- Developer: Chibig
- Publisher: Chibig
- Genre: Adventure, Other, Simulation, Role-Playing
- Released: 15th April 2021
It’s a small world after all.
In the beginning…
Deiland: Pocket Planet was originally a mobile game. It was called Deiland Tiny Planet and it was Chibig’s first game, though they don’t really call it that. To take a quote directly from their site:
We are not developing games.
We are creating a UNIVERSE.https://chibig.com/
Ambitious stuff, you might stop to say. Having played though Deiland: Pocket Planet however, I do see where they are going with this, and it has only made me want to pick up their other game on the Switch (Summer in Mara) to see more of their… stories. Deiland: Pocket Planet however isn’t blemish-free, but we’ll get to that in good time.
Oh, also I will be referring to Deiland: Pocket Planet as Deiland from here on. I am aware that Chibig released a home console version of Deiland Tiny Planet named Deiland on PS4 and PC prior to creating Deiland: Pocket Planet, but for my sanity’s sake I will be using Deiland for the Switch version in this write up. Additionally, I tried to look up differences between Deiland on PS4/PC and Deiland on Switch, but as far as I can find out both titles are technically identical in content. Anyway that’s a lot of Deiland already, so let’s not dei-lay any further…
The world is not enough.
After a brief introductory cutscene, you are plopped onto the surface of a tiny planet. Getting up you see that a tent has been mysteriously set up for you, along with three empty farm plots. Who laid them out for you? It’s just one of the mysteries the game shrouds itself in.
Friendly joking aside, Deiland does indeed have an air of mystery about it, all the way right from the start with what or who you are and why you’re in the situation you are in. Some threads are answered, quite a handful are left trailing in the wind for your imagination to fill in the blanks… and a few just make one tear out one’s hair and scream in cliffhanger. But I digress.
Some may find the overall plot a little underdeveloped, but the world’s lore is ultimately interesting and enigmatic. It’s a pity the game itself is somewhat on the smaller side, as I would have loved to chase down some of the more interesting potential side stories rather than have them told to me from passing visitors. Oh right, I forgot to mention that you’re not entirely alone in this desolate little celestial body you’ll find yourself on.
New faces, old cases.
The very first visitor to your part of the vast galaxy you find yourself floating in is an international space patroller named Mûn. She’ll also be the one you’ll be in most contact with, but she’s not the only one to visit your planet in this mini space opera. The game’s cast is varied and the characters are generally charming, with a few perhaps on the more trite side of clichés.
When visitors do come by, you’ll have to direct them to a clear spot on the planet to land. I like this gimmick as it lends some charm to the whole process. Rather than merely being a scripted process, you can imagine the various aliens hailing to your character to guide them to an open patch of land to safely park their vehicles. My word, even the spaceship designs are varied, each matching their owner’s personality or occupation. For example, a old curmudgeon of a wizard floats around in a hot air balloon while an alien chef whines about in a mushroom-like spacecraft that creates tiny tables (or seats) on landing.
While for the most part the different characters’ dialogue builds onto their different personalities and egos, and their little dramas and lives are interesting for the most part; they all suffer from having identical generic statements when it comes to certain situations. For example, when you’re assigned a quest, should you talk to them while the task at hand remains incomplete, they say: “You still do not have all the objects you need to complete the chore.” All of them, the same line.
A little more care while crafting out certain aspects of the game’s dialogue would’ve added so much more to build up the world’s lore. Instead, there are pockets of instances when you’re suddenly jerked out from immersion with repeated statements. Sad to say, there’s more of these instances in other parts of the game.
Patience, young Padawan.
The quests you get assigned from your visitors are a mixed bag, ranging from those easy to pull off, to those that require waiting-for-paint-to-dry-levels-of-patience. I’m sure I could’ve phrased that better, but bear with me for a minute.
While the whole landing spaceships and all is cool, who gets to visit your planet is random. Or at least it seems to be. This may not seem so bad at first glance, but let’s imagine this scenario. Let’s take that wizard fellow, Locke, and say that he gave you a quest to grow a certain crop. Now what crops you can grow out depends very much on the season your little planet happen to be in (Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter). Continuing with the hypothetical scenario, say he gives you seeds for a plant that can only be planted in Autumn or Winter, and it’s currently Summer. You’ll not only have to while the time away doing other chores, you’ll need to also wait for the plant to grow and be ready for harvest.
Even once you’ve plucked the requested item and placed it into your bag, you’ll still need to play the waiting game and hope that the next visitor to your planet is Locke. More often than not, you’ll most likely have Mûn or some other guest instead. The inability to pick your visitor culminates in a major block to progress, often slowing the game’s pace down to a crawl. My advice? Go mining. You may rot your brain out, but at least you can max out your inventory and sell them (the inability to select items in bulk to sell doesn’t help with this however). You might as well game the game’s economy, since there isn’t a lot to do but wait and harvest stuff.
The game is billed as a relaxing farming adventure, however not everything is sunshine and rainbows. There will be moments where you’re forced to take up your farming implements and use them to repel monsters that appear quite suddenly on your little planet. It’s also here where the game shows it’s major weakness.
