Long before the Early Access version was released, I was hyped about Coral Island. My game developer and animation friend told me about a lush tropical island farming simulation game and I had to try it. Less people-pleasing was involved — unless you befriended people — as a result, I played with more comfort.
Coral Island is more than a farming simulator. It’s a chance to assist a community that has suffered a great natural disaster and to restore wild seeds. We don’t know what wild seeds will grow into until placing them in tilled soil.
This is a game where most people do like turnips and won’t dislike you if you cannot understand their requests. Another fun caveat is that romance is optional. You can purely focus on the farm and on a long-term plot. With how fertile the world and its characters are, I am already knee-deep into where the narrative will go.
Welcome to the Charming Island Town
After you design your character, complete with accurate skin tones and hair color, so hallelujah on that, you dismount from a boat onto Coral Island. It has a lot of farms and businesses centered on one municipal area: Starlet Town. The mayor of Starlet Town welcomes you and escorts you to your new farm home. It’s a huge plot, but very rundown. Mayor Morris warns you that the place is a mess since no one has tended to it in years.
The mayor is not kidding: you have a lot of work to do to make a living. You don’t even have a Wi-Fi router! The horror, the horror!
Worse, the cabin flooring needs replacement. Rocks and garbage have covered the plot, and you have no friends…yet. Some people know who you are, but most are surprised to see a new person settle into such a ransacked property. I don’t blame them; the entire plot is littered with rubbish and you have to put your back — or rather your fingers for clicking the mouse — into clearing enough of a plot of land. The sounds can be good ASMR, so I enjoyed watering plants.
Does this setup sound nigh identical to Stardew Valley? To an extent: the game has a similar premise, although you can pet the dogs and cats if you wish before they chill in various parts of town (Taco the Shiba is so precious, and he bathes in the town fountain!). Another difference is that you don’t have to please anyone. You don’t have to worry about people disliking you for delivering the wrong gift.
Oil and Tea Spills
In addition, capitalism threatens the status quo. A corrupt oil corporation, with a literal Karen serving as their representative, wants to turn Coral Island into a drilling town. The locals protest, pointing out that Karen and the Pufferfish Corporation caused a recent oil spill that wrecked the economy. In fact, a few are surprised you moved in at such a time when tourism hasn’t recovered. Karen insists Pufferfish won't harm the economy, claiming it will help Starlet Town. No one wants her there, including the Mayor, but she refuses to listen.
It seems like a predictable setup, but Karen is more dangerous than she looks. She already knows who the player character is and gives a vague threat after a local protest. When you talk to her in the Pufferfish Corporation office, she drones on about how much she loves work, and other employees mention they never take a vacation. It’s an eerie premise, especially when we enter this sterile office setting. Some areas have Employees Only signs, which hints that our player character may have to get a job at Pufferfish to access these areas or foil their plans for the island. I wonder if we will have to become a spy to access those areas and foil the capitalism plot. The suspense is killer.
Why does this plot hit a chord? American history has taught us that businesses should never run towns. They will leave husks after using up all the resources in an area. Amazon has tried doing it in Queens, New York. Rockefeller and Carnegie tried doing the same in the 1900s, complete with strikebreakers. Somehow, our society never learns until it’s too late, and entire livelihoods vanish in the blink of an eye.
Fortunately, we get a more wholesome perspective in this fiction from Indonesian creators Stairway Games who are more optimistic than I am.
Coral Island shows residents that are determined to not lose their way of life. Eleanor the hair salon owner mentions Pufferfish has a habit of moving in and sucking the soul out of towns with gentrification. Still, you can support the local businesses by selling your produce and buying from these stores. In addition, you can catch butterflies to donate to the museum, if only they would hover rather than fly away after seeing your net.
Room for Improvement
While this intriguing farm simulation game will certainly sink its teeth into you, there is some room for improvement. I wish that the inventory was clearer, as sometimes I would have to drop items in my shipping bin to send out because I wouldn’t know what to do with them and wanted to collect more items. Trash would lie on the ground — yikes. What ends up acting as more of an obstacle than a helping hand is that the items you gain, like nets and fishing rods, take up a good deal of space. I hope an update can lead to some increased inventory or at least a farm storage upgrade.
In addition, I need to find the blacksmith’s house to get help with coffers. My property had three of them, and I need to know how to open them. I had to look up a tutorial about how the blacksmith’s house near the ranch is not the same as the blacksmith’s shop in Starlet Town. I feel this could be a quick and painless fix.
That said, the game is a lot of fun. I want to see it through to the end and grow some cool wild seeds. Thank you for reading this story, and just in time for AAPI month’s conclusion!
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