by: Sonny Woody
Hey there, gamers! It’s nearing the end of November in the year 2023, and Coral Island is finally, officially out. As of November 13th, the highly anticipated game dropped its 1.0 release. The game has been in Beta since October of last year, after an Alpha version was available in July 2021. And before that, the game was pitched to the world through a Kickstarter campaign that ended in March 2021 with 36,373 backers. I’ve been playing the early access version of the game on and off since the Beta launch, but I’ve been glued to it since the official release. I absolutely adore it, so let’s talk about it!
Coral Island was created by Stairway Games, and is what they call a “vibrant and laid-back reimagining of farm sim games.” And vibrant it is. This game is beautiful. The colors are bright and fun, and that perfectly captures the tropical setting and exciting experience of the game.
The first thing I noticed about Coral Island when it was recommended to me on Steam was the striking and colorful design of the world and the characters. The diverse residents of Coral Island are lovely and unique, and there are lots of interpersonal connections between the characters which greatly enhances the immersion of the game. There’s a real sense of community in this game. Nowhere is that more evident than in the fun seasonal events and festivals in the game. These types of events are common in farm and life sims, but Coral Island does bring something special and specific to its story to the table. Something about this game that has garnered it a lot of praise, and I’ll talk about it more later, is its themes of environmentalism and conservation. This comes to play in some of the events that the residents take part in. In the Spring, there is a tree-planting festival where the player character helps the residents clear trash and plant new trees in a heavily deforested and polluted area. In the Summer, there is a beach clean up. Among the other festivals are a Harvest Festival, a Cherry Blossom potluck, a Winter Fair, and many more. There are also some events that are still works in progress, and will be added to the game in future updates. My current favorite of these festivals is the Animal Festival. At all of these events, there are mini games you can participate in to win prizes, and the ones at the Animal Festival are so fun. There’s a cow race, a chicken fight (don’t worry, they just try to scare each other off a platform,) a race for the pets of the island, and a mechanical bull ride! One con to these minigames is that there aren’t clear instructions. You can practice all of them before entering officially, but they give you a vague direction and leave it to you to figure out. A quick little pop up tutorial would be helpful. That said, they’re still fun and some of them can even be played multiple times before leaving the festival.
Before we move on from the characters in the game, I’d be remiss not to mention the romance feature. As per many games like this, the player has the option to romance a resident of Coral Island and eventually marry and settle down with them. There are A LOT of options for romance in this game. There’s truly something out there for everyone. There are also no stipulations to whom you can romance. Coral Island is very inclusive! When you build your character, you choose what you look like and a prefix for your name. This includes a “Mx.” option, as well as an option to create one on your own. There are even nonbinary residents of the island, one of which includes the lovely and romancable Raj. I have yet to see if gender plays any sort of part in dialogue during a relationship, but from what I understand— there isn’t really attention brought to it. As long as a character is single, you can romance them. As mentioned before, there are a lot of options. If you’re like me, you will struggle to pick just one of the many incredible candidates. The characters aren’t just pretty (but man, are they pretty!) They also have charming and individual personalities. Mark, a crowd favorite, has a tough guy exterior but has a heart of gold. His favorite thing is spending time with the rescue animals in the shelter. Yuri is a super sweet, alternative, and generous doctor. There’s handsome blacksmith brothers. There’s a hot, butch lifeguard. There’s no way to go wrong honestly. And again, the cast of characters is diverse— not just in race or gender, but also in body type. There’s still room for improvement, but it’s incredibly refreshing to see the care that was put in designing these characters. Of course, if you’re uninterested in this factor totally, the game is still plenty enjoyable without it.
