As a fan of watching gameplays of cosy games, Coral Island has been on my radar for a while. A gorgeous farming simulator title created by Indonesian studio Stairway Games, Coral Island was released as an early access game on Steam in early October.
Its release was made possible thanks to supporters on Kickstarter, where the game was funded in 36 hours. The page now boasts over 36,000 backers who have pledged over US$1.6 million to make Coral Island a reality.
Available on Steam for RM44, the game is slightly pricier in comparison to similar titles in the market (Stardew Valley is RM31, for instance), but it’s still a fair price.
The game opens with us, the player, moving away from the big city of Pokyo (not a typo) to a small island that’s been wrecked by a massive oil spill from a neighbouring island. Once an A-list destination, Coral Island has now become an F-ranked town.
Hearing this, Pufferfish, an oil drilling company led by Karen, a rather tongue-in-cheek name, is hoping to capitalise on that. Pufferfish lobbies to “save” the town by making the island a rich oil island.
Working against the evil conglomerate, we must resupply the local museum, restore the ocean bed, and of course, revive the farm and bring healthy local produce to the people of Coral Island.
Adorable art style, charismatic characters, and Indonesian influence
Home to 66 townies, you won’t find yourself lonely on Coral Island for long. There are also furry friends you can interact with around the town. My favourite might be Taco, the Shiba Inu with a cute neckerchief.
The art style is cute and bubbly, making it kind of Disney-esque. From schoolchildren to wiser villagers, each character is unique in terms of personality and appearance, and the dialogue is interesting as well.
The characters are diverse too, featuring a range of different ethnicities, body types, and character tropes. There’s Pablo, the charismatic guy that immediately hits us with a flirty line. There’s Chaem, a volleyball athlete who’s rude at first but softens after a while.
Don’t forget Leah the snobbish influencer, Lily the bonsai lover, Theo the fisherman-slash-guitarist, and Wakuu the astrophysicist that looks like a K-pop idol.
All the characters I’ve mentioned thus far are romanceable, by the way. Gift guides for each NPC are already available online, but I personally enjoy the guessing game. (My pick was the closed-off Mark, defined by scars across his face and the softest spot for animals. I think he likes coffee?)
The game also features Indonesian characters, a prominent one being Joko the carpenter who wears a traditional Javanese headgear known as Blangkon. In fact, elements of Indonesian culture can be found integrated into many aspects of the game.
They include Indonesian dishes such as Tumpeng and Lodeh, both of which are mentioned in the Spring Festival. The plaza is also called Alun-Alun, referring to the open lawn squares in Indonesia.
There seems to be some Balinese influence in the temples and mines too, among other little details that altogether set Coral Island apart from games within the genre.
Most reviews of the game I’ve read or watched online don’t seem to catch on or care much about these Indonesian details, but I personally find them to be fascinating and absolutely formative to the gameplay and ambience of Coral Island.
A sea of content
Going into the game, I was worried whether or not there would be enough to do considering it’s still in early access.
But with tending to the farm, exploring the mines, scuba-diving to save corals, and collecting offerings for the goddess on our agenda, we definitely have our hands full here.
To go down the levels of the mines, you must locate the hole for you to “jump in”, which is only revealed when you mine the ores.
This is a mechanic that’s pretty similar to Stardew Valley, though the “checkpoint” for the mines in Coral Island is on every fifth floor. It’s always sad when you run out of stamina before you reach the checkpoint.
The diving is something quite unique to Coral Island, though, which directly correlates (pun intended) to the plot of the game. Essentially, we have to clear the ocean floor of garbage to reveal solar orbs that can clear oil spills and heal the nearby corals.
Offerings for the goddess at the Lake Temple help us unlock fast travel and access to various locations.
Other than that, players can fish, catch critters, and forage for things to sell or donate to the museum, which is one of the main quests that directly affect the ranking of the town. You can also level up your skills to unlock more crafting recipes and upgrade your home.
Plus, romancing and befriending characters are no small tasks, either. There are a few events that will require your attention once in a while, the first one being the Spring Festival which features a Balap Karung (potato sack race) minigame. It’s… harder than you think.
The island is huge too, which makes exploration more exciting. Adding to the immersion, there’s no loading time when going between different areas.
However, the game is still in its early access days, so there are some glitches and whatnot, though not enough to make the game unplayable or unenjoyable.
One issue is that some items are still using a blank asset when dropped, such as the monster loot in the mines. That should be a quick fix, though.
My character did get stuck at one point, unable to turn left or right, so I ended up clicking on the “I’m Stuck” option in the settings, which made my character faint and wake up in the clinic.
The Earth Celebration Festival event also seems to be in the works, as there’s seemingly no way to activate it.
Although it’s described as a “re-imagined” farming sim, Coral Island isn’t just about tending to crops and livestock. Clearly, it contains commentary on the oil drilling industry’s impact on the environment.
Indonesia itself has been affected by oil spills through the years and its coral reefs and biodiversity have also taken a hit due to destructive fishing practices and pollution.
Playing Coral Island, I found myself thinking, “If only we had a scientist like the one in this game to magically restore coral reefs in real life.”
But perhaps, like our player in Coral Island, all of us are Chosen Ones who must act together to help restore and preserve Mother Nature. Sure, we don’t have “ancient technology” or a scuba suit, but there are other ways we can help, too.
Farm simulators have typically always been addictive, but Coral Island’s take on it is so charming to me.
There have been some criticisms in the past about the game being a rip-off of other games in the genre, namely Stardew Valley, but I find the art style and plot make Coral Island quite special.
Even as I’m writing this, I can’t wait to go back to Coral Island and tend to my crops, redecorate my farm, and gift Mark more cups of coffee.