Let’s reel things back a little and talk about what the game does quite well, at least to myself. The farming is simple and straightforward, and I do enjoy setting down various structures that you can build. However the inability to build more farm plots beyond the initial three is frustrating and ultimately slows down the game’s already glacial pace. Also, quite a lot of structures you can build either end up to be mere decorations by description, or actually decorative despite their implied functions. I mean… when a structure isn’t explicitly labelled as a decoration, you would expect it to do something, right?
Combat is definitely not this game’s strongest suit. It mostly boils down to positioning yourself facing the enemy (no targeting system I’m afraid) and mashing the attack/use button while hoping you whittle down your foes’ health before they take you out. Later in the game you learn some spells to add a little variety to your repertoire. However, it doesn’t save the system from the fact it’s just not fun to do. Fighting feels stiff and cheap, so much so that you’ll probably have the same experience if you take two action figures and bash them against each other.
I caught one this big.
Right, let’s touch upon this game’s greatest sin: its fishing minigame.
Why am I dedicating an entire section to fishing? For a game taking cues from Harvest Moon and farming/life simulators in general, there are a tonne of examples to study from for various mechanics. Fishing is no exception. From the simple prompt (audio or visual) where a button click will pull up your catch (as seen in say Pokémon or World of Warcraft), to more complex ones where you have to reel in the fish with a variety of methods (Ocarina of Time, Link’s Awakening), the humble fishing minigame has seen many iterations and generally they are either fun, or a throwaway side activity.
Now, how about we build our own minigame. Let’s start with a time-based system. Add in a button prompt to pull in the fish, but that seems boring and derivative. I know, how about we make it random! Yes, random button prompts! And let’s only show the prompts at a random interval during the limited time we’ll give the players. Finally, let’s give some acceleration to the prompt. What, it feels like a quick time event? I mean, everyone loves those right? It’s like it’s 2006 all over again…
I wouldn’t have been so bitter about this, but not only do you lose the bait required (which is actually hard to hunt down and also used as another consumable for another harvesting mechanic, but at least cheap enough to buy… when you can get the right merchant to visit), there are one or two quests that require you to fish up certain species of fish. And, yes you guessed it, what fish you get is also dependent on what season it is. The fact that they made the fishing minigame so antagonistic… *screams into the void*
Right, deep breaths…
Despite what may have felt like a big dump on the game, I enjoyed my time with it. No, really! Deiland’s saving grace were its characters and art design. The various people you meet all come together and create a living, breathing world. I wish the developers would allow us to explore more into their stories and lives, but alas. Still, it’s quite an achievement to create a cast one can believably interact with, mostly.
As for the game’s art, the hand-drawn portraits are lovely and expressive. The in-game models are also able to depict each character well. Improvements on animation will go a very long way to giving further appeal to the cast, but what’s on display is sufficient to tell the game’s story. Zooming out a little, one cannot doubt that the game’s environment is quite pretty, and has potential to be quite breathtaking at times.
Oh, I should mention that while for the most part there is little music on the planet itself (mostly soft ambience if I recall correctly), whenever a visitor lands they bring along with them individualised background music. The fact that each character has their own theme music just goes to show the power Chibig has when it comes to their strongest attribute, which I believe to be characterisation and lore building. Seriously, if they keep this power going and channel a little bit into other aspects of game crafting, I fully expect to see an amazing gem from them one day.
Don’t worry too much about what the heading here means. Just know that the game does have quite a bit of bugs. From areas where I found my character to be stuck in (fortunately able to wiggle free), to fruits and seeds stuck in trees. Enemies aren’t immune to glitches either, as some might get stuck in scenery, or spawn in one.
However one of the biggest one I’ve encountered is spawning into an empty void. As pretty as this may look, I cannot do anything to force the game back to its intended path. Fortunately the game autosaves frequently and after quitting to the title screen, I have to endure a little wait to get back to where I am, no worst for the wear. I’ve not experienced crashes or anything of the more aggravating variety of bugs in my playthrough fortunately, but know that this game could use more time in the proverbial oven to cook a little more.
That’s not the end of the story…
This game is but one in the Deiland saga Chibig has brewing up. Two other tiles surge forth from my cursory searches into this: Summer in Mara and Ankora, the latter of which I wouldn’t mind seeing a Switch port. It feels like there’s a greater story Chibig wants to tell overall, snippets of which can be seen in their available games. It’s definitely something that got its hooks into me for sure. If Summer in Mara has the same quality of character and lore building Deiland has, then this studio will have gained itself a devoted fan looking for more.
I have to be very honest however. I enjoyed this game, but I’m not sure I can readily recommend this. At best, it’ll have to have caveats plastered all over it. How patient are you? How much do you care about characters or story in a game? Do you play a game for its fighting mechanics? Do you enjoy fishing minigames? If you’ve read the entire article (and not just skipped to the end for a soundbite summary), I hope I’ve managed to convey my consternation at this game’s flaws that hampers its meritorious qualities.
2/5 – It’s hard to recommend on gameplay alone, but Deiland’s characters lend a hand to create a lovely experience. There’s just not enough of them to pull this plodding title through the mud. Also, fishing.
Available now: $19.99
*a review copy has been generously provided for this review