Stranded Sails - or Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands, as the rather wordy full title reads - is an open-world game set on a desert island with the mission of escaping, since you've been stranded there. It does come with a few bugbears that we didn't like, but overall we had quite a bit of fun, so here's what we think.
You start off the game by boarding a ship with your father, the captain, and a bunch of people who all hold different jobs such as a cook, blacksmith, and so on. Your ship sets sail, heading for colder climates, but as the title suggests, disaster strikes. Your ship is broken apart and you find yourself marooned on a desert island - a rather warmer place than your intended destination.
This island forms part of an archipelago, and from here you must build up a survival camp by building houses for your crewmates and planting crops to make food, all while trying to find a way of escape. One might think the colourful farming focus might warrant a comparison to Stardew Valley,but it doesn't quite capture the magic of that classic. That said, there's lots to like here, even though there were some things we didn't enjoy.
As mentioned before, the crew is stranded all over the archipelago, and it's your job to find, rescue, and bring them back to the main camp. It's interesting that the game is often talked about while referencing its farming element as, while this was an important game mechanic, it seemed like the most fun was had exploring our new home. Not that's far from a bad thing - in fact, the farming is just a part of it, and serves its purpose well, but there were other parts we enjoyed more.
The first few hours of game involve finding people and then searching for things they want or have lost. These fetch quests seemed a little laboured at times, like rowing out on a small boat to find the fisherman on a sandbank and bring him back, only to be told he's lost his fishing rod. You then have to row out to the same location to bring it back, leaving you wondering why he hadn't mentioned it before.
Then there's the fact you have to go and chop wood, and each strike means you have to press the square button three times. You can't just hold it down, which annoyed us a little. These little niggles meant the first hours of play dragged a little bit, but after a while the game showed its depth to us and the experience improved.
One thing we didn't like was the characterisation, or lack thereof. We didn't really feel connected to any of the other survivors, and it felt more like they were there just to open up new quests. This is possibly down to the fact that all of the dialogue is text-based, and there are no voiceovers.
When you do get further into the experience, it gets better and more fun. You spend the majority of your time exploring the islands, and as new tools are opened, you can access more areas. This means there's always a reason to return to a place you've been before, for example when you get the axe, as you can cut through some plants that were previously blocking the path.
There's an interesting stamina element, meaning you only have a limited time to explore things before you knacker yourself out. This did seem to run out a little quickly, especially if you press the sprint button. As the game progresses you can plant and you harvest more food, which is then used to make dishes that will replenish your energy. You can also discover new recipes, and the later recipes replenish more energy, meaning can explore further. If you do run out of stamina, you collapse, waking up on the back half of the boat.
The exploration was our favourite part, but as soon as you find yourself fishing and growing more things, the game has a lot more depth. We liked the fact that you have to discover new recipes through a trial and error system, placing ingredients together, pressing cook, and hoping for the best, rather than discovering them in books.
Visually, we loved what we saw. It reminded us of one of those bright, old-school JRPGs just as they started going 3D. It's bright and colourful and made us think that this may be one for younger gamers as well. Music-wise, we found it calming and well suited.
Something interesting is that the camera is fixed, and can't be moved with the right stick (we played on PS4). At first, we found ourselves trying to move it, but the game really works without a moving camera. The only thing is the view seems to be a little too zoomed in and a little more space to breathe would have been nicer.
One thing we also have to mention is the day and night cycle, which really had some nice lighting and looked great. The interface was also really pleasant and seemed perfectly suited to the console.
To sum up, Stranded Sails is a nice-looking, pleasant experience that has quite a bit to offer. The first couple of hours seem a little laboured, but after that it gets better. It isn't in the same league as other farming games, but it has more than just farming under its belt. If you're a fan of old school JRPGs or want something in the vein of Harvest Moon on the sea, maybe have a little look at this.
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