When the first Harvest Moon was launched in the West on the SNES, it was something pretty unlike every other game on the market. An RPG…with no combat…that was all about farming and getting to know your neighbors? Crazy, right? This led to a popular franchise that eventually split off into two franchises and, later, inspired an indie spiritual sequel called Stardew Valley.
Stardew did fantastically well, especially by indie standards, and the rest of the industry – both AAA and indie alike – saw the money it made and started dreaming. Thus, we ended up with games like Monster Harvest, which fits the “clone Stardew Valley and do another thing on top of that” mold pretty firmly.
Your mad scientist uncle has made a miraculous discovery! He’s discovered a bizarre slime that’s able to do all kinds of fantastic things. It can power buildings, fertilize crops and more! Thing is, though, an evil corporation called Joja…er, SlimeCo. has shown up, and they’re interested in making the most of the slime – even if that means bad news for the surrounding village.
The basics here are pretty much what you’d expect: you’re given a messy farm and have to fix it up, make a living growing crops and get to know your neighbors, just like you did in the past thousand farming games. It plays out much the same as well, with your character chopping trees, mining rocks, tilling fields, gathering resources to craft and running down the ever-present stamina meter as they do it. Keep your crops safe and healthy and eventually you can harvest them for cash money, which can be spent on upgrades, more crops, livestock or gifts for the townsfolk. Repeat until satisfied.
Unlike most farming games, though, Monster Harvest mixes things up a little by incorporating a Pokémon-style battling system featuring Planimals! They’re plants, they’re animals, they’re Planimals, and by applying the aforementioned special slime to your growing crops, you can harvest your very own Planimal pals. It’s a good idea to do so, too, since you’re going to have to explore spooky locations full of baddies and your veggie pals are going to keep you safe.
Yes, this is Stardew Valley meets Pokémon. I realize we kind of did that already in Rune Factory, but bear with me here. It actually kind of works – it’s great fun discovering what crops will become which Planimal, for instance, and while the combat system is simple to say the least it does make for a nice distraction from farm chores. Don’t come in expecting anything remotely close to the depth and complexity of Pokémon, though; Planimals tend to only have a few attacks and there’s not a lot of strategy involved. It’s a little odd that this wasn’t taken a step or two further.
Monster Harvest’s presentation, then, steals the scene largely by virtue of the game either doing stuff other games have done or trying something new and not standing out. It’s a pretty nice take on the Stardew-style pixel art aesthetic that puts a dynamic camera angle to good use. One thing worth mentioning regarding presentation, incidentally, is that there’s a lot of reports of bugs showing up all over the place here. I didn’t run into much in my playthrough on PC, but the issue is apparently prevalent enough that it’s a source of concern.
That said, if you get lucky like I apparently did, you won’t hate your time with Monster Harvest. It’s not the greatest game in the world, and it’s run into the unfortunate scenario of releasing alongside an upcoming tide of very, very similar games – I counted at least five other me-too farming games at E3 2021 and I suspect even more are on the way. That’s on top of the continued presence of Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons and, of course, Stardew Valley itself. All that said, if you’re feeling something different and don’t mind if it could use a little more polish, Monster Harvest isn’t the worst decision you could make.