A Farming-Sim with Monster Collecting? Sign me up!
Monster Harvest bills itself as a two of the most popular genres around – farming sim and monster collecting RPG. It’s obvious this is a game taking inspiration from Stardew Valley and Pokemon, and there’s nothing wrong with that! I know I’m late to the party here, as Monster Harvest released back in 2021 and has received numerous updates over the months. How does Monster Harvest play a whole year after release? Well, let’s dive in and take a look at Monster Harvest from Maple Powered Games.
Who would have though that farming sims would become so popular in the video game industry? The genre may have started from humble beginnings with Harvest Moon on the SNES, but it is anything but humble now. Mega hits, such as Stardew Valley, have sold millions and Stardew coincidentally has one of the highest ratings on Steam. Even competitors such as Rune Factory frequently make sales charts around the world. It’s a popular genre nowadays, but not all farming sims are great. Take a look at any of the Harvest Moon games within the past 10 years and you’ll see a sad story of an IP that lost its focus.
Monster Harvest may try to follow in the footsteps of these successful farming simulations and carve out its own niche, but most of the mechanics here are nothing most players haven’t seen before. From inheriting your family’s farm to planting crops and even combatting a hostile corporation, the ground here has been tilled a thousand times. Stardew Valley really sets the example here because it is such a polished experienced with great writing and gameplay. Monster Harvest, on the other hand, has many aspects that feel rushed, simplified, or left on the cutting room floor. It’s a shame too, because there are elements of a good game here. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t hold a candle to other farm-sim or monster-catching games.
Farming with a Twist
The farming aspect of Monster Harvest is similar to the many other farm-sim games on the market. Your character inherits a farm, you’ll need to clear away trees and rocks to till the land, and then you’ll plant an assortment of crops. By coming back every day and watering your crops, they’ll eventually give you produce to sell so you can get more seeds. The cycle repeats, and there are numerous farm upgrades you can get. For example, you can get a pickling machine to increase the value of your produce. You can upgrade your house, build a barn, and lay irrigation pipes so you don’t need to spend the day watering. This all sounds fairly standard for farming games.
However, there is a twist. The game is called Monster Harvest because, and I understand how whacky this sounds, you harvest monsters from your crops. See, there are special colored slimes you can use to convert your normal crops into Planimals. Planimals, besides being an obnoxious name, are creatures you can befriend and battle. To be honest, this is a really neat idea. The first time I used a slime on a crop (called a mutato), I didn’t expect the mutato to sprout legs and follow me around. It piques a curiosity, for sure, because each crop can become several different creatures. By using a different slime, the mutato turned into a rabbit-like creature that went to my barn. There was another Planimal that turned into a sheep. These fellas will provide resources that can be sold, just like in other games.
I’d wager this whole loop – the farming and raising animals – is adequate and can even be fun for a short while. Each season has different crops and therefore different Planimals to collect. There’s more to it of course, such as a stamina system and a town with a handful of NPCS… But so far, there is nothing egregious about Monster Harvest.
Dungeoneering with your Planimals
By using a red slime on a crop, you’ll add that planimal to your monster party. After assembling an unstoppable army of starchy vegetables, I went into the dungeon. The dungeon is, you guessed it, a randomized series of rooms where you can collect minerals and fight other planimals. The fighting system in Monster Harvest is one of the most bare-bones turned based systems I’ve ever seen. Your plant partners only have one move to start with, and it’s largely a matter of button mashing until something dies. Your Planimals will level up and learn a total of 3 moves after some time, but it is not exciting and is not a satisfying progression. Leveling your Planimals feels like grindy busywork, but you’ll need to level them so you can progress through the floors of the dungeon. Also, the sound effects of the battle system are grating – it sounds like the beeps and boops of a NES, not a modern device.
There are five floors in the dungeon, with the final boss at the end. However, the combat and the various Planimals are not balanced whatsoever. When I reached the final boss, it was level 28 and my level 16 mutato wiped the floor with him. There was no strategy involved in this fight, and nearly all of the battles in Monster Harvest are like this.
Unfortunately, you’re basically required to go into the dungeon every evening to find the upgrade materials for your farm. It’s a mandatory part of the game progression that can’t be ignored, but it is easily the most unenjoyable part of the experience. Other titles, like Stardew Valley, have a wide variety of enemies but also plenty of rewards for your struggles. In Monster Harvest, it is the inverse – There’s not many enemies and there’s not many rewards. There’s no way to tame new Planimals, the strategies never change, there’s only a handful of minerals overall, and you’re forced to fight the same weak enemies when you go in. If you want titanium, which spawns on deeper floors, you’re going to have to run through all the weak level 6 monsters.
Despite the combat being a central component of the marketing on the Steam page, it is shallow and simple.
Wide as an Ocean, Deep as a Puddle
That seems to be a theme here. While Monster Harvest claims to have a lot to do and an ocean of features, every activity is as deep as a puddle. A great example of this is the townsfolk. There is a relationship mechanic, but I don’t know if it works to be honest. The characters in the town don’t have much of a personality, and their attitudes don’t seem to change if you give them gifts. Even the town festivals are lacking personality and soul. They don’t have any special items associated with them or memorable prizes.
I was looking forward to Monster Harvest, but it just doesn’t have enough meat on the bones nor enough polish to provide a captivating experience. I’ve completed the game within 6 hours, with 9 out of 10 achievements to boot. There’s nothing else to do here, there’s no overarching goal because I have everything I need. There’s no more upgrades, no more buildings, no more new mechanics to experience, no cinematics with villagers… It’s just over.
Skip it unless you want the achievements.
Can I play Monster Harvest on the Steam Deck?
I played through the entire game on a Steam Deck, and experienced very little performance problems aside from a stutter here and there. The game performs well on the Deck, but the user interface is not well optimized for a small screen or for a controller. The battle UI was crunched or cut off in some instances (not game breaking). Navigating through the menus with an analog stick is a hassle, particularly the inventory, which does not have shortcuts to swap items between containers and your inventory.