The best thing about farming games now is that they’ve evolved beyond the typical ranch and resource collection to true slice-of-life games that might not even take place on a farm. The classics like Harvest Moon have given way to more complex hits like Stardew Valley and the My Time At series. Coral Island is the latest farming simulator to leave early access with a 1.0 release and a game, packed wall to wall, with things to do.
Ahead of playing Coral Island, I heard it was a combination between two of my favorite game series, Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing. This proved to be mostly true, but there are far more elements of the former. Everything from the way the camera is positioned to the way your farm looks seems as if Stardew Valley inspired it. There’s nothing wrong with that on paper, but it must also stand on its own feet.
One of my favorite things about Stardew Valley is that the color palette, music, and animation all work together to create a simple charm that engages you for hours, all without you noticing. Coral Island is missing this same charm, instead feeling like a factory-assembled imitation out of Joja Mart. Nothing kept me motivated outside of progressing the quests it gave me and growing my farm’s profits. I didn’t feel the pull to be a part of this moving world, even when the Townies always seemed to be doing something.
To its credit, Coral Island is good at making the island you live on feel like it’s alive and constantly moving. Time will always progress at the same rate, even in your own home, so each day and its schedule feel more impactful. There are a lot of shops too, with room for the town to grow, so how you spend each day can truly be as unique and varied as you want. I never felt like I didn’t have something to do, which was both nice and a bit overwhelming, given the passage of time.
Over the more than fifteen hours played, I got through the first season and a half, but I never felt much like interacting with the town once I went out of my way to introduce myself to everyone. There is a wide range of romanceable characters, more than any game like this I’ve played, with each seeming to offer a diverse personality and place in the world.
There are 28 romanceable characters in Coral Island, and they don’t seem to be limited by your gender, body type, or anything else other than how many gifts you can farm, no pun intended. The options are diverse, if simplistic in gender non-conforming representation, but at least they’re all cute and unique. Well, that’s as cute as they can be since the human models in this game are very reminiscent of Disney Dreamlight Valley.
With 28 characters, though, you’re sure to find someone you like, whether it be the tattooed nurse or the hardworking blacksmith himbo. In that respect, this game will allow queer and the larger LGBTQIA+ community to live out a whole life in an accepting community. The choice to have children regardless of your partner also ensures that you can build a family and live out a life with them, which may act as a comfort and look at the future for those going through a hard time.
The work toward this inclusivity is also shown in the character creator, which features three body types and the choice of a personalized prefix. The provided examples are Mr., Ms., or Mx., with the option to enter a custom option as well. The character creator does most of the basics, but there was no option to customize lip color in the 1.0 version we had access to, which felt strange. As a pretty basic form of expression, it’s strange that something so small is left out.
While there are few options to show disabilities or scarring on the player character, the Townies are a pretty decent collection of individuals with assisting gear or markings that other games shy away from. This includes a prosthesis and a character with stretch marks on her exposed midriff. In addition to characters in a range of sizes, this did do something to make me feel more comfortable with the island’s citizens.
Coral Island puts players right into the action most of the time, which often means that simple things like tutorials often fall by the wayside. One of the most prominent examples was the fishing mini-game, which nothing could have prepared me for the first few times I tried it. Without explanations or tutorials, I had to feel my way through catching my first fish. This also applies to mini-games during seasonal festivals, with some giving the most basic information or none at all.
While there are a range of romanceable characters and no real restrictions on who you can be with, I never felt motivated towards that in my time at Coral Island. With the threat of an island being taken over by a power-hungry oil corporation, it felt much more important to focus on creating good crops for the general store and cleaning the garbage from the bottom of the ocean.
Some have praised Coral Island for its visuals, but I feel they meet the minimum requirements for our time. There are some truly strange design decisions, including the jarring difference in style between the cartoonish Harvest Moon-style cows to the rest of the animals, which skew towards more realistic. There’s a fun mix of East and West cultures in the design, but nothing particularly special that stood out.
Technically, I had multiple issues with the game crashing when attempting to do something as simple as placing a calendar in my house. My game had to reset three times, and both days I had to start over were days I had to run six different errands around town. On the plus side, I got the route down to its absolute fastest through the tears of frustration.
At its core, Coral Island mostly feels like Stardew Valley was made by a team instead of just ConcernedApe. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in the title’s favor when presenting a charming world with a cohesive vision. Fans of the genre will surely appreciate the new adventures and wealth of content, but it doesn’t offer anything particularly special for more general fans looking to try out a slice-of-life title.
A copy of Coral Island for PC was provided to Gayming Magazine by PR.