One such romancable option is Scott. Scott is the museum curator of Coral Island. While Coral Island takes a lot of inspiration from the farming games before it (Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons, etc,) it also takes some inspiration from the Animal Crossing series. Mainly with the diving mechanic (though Coral Island’s is significantly more intricate,) and the museum that the character is responsible for filling. Scott is basically sexy Blathers. The player donates everything from fish and bugs to artifacts, gemstones, and dinosaur bones. It’s fulfilling to see your progress play out. Especially once you unlock the quest that results in Scott running a “PickStarter” campaign to fund a museum expansion. The player also helps improve the island’s ecosystem and wellbeing by offering items to the Goddess of Flowers via a lake temple.
The offerings to the goddess are one of the ways in which the player works to save Coral Island from ruin. As mentioned before, Coral Island has a rather big plot line dedicated to environmentalism. In the narrative of the game, there is an antagonistic corporation known as Pufferfish that has caused an oil spill off the coast of Coral Island. Beyond the damage this did to the environment, it also plummeted the town’s ranking and ruined the town’s tourist economy. The player is tasked with doing things around the island that will help remedy the situation. This includes the museum and Goddess offerings, but also using the diving mechanic to clean up the oceans. Along the way, the player also learns that there is a merfolk society in the waters around the island. The merfolk, along with a race of mythical giants from the forest, grow to trust the player and rely on them to save the island. All of this culminates to a unique gaming experience that is consistently engaging and rewarding. The residents of the island notice the progress as well. When the player improves the rank of the island, the residents will bring it up when you speak to them. I often find that farming and life sims become monotonous and eventually, boring, due to their repetitive nature. You reach a point where you’ve read the same pieces of dialogue over and over, and that chips away at the enjoyment of the game. Granted, this will always become a problem eventually in games. But to have an experience that is genuinely affected by the player’s actions and milestones, that is something that makes Coral Island worth it almost alone. It’s a deeply personal game.
When it comes to farming and ranching, the game runs like most in the genre. You till and tend to the land to grow crops, and you purchase animals to get animal products. You can also adopt a pet from the shelter in town. These pets include many cute cats and dogs, but also a few rabbits, a lizard, and foxes. There’s also mythical pets that exist thanks to a stretch goal in the Kickstarter, and a few unusual farm animals. By reaching higher town ranks, you unlock the ability to raise peafowls and luwaks! I love seeing them run around the ranch you purchase animals from, and I’m excited to get to the point where I can get my own. I love the inclusion of animals that aren’t typically part of the farming sim lexicon.
My gripes with the game are few and far between. I also must give the developers some grace, and acknowledge that the game is still new and it’s huge. There are going to be bugs and things that must be improved. Honestly, my biggest issues have been the fishing and insect catching mechanics. Some insects feel impossible to catch. I also feel like bait doesn’t have much effect on fishing. That being said, these are just small things I struggle with or find myself not happy with. Among these is also a bug in clothing and accessories that causes things to not sit right on the character, or simply clip through. It’s also not currently possible to wear hats if you want your character to keep their hair. I suspect this will be something the developers will be able to patch soon, but it is disheartening when attempting to customize for now.
Coral Island shines to me because while it is aesthetically pleasing and offers an expansive world with pretty characters and cute animals, it is also rich with lore and socially conscious themes. I love seeing things develop, and this game gives me that sense of accomplishment. I find myself going “okay, just one more day,” multiple times a night when I’m playing. I want to devour every second so badly that I’m worried I’m not even savoring the story like it deserves. But there’s layers to the narrative. Even if I finish huge chunks of the mines or the ocean clean up, I still have characters to maintain relationships with and unlock heart events. There’s a lot of ways to lose yourself in Coral Island, and a lot of reasons to keep coming back to it.
Coral Island is a lush and enriching gaming experience to escape into. It’s fun, has a tremendous amount of heart, and it’s beautiful. Stairway should be proud of the game they’ve created, and I’m so excited to see how it grows. There is still so much in store for players, including multiplayer mode. I truly think this game is going to become a staple in the cozy gaming community, and something all sorts of people will enjoy.
Go check out Coral Island on Steam, Xbox, and PlayStation! It will also eventually have a Nintendo Switch release!