After setting off on a journey with your father, you and the ship’s crew are caught in a treacherous storm that tears apart your ship and leaves everyone stranded and lost at sea. Waking up alone, you soon find yourself on a strange and mysterious archipelago. It is now up to you to explore and uncover the mysteries of these cursed islands, whilst also searching for any survivors, setting up a base camp with agricultural sustenance and figuring out a way to escape. Will you be able to set sail once again in Stranded Sails?
Energy, energy, energy
Upon waking up on one of the islands you’ll immediately notice a feature of Stranded Sails that will either be the bane of your existence while playing, or perhaps a challenging, fun and enjoyable management system. ENERGY. Displayed by a gauge at the top of the screen, every action you make will consume energy. Walking, running, rowing, farming, chopping trees. Each action depending on how taxing it is will consume high amounts of energy. Restoring energy isn’t too difficult though. You can either eat or sleep. Sleeping will move time forward which isn’t really a must in the game. Although the game has a day and night cycle, nothings really tied down to these specific times except if you’d like to chat with the crew who appear outside their shacks during the day.
The reason why I found it so frustrating is that each time you pull out a crop, the character is first animated with a little motion that makes them seem as if they’re a villain from a movie rubbing their hands together as if they had a dastardly plan.
Eating, which is my preferred energy restoration method, is much easier, however limited. Limited to the number of dishes you have in your bag while exploring or limited to the number of crops you’ve harvested from farming. There are a number of different crops to grow and harvest, but more on that later. The biggest question you probably have is “what happens when you run out of energy?” well, you collapse and return back to your bed. No items lost, no progress lost. This seemed quite pointless at first, but trust me, with the effort it takes just to get to the other islands on the energy and dishes you have equipped, you’ll try your best to avoid collapsing.
Old McDonald had a farm
Farming, although not the core mechanic of the game, is quite important. Without the crops you grow, you won’t be able to create dishes or stew for the camp. Without these dishes, you’ll be limited to exploring only the area around your camp. Remember, energy restoration can either be a joy or a burden to you in this game. Admittedly though, this is by far no Stardew Valley nor Harvest Moon title. If not for the energy restoration, they’d be no point in farming. I never expanded my crops section nor dived deeper into a management system that allowed for better crop irrigation. Sad to say, this may have been a mistake on my part as I later found that upgrading my tools made things so much easier. You’ll find yourself having to dig holes for each seed that you plant. Once planted, you’ll need to run a little distance away from the area to fill a bucket of water, which thankfully holds an unlimited supply as long as you don’t swap it out for another item, and then proceed to water each space or block where a seed was planted. You’ll then need to monitor the colour of the soil each day to see if more water is required and once your crops are ready to harvest you’ll need to painstakingly pull each one out. The reason why I found it so frustrating is that each time you pull out a crop, the character is first animated with a little motion that makes them seem as if they’re a villain from a movie rubbing their hands together as if they had a dastardly plan.
Thankfully the game does eventually allow players to upgrade their tools, such as the watering bucket being able to water a larger area at one go. A watering hole being built right next to the crops area. And even your axe being strengthened to chop down trees faster. This certainly is helpful due to the fact that as you progress you’ll need to learn new recipes, which means you’ll need to grow different crops. Corn, potatoes, and tomatoes, for instance, will be some of the basic and easiest crops to grow. Whereas pumpkin and eggplant take a little longer but are part of the more advanced dishes that grant the player a larger portion of energy restoration.
With farming out of the way, it’s time to explore the island. Included in your exploration will be scavenging quests. Often, you’ll be gathering materials such as wood from chopping down trees. And other times you’ll be sent off by an NPC to search and locate broken pieces of the ship. Remember, each time you go out and explore, you’ll need to prepare meals to maintain and manage your energy levels. Which almost always forces you back to camp at some point. This can often be quite frustrating since exploring the other islands is only possible by utilising a little rowboat. Perhaps this is the challenge that the developers intended on adding to the game. Sadly, spending a few minutes rowing from one island to another at a time due to energy restrictions became quite annoying quite fast. Especially since all you’ll be doing during the rowing process is looking blankly at the screen and staring at a whole lot of blue with your character and boat in the centre of the screen performing the rowing motion. What’s more is that when you get to the island, you’ll be limited at first to only explore certain bits of it. This is of course due to not only having to return to the camp because of energy depletion but also because you’ll need to return to the island with special equipment such as a ladder or bridge-making kit which can only be accessed later on in the game.
Thankfully, the developers did add fast travel to the game. At any point or area from another surrounding island or even within the island that your camp is based on, you’ll be able to activate fast travel that’ll return you to the camp’s midpoint close to the area where you create your dishes. I often used this, created more dishes to set out on exploration again as well as created a pot of stew before departing. The pot of stew is quite large and remains within the campsite. It’s created to feed the entire campsite, but the player will be able to eat from it as well and gain a special boost that helps retain energy during certain activities. You’ll need this to explore any of the further away islands.
What lurks beneath
For a good chunk of the game the only danger you’ll really be in is losing energy. There are no enemies to worry about, no traps or having to worry about falling from high vantage points. In this aspect, the game is very much focused on a more chilled and relaxed playstyle. Perhaps wanting players to focus more on the farming and building aspect of things. I know I certainly spent a ton of time farming and scavenging for materials whilst trying to manage my energy as best as possible. The problem is you’re not allowed to build where you want to. The game already has spots for every building pre-selected. You’re only there to gather materials.
As for battle moments, you’ll be subjected to battle quite late on in the game. I’d say that from the four islands you explore excluding the one you’re on, I only experienced battle after exploring more than 80% of three of the four islands. In fact, the fourth island for most of the game is blocked away from reaching until you’ve completed what seemed to be more than 70% of the story. Which is in no way a setback. Many games have certain areas locked away until the player is strong enough to reach or venture forth within them. The problem with Stranded Sails is that when you do finally get to face an enemy, it’s over within a few swipes of your sword. None of the enemy encounters posed a challenge. In fact, even with some of the enemies possessing different attack patterns, some using melee attacks while others use ranged attacks, I was able to defeat them on the first try. And you probably will be able to do the same, provided you have sufficient food dishes as a hit from an enemy reduces your energy bar.
Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands has an adorable chibi like art style to it and the tropical islands at first are fun to explore and look at. However, after some time you’ll start realising that the areas are in fact bland with not much to look at or interact with. The game in most cases felt like a stamina/energy simulator with aspects of a farming adventure title. It has quite a few interesting mechanics and features, but they’re often weighed down by the limitations of the same feature. For example, you’re not able to cook dishes in bulk and will need to cook them one at a time. Harvesting crops becomes such a chore with the animation being played each time. Rowing across to the other islands becomes more tedious and boring rather than events happening in the sea while you pass by to keep the player interested and entertained. You’ll also find yourself wasting an immense amount of time running up a pathway to chat with someone a thousand times when in fact there should have been a shortcut created at some point. Stranded Sails tries to be a lot of things at the same time but somehow keeps failing to do so for the player.