Imagine yourself shipwrecking on a deserted island, fending off hostile creatures and finding new means to survive; it sounds scary and exciting, right? That’s the reason why this is one of the most fascinating and prolific narrative ideas. We have seen it countless times in books, movies, comics, and video games. Stranded Sails builds its gameplay right upon this premise, but it sets aside the most brutal facets of survival in favor of a quiet and relaxed farming and crafting experience.
The protagonist, the son (or daughter, that’s up to the player) of a ship captain, has accompanied their father on an oversea voyage, but not everything goes according to plan. After a terrible storm, the whole crew wakes up on a deserted island, the ship in pieces. It’s up to the protagonist to reunite the crew, gather the resources necessary to survive, and find a way to leave these cursed islands.
The game’s plot is only functional to the whole gameplay. Even though there are some allusions to a deeper backstory, thanks to documents found here and there, the game doesn’t expand upon any of them. The other castaways are characterized minimally, only enough to distinguish one from the others. They speak only to fulfill their gameplay functions and keep the plot going. They are likable silhouettes but nothing more. Better writing could have brought the player to grow more attached to them.
Stranded Sails is a farming game with little elements of exploration and combat. The player will explore the little archipelago to find resources, learn about the islands’ history, and gather clues on how to escape the island. There’s plenty to do. One can fish, scavenge chests and barrels found ashore, plant crops, cook, and sail around with a little rowing boat.
The main mechanic upon which the game is based is the character’s stamina. Every action, from walking to fishing, or cutting a tree, consumes stamina. Once it’s depleted, your character faints and wakes up after some time in bed. The only way to recharge is either sleeping or eating. Add to this the fact that the character walks at an unbearably slow pace, and you can imagine how moving around becomes a real chore. It isn’t even possible to run because this depletes too much stamina.
Stamina is the sword of Damocles that hangs upon the players’ head constantly. The player will feel the necessity to look at its bar constantly and behave accordingly. Did you find a new fishing spot? Well, it’s better to leave alone because you might fish up nothing and only lose precious stamina. Do you see that barrel over there? An unnecessary detour consumes too much energy and for what? The umpteenth cob of corn.
It’s clear what the developer’s intention was. To create a way to pace and regulate the exploration of a crammed world that otherwise would feel too tiny. However, the only thing it manages to do is being an infinite source of frustration.
With 5 islands at the player’s disposition, there’s plenty to explore. The player will traverse jungles, caves, abandoned settlements, and even a volcano. They will be rowing with all of their might to make their way through the waves and the howling winds. There’s no way to get lost thanks to a handy map to consult whenever you like. It shows the characters’ and farming points’ locations. There’s the possibility to mark a destination point to reach. By pressing a button you can return to the camp whenever you want. It seems fun and engaging, right?
However, here comes stamina to ruin everything. The player has to always watch out for stamina and therefore contain their movement range, especially at the start of the game, right when the inventory space for food is limited.
That’s a real shame since any other concept associated with exploration is decent. Moreover, once they have finished a mission in a specific part of an island, there isn’t any real reason to explore more. There are no secrets nor special places to discover.
The player can find many items ashore on the islands. They can get pieces of metal and fragments of ropes, chop wood from trees, and so on. Except for the wood, everything else is found in barrels and chests. It’s possible to build bridges, ladders to facilitate exploration, but also houses, new fields, and many more things. Building these things is easy and immediate since there is no waiting time for things to get finished, however, the player has to obtain blueprints from other characters first.
The ease of crafting is balanced by the frustrating way of replenishing the inventory. If the player is low on some of these components, they are forced to wait for it to respawn. The respawn times are long and uncertain. It might require multiple journeys to each island to see if something is available again, with all the waste of time and resources that it causes.
Farming is the most important and viable way to get cooking ingredients in the game. Corn, rice, tomatoes, carrots, and many more products can be obtained in this way, even spices. First of all, the player will have to get seeds to plant. They can harvest them from wild plants or find them in barrels and crates. It isn’t possible to plant everywhere; only at the camp. At first, there is limited space available, but that can be increased during the course of the game. Once the player has planted a seed, they will have to attend to it by watering it. Once the plant is ready, it’s possible to harvest the fruits.
Farming is the most relaxing activity of the game. There’s no way to lose any precious seed. If the plant withers or the player doesn’t want it anymore, they can recover the seed by digging it. Plants don’t die if taken care of and produce crops indefinitely. Blooming times are pretty fast and it’s possible to get a full crop between every expedition. It’s as simple as possible, doesn’t bring any unwanted frustration, and is a rather rewarding activity. There’s nothing better than returning to the camp to find it full of vegetables.
