Another day, another Animal Crossing-meets-Harvest Moon-with-a-twist game. Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition is a farming, fighting, fishing and foraging game set in space, with a tiny, spherical planet upon which to do all of those activities: New Leaf by way of Le Petit Prince, if you will. And you are, in fact, a petit prince, although what exactly that means is something you’ll discover as you play.
Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition slowly drip-feeds you the plot of the game as you eke out a mostly-solitary existence on your pocket planet, tending to your tiny garden and occasionally upgrading your tools, or adding a new well. For the most part, existence here is quite lovely, if lonely; like its video game inspirations, the slow, methodical passing of the days gives you a surprising amount to do, whether that’s catching bass in the little pond, or planting a row of trees around your little house.
The little prince has three bars that you’ll need to pay attention to: the XP bar, the health bar, and the energy bar. The XP bar will just tick along on its own, of course, but health and energy will go up or down depending on what you’ve eaten recently, what activities you’ve been doing, or how much damage you’ve taken in fights (which are quite simplistic, but not really the point of the game). The food mechanic is something you’ll rarely interact with — we got by eating a meal about once every week — but taking damage in fights will eventually kill you, and you’ll lose quite a few resources as a result.
As you progress, new tools, animals, crops and even planets will be unlocked, expanding the range of what you can do in a day even further. You’ll also slowly gain XP, with each new level giving you the choice of two different stats to upgrade, making you a more powerful fighter or a more efficient farmer. Each time progress is made, the frisson of excitement and anticipation makes it worth the long hours you spent to get to this point, and it’s this excitement that keeps you coming back to Deiland for more.
But as you continue to plug more hours into the game, the bits in-between progress can range from mild frustration to abject boredom, with Deiland grinding to a halt until you figure out what makes the game continue. The petit prince’s progress is tied to visitors, you see — who come infrequently, and on their own schedule. There are a few characters you can meet: Mun, who’s your de facto best friend in that she’s the only person you know at the beginning; Locke, the strange wizard who teaches you potions; then there’s Goliath, a pirate, to name just a few. Each one has unique items to buy, and preferred items that they’ll pay a little more for. Some of them also have other, important jobs — but more on that later.
Every one of these visitors will give you a quest, whether that’s “grow five pumpkins” or “gather ingredients for a healing potion”, some of which are tied to the plot, and some of which are just tests. When they visit again, on an inscrutable timetable that is known only to them, they’ll either congratulate you on completing the quest, or chide you for not finishing it yet. If it’s the former, they’ll either give you a new quest or just tell you that they don’t have anything for you yet, and leave.
One problem here is that those quests are sometimes so easy that you’ll complete them within the 60-second timeframe that the visitor spends on your planet, and sometimes they take multiple in-game days to do. For example: one visitor might ask you to grow a crop that can only be planted in Winter, just as the clock ticks over to the first day of Spring. The seasons in Deiland are not as long as Harvest Moon, but they’re still seven days each, which means you won’t be able to access that quest line for quite some time. Or, perhaps they’ll ask you for a rare enemy drop, and you’ll have to wait for that enemy to turn up, which could take actual in-game years.
The other problem is that some of those visitors have “jobs” that severely limit your progress, making Deiland feel less like a solitary paradise and more like solitary confinement. Goliath, the pirate, will empty your minecart of stones each time he visits, for a moderate profit. The minecart fills up with rocks in about three or four swings of your hammer, though — and the game will not let you mine any more until Goliath returns. Mining becomes a tedious chore as a result, because it’ll take Goliath at least five trips until you’ve finally mined to the end of a small passage, and the plot can continue.
Sometimes, the game will refuse to let you do one thing, because it would much rather you did something else, instead. You can’t visit another planet if there are monsters around. You can’t go into the mine if there’s a visitor nearby. If Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing are about managing your own time, Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition is about having your time managed for you, constantly, by an omnipresent AI that you can’t ask to back off.
What’s more, progress can feel a little… opaque at times. The game won’t inform you that you need to, say, grow X amount of trees or buy a specific item before it’ll introduce you to a new character or mechanic, so you’ll often stumble into plot advancement entirely by accident. In some ways, this is a good thing — it makes progress feel organic, and unexpected — but it’s also an exercise in patience that players didn’t necessarily sign up for.
Still, there’s a lot to like about Deiland, and plenty of reasons to keep coming back. It might be slow, and frustratingly tied to the whims of the NPCs, but the passage of time in this gentle, pastoral planet all of your own can sometimes be enough to while away the hours in peace. It’s hard to know what you’re supposed to do next a lot of the time, but that makes it a nice surprise when something does happen. It would be nice if there was more to do on the planet, and the customisation is pretty limited (we never figured out if you could have more than three crop fields at a time), but becoming familiar with the exact layout of your personal planet is as charming as it sounds.
Also, if you want eggs, you have to feed a chicken until it explodes.