Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition Review (Switch)
Originally released in May 2018, Deiland finally makes its way to Switch with a new edition, Pocket Planet, that takes everything that worked with the original version and adds enough new stuff to make it almost feel like Deiland 1.5 – which, turns out, is a great thing. This is a charming and short little indie gem that never overstays its welcome.
The art style and presentation are fantastic and even improved over the charm of the original. Though it’s not a perfect game, Deiland is a blast to play if you enjoy building, farming, cooking, crafting, questing, and fighting the occasional invading monsters. The pace and feel of Deiland are just perfect for a lazy afternoon or any time you want to escape to the garden or go fishing. However you spend your time in Deiland, there are plenty of thoughtful details that ultimately make the game memorable in great ways.
In the Universe Deiland is set in, there are special planets and princes connected to those planets. You are one such prince, Arco, given stewardship of a particularly small planet. You go about your time slowly building your farm and growing crops without knowledge of the story until visitors arrive to see what is happening on this now active little planet.
The people you meet along the way, and there are plenty for a game of this length, will fill you in on the central narrative that Arco investigates with his best friend, Mûn. Together, Arco and Mûn run down the mysteries surrounding princes and small planets as well as collect the pages of the book that tracks your progress.
The story is actually quite nice for a game that has such a relaxed feel. I often thought of the classic story, Le Petit Prince (1943). The game, like the novella, has a fairy-tale feel that permeates the whole experience. There are lots of nice touches that I will not spoil here, including a particularly well done reveal when you finally get to read the last page of the book you’ve been after the entire game.
Farming Adventure Gameplay
When it comes down to it, you spend your time in Deiland gathering resources, taking care of plants and animals, building out your functional farm, and decorating your planet. In many pleasant ways the game scratches that Animal Crossing itch and matches its feel. But when you actually try to play the game like you would AC and completely optimize the aesthetic of every inch of your planet, you can (at times) end up rather frustrated because the experience forces you to live with compromises a bit too often.
I would have given the game the highest rating possible if my experience trying to build a beautiful farm was not so difficult. First, there are critters running around and they get in the way of placing objects because there is no true build mode. When there are no critters, there are monsters, visitors, meteors, and other interruptions. To truly let you indulge in the relaxation of building a dream farming planet, you need a build mode free of distraction.
Another issue is a total lack of any kind of grid or way to line up structures. This wasn’t such an issue in earlier versions of the game, but now there is so much cool stuff to personalize the place that I wish I was patient enough to do more of it. A grid or way to connect structures/easily line them up would make one of the major game loops far more relaxing and rewarding.
This being said, I loved decorating my planet. I just wanted to spend less time tediously lining things up. I wanted to keep the chill vibe, so my farm is a tad crooked, but I learned to work with it. If you like indie farming adventure games, you’ll find a highly satisfying (if a bit manic at times) game loop. What is especially nice is that the game does not expect you to sink 400 hours into perfecting your island, I mean planet.
One excellent new system in the Switch port is changing seasons that affect how your crops grow. This makes it much easier to decide what to grow when you have a limited number of fields. It also, however, sometimes ends up making you wait an entire in-game year to proceed with a quest. At one point I had all quests waiting on my ability to plant 5 cherry trees for one NPC, but they could only be planted in the season I had just completed. Though each season only lasts 7 days, it was annoying. Still, it’s a system that adds way more in fun than it creates in frustration.
Action RPG Adventure Gameplay
When you are not working on your farm in Deiland, you will be fighting monsters, completing quests, and leveling up. Quests in Deiland are really just glorified tasks, but they are tied to specific NPCs and move their storyline forward. All of this is tracked down to the NPC total completion percentage which is nice for completionists.
The quests are repetitive, especially when you are being sent back and forth between the games two playable planets to basically cook or craft and return. This annoyance is compounded by the cost there and back in fuel (which also had to be made). I found myself trying to be efficient and stockpiling all kinds of stuff by buying it from vendors as well as growing it on my planet to make sure I didn’t find myself in the wrong season to get back and have to wait a year.
At times, the tension of completing quests worked against the calm of the farming loop. More synergy would be nice. Still, having the game rich with characters who are so charmingly styled made it far more memorable. I just wish more of these characters adventure with you like Mûn, or even helped you farm or set up a permanent resident/shop themselves.
Combat is deceptively simple in Deiland. Late game, things can get quite interesting. Depending on which stats you chose to level, you may need to be creative. Their battle system is basically the same as the farming system except instead of targeting plants, you target monsters. However, enemies grow in power so simply running straight at them by late game will result in failure. The devs cleverly give each enemy a weakness to one of your tools. Figuring this out as well as how to lure them away from structures so you can blast them with magic keeps battle somewhat entertaining.
The battle system itself is the weakest aspect of combat in Deiland. Indeed, the very things that make the way Arco moves relaxing for a farming simulator make him clunky to operate in combat. However, he does perform combos and they add strategy despite the limitations, which is exactly what the best indie devs do.
There are a few “boss fights” in the game and they can present quite a challenge if unprepared. There was only one “dungeon” and the game could have benefited from having 4 – 5 instead because it was a nice change of pace. For these reasons, combat and the RPG mechanics always felt like additions to the core farming loop. In other words, come for the adventure RPG, but stay to have fun developing Deiland with Arco.
From the moment the title screen appears to the moment the credits roll (and beyond), Deiland’s story-book look and feel take center stage. The Switch port is even more gorgeous than the original indie title. There are some true visual artists at work for Chibig. Everything in the game looks perfect. For example, there are five or six different types of trees you can plant. Each looks unique from the others and then again has different looks as the seasons progress. I loved walking through my grove blanketed in snow during winter and seeing some trees finally producing fruit while others completely bare and waiting for the spring.
The only other planet you visit in Deiland is in a state of perpetual winter and inhabited with winter-themed monsters you will not find on your home planet. There are also a few unique resources to collect here as well as a few NPCs. I definitely enjoyed it as a second location, but it was clear that it had not been shown the attention that makes Arco’s home planet stand out. After a while, I found myself limiting my time there as much as possible because it was static and quickly staled.
Your emotional investment in Arco’s home planet and its charm grow as the game progresses and as you acquire new structures, plants, animals. By the end, there are so many different crops, trees, flowers, creatures, structures etc. that just walking around and enjoying the relaxing vibe you designed is a reward in itself and perhaps the greatest the game offers.
As far as performance goes, load times are manageable playing on a Switch Lite. Often text appeared in different languages, though this may have been intentional or a bug. This was unclear for reasons not worth getting into. One significant issue I encountered was the inability to interact with items or NPCs after an hour or two of gameplay (I’m sure being suspended often did not help). Closing down and restarting the game became second nature. Hopefully this gets patched up. Overall, Deiland is relatively bugfree at launch on Switch, which is great to see with any game.
Deiland is a solid 15-20 hour farming adventure with enough RPG elements to keep it interesting on both fronts. The presentation is stunning and keeps you playing simply to stay a little while longer on such a cozy little planet with such an earnest little prince. It’s an easy to recommend game to anyone who is a fan of farming simulators, adventure RPGs, or its charming art style. Yes, there are definitely issues with the build mode (or lack thereof) that keep the experience from being all it could be. These issues, however, do not outweigh what is so charming about Deiland.
As more and more indies release and port to Switch each month (nearly 10 are out in April 2021 alone), it is impossible to say whether or not Deiland can carve out a niche following. What is clear already, however, is that it deserves such a following and feels right at home on the Switch.