Since the player can amass an astounding amount of ingredients, it’s no wonder cooking offers a lot of freedom in this game. There are a lot of dishes to prepare, varying from simple appetizers like roasted corn to more complex recipes like clam casseroles. Each dish is fundamental since it can restore a bit of stamina. The rarer and more numerous the ingredients, the more beneficial the course will be.
The player can check the number of available recipes at the camp’s cooking station. Before being able to prepare a dish, it’s necessary to discover it first. While known recipes are represented by their own icon, the others are indicated by a question mark. Every time the player discovers new ingredients, new recipes can be unlocked. To get a recipe, the player not only has to put in it the right ingredients but also order them in the correct manner. The main problem with this system is that there isn’t a generic “discover” function where, if you get a recipe right, you unlock it. Every question mark corresponds to a specific recipe but it doesn’t state which one. Surely, the game tells you if the chosen ingredients are right or wrong for that recipe, but this brings unnecessary trial and error sequences. At least, when a recipe is wrong, ingredients aren’t consumed.
In this way, instead of encouraging experimentation, the player will prefer to find a few suitable recipes and stick with them the whole game. Why bother with the others if getting them is so frustrating?
STEW FOR THE CREW
Another important aspect of the game is the relationship with the crew. By increasing the friendship level with another castaway, the player will receive them from improved tools, new blueprints and sometimes hats to wear. The only way to increase it is by preparing the so-called stew for the crew. This giant cauldron full of stew is prepared by selecting a specific ingredient for each friend. Every time the player replenishes it, the friendship level with the crew will increase. It will grow faster if they select everyone’s favorite food. For each level up they will receive some kind of the aforementioned rewards.
The stew is a really handy mechanic since it gives the player the possibility to replenish their stamina without consuming any other food while at the camp. The main drawback of this system is that it takes the place of any other way to get to know the crew, like side quests or dialogue sequences. The player can absolutely ignore the characters, feed them cheap corn and their friendship level will raise nonetheless, even if at a slower rate. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t offer any other way to know them better and create deeper bonds.
The mysterious archipelago is a dangerous place. While there aren’t any wild animals to defend from, the player will have to confront the angry ghosts of deceased pirates. Combat is simple and straightforward. The player can make up to a free hit combo with their sword. It’s possible to dodge attacks by running. There is no health bar, as always the stamina will do the trick. There isn’t a great variety of enemies, the ghosts will only come in three colors, each one sporting a different type of attack.
This simplicity might be a problem if combat were a constant in the game. Since one could almost count the battles on the fingers of one hand, this doesn’t really matter.
Overall, the game isn’t particularly difficult. Fainting might be annoying, but it doesn’t bring any penalty. While the player is at the camp, stamina is almost infinite thanks to the stew. The stamina problem during exploration becomes much more tolerable once the player gets more complex recipes. Even combat is a cakewalk. The best way to deal with a foe is button smashing them till their defeat, since their reaction times are almost nonexistent.
The main problems and frustrating moments of the game are relegated to the first four or five hours of gameplay. However, that is enough to turn many people off, especially considering how it’s possible to finish it in around 10 hours if one focuses only on the main story.
The game has really simple 3D graphics. Both characters and backgrounds appear as textureless 3D meshes. Shadows are almost nonexistent. Despite the primitive style, the environments aren’t devoid of beauty and the player will sometimes stop to admire them.
The soundtrack is simple and there aren’t many tracks. Despite this, it accompanies very well each moment. Soothing tunes can be heard in the camp, while adventurous music will accompany any boat voyage. The music heard on the last island is intimidating and solemn enough to warn the player of the upcoming danger.
There aren’t many additional activities to speak of. Some structures to build in the camp are completely optional, but that’s it. At the end of the game, it’s possible to choose whether staying on the island to attend to unfinished business or leaving it. The game doesn’t specify that it is an irreversible decision and this might frustrate some players who didn’t see it coming.
Stranded Sails is a bare-bones game. While its simplicity isn’t a flaw per se, it becomes so because of the lack of challenge and depth can’t compensate for the frustrating moments. It manages to fix its flaws in the long run, but this happens too slowly for the player to appreciate it. The game has its charming moments, but they are too few and far between. With the proper adjustments, however, it can become the relaxing experience it wanted, but failed, to be.
Final Rating: 5.5/10