All I want to do is grow my crops, get myself a cat, and find love, and this dragon wants to take it all away. Well, I’m not gonna stand for it. I’m grabbing my sword and the helmet I made in my shed, and I’m setting out to put an end to this!
This is the life you step into in Sun Haven, from Pixelsproutstudios, recently released in Early Access (shed not yet functional). The farming life gameplay made popular in Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley is dropped into a fully-fledged fantasy setting and traditional RPG story reminiscent of Dragon Quest. You — a new resident who has purchased a plot to set up a farm in the city of Sun Haven — discover that Dynus the Moon Dragon is threatening to shroud the land in darkness (which sounds particularly bad, considering the city’s called Sun Haven). It falls to you to put an end to Dynus’ nefarious plot so that you can go back to peacefully tending your crops.
I have to say, having your livelihood and family threatened along with the world being in danger made that typical story feel more personal. In RPGs, you don’t always have an established living to maintain while you’re trying to ward off evil. And the colorful characters around the city are all likeable enough that I’d prefer they remain able to go about their business in peace. There are nice little touches watching the townspeople go about their daily lives, like one character marching their younger siblings to the library for storytime. You also get to have conversations in a bit more detail with the people. Learning about their personal lives helps “humanize” them (though humans are only one of the races inhabiting Sun Haven) so they don’t feel like empty NPCs. There are story decisions to make occasionally, as well, and I’m interested to see how my choices will affect the city.
So far, I’ve found this mystical world to be inviting, endearing, and quite original. The people and creatures that inhabit bright and colorful Sun Haven and the two neighboring cities — the pastel forest enclave Nel‘Vari and the monster slum Withergate — instill a sense of wonder and curiosity. From rabbit-eared witch Christine to the horned snakes you encounter while exploring the forest, Pixelsproutstudios has created an enticing setting that brings a different energy to the well-worn ground of farming sims.
Some gorgeous pieces of pixel art help inspire that sense of awe, especially some of the grander sprites like the majestic Elios, the Sun Dragon. As finding romance is an option, the characters’ sprites and portraits must be fun and attractive. I’m sure many people would be happy to get a checkup from the town’s ivory-haired medical professional, Wornhardt. And the fruits and veggies you grow and scavenge for, as well as the dishes you make with them, are readily identifiable, and they look delectable. The unusually colored forests you explore outside of the Sun Haven area are beautiful as well. It’s all-around a lovely game to look at and helps to establish Sun Haven as an alternative entry in its genre.
The farming gameplay should feel plenty familiar to anybody who’s played Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley. As usual, you go about clearing the land, growing crops, building improvements for your homestead, and cultivating relationships with townspeople just as you would in those other titles. There’s a wide variety of crops, along with fertilizers and food recipes — so many options to spark the entrepreneurial spirit. The typical livestock of chickens and cows, as well as cats and dogs, are adorable enough. But upon learning one farm has baby griffins for sale, purchasing one quickly became my new life goal. Seeing as the farming is only half of the game, it makes sense that it’s streamlined a bit to balance it with other parts of the game. Earning money and gaining access to advanced items like animals and house expansions seem to happen more quickly than in other games. There is the “major threat” hanging over your head, but much like other farm games, Sun Haven is all about life in the slow lane and taking it easy. The story can be ignored entirely for as long as you want if building up your farm, hanging out in town, and exploring are more your fancy. Even in early access, there’s plenty here to help you get off to a healthy start.
One aspect that sets Sun Haven apart from similar games is the combat. The straightforward action RPG-style fighting is ok. Hacking away at monsters is not all that different from hacking away at a tree you’re trying to cut down, except, of course, that the monsters hack back. You have melee or ranged attacks or spells for use in striking the enemy. If you get too beat up, the penalty isn’t too stiff (waking up at Wornhardt’s hospital can’t be all bad *wink*), and you can probably get back out and do more exploring in the same day. But enemies don’t present too much trouble, especially if you’re adequately leveled. I admit the combat wasn’t the most exciting aspect of Sun Haven for me thus far. However, there are bosses on the way, which could offer some variety. Pixelsproutstudios has said that controller support will be available, but it doesn’t appear to be functional currently. There are some platforming sections, and though they are light, they would feel much more natural with a controller than a keyboard.
Unfortunately, Sun Haven is not quite a finished product. At launch, there were a few bugs and not just the ones that attack you in the forests. At one point, my saves were wiped out. Thankfully, one major error that had prevented me from progressing in the story has been fixed, so it’s good to see that the development team has been responsive. But be warned that things might not go completely smoothly if you invest in the game now.
Otherwise, with what’s already available, I’m eager to experience the rest of the story and see more of the other towns. The art and world are luring me to take up permanent residence. I wouldn’t expect it to replace popular games, but it may offer an alternative for those who wish for a lot more fantasy in their farming sims. But will Sun Haven be enticing enough for Stardew fans to consider relocating? We’ll find out when the game is fully released, which is expected in 2022.
Then that dragon’s gonna get it!