I want to stress that I’m still in the early hours of Harvest Island. So, my title question isn’t rhetorical. I want to know what the hell is going on and not knowing is messing with my head! But though I’ve yet to fully comprehend the sinister underbelly lying just below the surface of my idyllic farm, I can’t let the game’s release today go unmarked.
While I knew going in I liked the hand-drawn/pixel art combo, I wasn’t ready for how powerful the emotional core — the relationship between the protagonist and his younger sister — would hit. With most interactions getting their own visual framing, the art wonderfully elevates scenes mostly dominated by, well-written, dialogue. I love how the game sets a perfectly charming foundation with a normal day in farm life and — even though I knew to expect something — it still managed to pull the rug out from under me. Now, I trust nothing.
Harvest Island isn’t seamless. Small quality-of-life elements, like being able to pin recipes so I know immediately what I need or streamlined menu design, are absent. But though it lacks the grace of other farming sim titles, its homespun nature works strangely well for the game’s dual vibes.
There is a nostalgic, handmade feel to the design, which, in the light of day collecting eggs and milking cows, lends it a kind of old-school charm. Things take longer, but become a little more immersive. When exploring the darker side, not having everything at my fingertips makes the world that much more unnerving.
My first day on the farm introduces me to a world in which everything is controlled by the gods’ desires. The deities overlooking my bustling homestead demand items — like eggs and milk — in exchange for blessings. These are actually physical, quantifiable rewards. So, I can always get an idea of how pleased the gods are with my endeavors.
Everything is going fine until my younger sister messes everything up. She drops the bundle of crabs meant for the gods and we aren’t able to make that day’s offering. That’s when things start getting weird. I begin to uncover clues that not everything here is as it seems.
My character brushes these encounters off because he just can’t comprehend what he is seeing, but I — the player — know good and well how wrong some of these signs are, including an actual sign with a worn-out warning.
The developers slowly turn up the volume on my feeling of dread with hints and clues that only I’m able to understand. It creates a laudable metagame struggle. If this were a movie, I’d be yelling at the characters to get out of Dodge.
But this is a game, and I’m literally in control of the unsuspecting protagonist’s every move. Even so, I still push him deeper into danger. Does that make me the baddie? I am always a fan of a game that challenges the person playing like this, and I can’t wait to see how far this rabbit hole goes.
My Harvest Island playthrough is far from over, but I’d urge anyone who likes the idea of a slightly creepy farming sim to snap it up.