humble Bundle.

Harvest Island

Harvest Island is horror farming sim. It's a mysterious, dark, story-rich adventure with horror and farming elements. Pray to the gods, never ask questions as you enjoy your blissful farming days. It's safer to play around in the comfort of your farm than exploring this remote island.

Harvest Island is a horror RPG-farming sim hybrid that, while flawed, can be frightening and shows promise for the developer.

Food For Thought
  • Collecting logs can be a painfully slow process, and are necessary for lots of upgrades and recipes. While the game doesn’t explain this to you, trees with pink flowers are a good source of logs.
  • You can choose to not go to bed, however your stamina will heavily suffer from doing this. Singing to animals at night can make up for this penalty.
  • If you lose a goat and seem unable to purchase another one, don’t fret. You can find your old goat down the line.

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Image of Daniel Bueno
Daniel Bueno
Daniel is a staff writer and translator from the Spaghetti Western land of Andalusia, Spain. He got his start writing for Xbox Outsider in 2022. His favorite genres are RPGs, survival horrors, and immersive sims. In truth, he is a Dragon Quest slime in a human suit.