It’s a Small World After All
Last year, I spent part of my Summer in Mara, a quirky adventure game by Chibig that, while enjoyable, needed just a little more to qualify it as a complete RPG by most standards. I was interested in seeing some of the other titles from the Valencian game studio, however, as one or two of those looked to be in a similar vein. Recently one of those older titles was released to the Switch: Deiland, a cute romp of farm-life RPG.
Set in the same universe as Summer in Mara and featuring some of the same NPCs, Deiland begins with the protagonist Arco waking to a brand-new, and very small, world. Planet Deiland is a miniature worldlet in the style of Antoine de St.-Exupery’s Asteroid B-612, only without any volcanos or threat of baobab. Arco tends to his three garden patches, mines for crystals, makes his own tools, and cooks up tasty snacks as he whiles away the seasons. If he gets too hungry, he loses health, while his stamina suffers if he works for too long without rest. There are several stats to increase, though the player can only choose one of whatever pair is presented upon leveling up.
From various visitors Arco learns more about the cosmos and his place in it, but it’s not necessarily a safe universe out there. Planet Deiland is occasionally plagued by alien pests, and some of the more civilized visitors aren’t much better. Arco is able to attack with his bare hands or with any of his main work implements, and the damage he deals often depends on matching the right tool to the right enemy’s face. He is also, by dint of his connection to his tiny world, capable of learning magic spells which consume crystal bits for various effects.
The bulk of the gameplay revolves around Arco’s life on his little world, and often in the most literal manner as he can control the rotation and orientation of Deiland from the map menu. This is useful when searching for mushrooms or directing rain clouds to the best locations for watering, and it’s necessary when meteors threaten to crash and burn important crops. From time to time, travelers from other worlds stop by Deiland to visit, and Arco will have to rotate the planet to find a proper landing site before the timer (and their patience) runs out and they leave orbit. There are a few more planets to explore, but only one can be visited regularly outside of major plot events.
That sort of sums up Deiland‘s main shortcoming. It’s a charming little title built up around a charming little planet with hints of a greater universe via its connections to other games by Chibig, but it’s also characterized by long periods of waiting for something to happen. Monsters, meteors, and visitor events all seem to arrive at random, and the game’s progression of seasons dictates the type of crops Arco can plant or harvest. So if a visitor comes by at the start of spring with a request for pumpkins, which can only be grown in autumn or winter, then Arco will have to wait half a year before he has a chance to make progress with that character. That’s only fourteen in-game days, but it’s frustrating. Waiting for specific monsters to show up can also be a drag, especially when they don’t always drop the target material when slain. Other times, the requests may be so trivial that Arco will have everything at hand long before anyone asks. There is precious little middle ground to be had here, as things either take forever to complete or no time at all, and more optional material would have been appreciated to fill out the slow spaces in the plot.
For all that it’s centered on one little planet, with only the occasional excursion elsewhere, Deiland manages to do quite well by its graphical variety. The tiny world is lush and vibrant with color, though it can take a while to learn how to orient at first. One thing that’s interesting is that trees of the same species will not all grow the same way, taking different outlines or even color schemes as they mature. Apples, cherries, and oaks in particular will be markedly different from others of their respective species, providing some much-needed variety. The procession of seasons alters the appearances even more for the deciduous species. Off-planet, things are more stable, with the different areas sticking to pre-set seasons and weather, but they do provide some interesting backdrops to exploration.
The Steam version of Deiland apparently had its share of bugs, many of them involving achievement flags. The Switch version lacks achievements, but it has all-new bugs that crop up late in the game. In my time with it, there have been instances where items or entire menus failed to register when I pressed buttons. One time, a stray sheep got himself stuck to a piece of scenery, and in another, four monsters apparently spawned inside the planet, where Arco couldn’t reach them. The craziest glitch occurred when one section of the mining area simply turned intangible, allowing access to a blank void beyond that eventually led to a miniature model of the planet Deiland in its map configuration. Getting back to the mines turned out to be far more difficult. Thankfully, all of these bugs could be resolved in just a few minutes by returning to the game’s start menu and reloading, and the automatic save ensured that nothing was lost, but they were nonetheless freaky.
Deiland is a game in need of more content to fit in-between. It is in need of more backdrops, more worlds, more monsters, more things to do at home, more threats to deal with in interesting and ingenious ways. To follow from its obvious source of inspiration, it needs baobabs to weed out, volcanos to harness, capricious roses to care for, and other odd worlds populated by odder characters. What it has is good; what it needs is more.
The final word to describe Deiland the game is one that has been used several times already in this review: charming. Chibig has captured some of the charm and emotion to be found in the work of Antoine de St.-Exupery, mixed it with a blend of RPG and cultivation elements, and given the world another, smaller world to enjoy. Could it have been bigger? Yes. Could it have had more to it? Indubitably. But for what it is, Deiland is a nice diversion from heavier experiences in the genre, and that may well have been what the developers were aiming for.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.