Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Isles is an adventure exploration game featuring an open-world with quests, farming, and survival elements. After being shipwrecked, you end up stranded on a series of islands that you must explore in order to gather the resources you’ll need to survive and later escape. The game combines a cute art style with a linear questing system, which is sadly more restrictive than expected.
I had high hopes for this game, but unfortunately, it doesn’t play quite the way I hoped... at least not until a long way into playing. While it looks good and has a decent-sized map to explore, the adventuring element feels too repetitive, especially early on, and the farming and building side feels too restrictive. I can see its appeal if you're seeking a game that is very lax with no real demands required of you, but personally, I signed up for an adventure, not ad nauseum fetch-and-carry quests. Fortunately, it does get better but it's a long wait.
Setting Up Camp
After joining your father’s crew and setting out to sea, the ship, its contents, and its occupants are left scattered around the cursed islands after a storm throws you off course. Your father is hurt, so it’s up to you to gather the crew and make a plan for survival.
As you begin the game, this involves talking to the crew, who will give you quests that involve exploring different areas in order to collect supplies. Get used to this because the pattern is about to be repeated. A lot.
As the story progresses, you’ll need to find different items in order to set up camp. Tools for chopping trees, wood for making buildings, and seeds to grow food are your early supplies which you’ll need to recover from around the island.
Energy And Exploration
The game also has an energy system, which provides some consequences for exploring too far. Each day, you have a set amount of energy. It is expended by any task that you do, including walking, farming, building, and later rowing and fighting.
A more intense task, such as running or chopping down trees, will drain energy faster, but all tasks will consume it. When it drains completely, you’ll pass out on the floor and end up back at camp.
Eating will replenish your energy, but when you first start the game, you can only carry very limited supplies of food, which doesn’t restore much. Extra food slots and higher energy foods are unlocked slowly over time, much like everything else.
If you pass out, you won’t lose anything from your inventory, but you'll have to restart the often tedious journey to wherever you were when it happened. Your map allows quick travel, but only back to camp, all outward adventuring requires you to either walk or row to your chosen destination.
Questing And Adventuring
Questing and adventuring are done simultaneously. The map is open-world, so you can technically explore whenever and wherever you like. However, especially in the early game, you will be naturally restricted by mechanics as it takes a while before you can build bridges, which are required to reach specific areas.
The energy system also limits you, placing a natural restriction on how far you can get. This eases later on, but can be very frustrating in the first few hours of the game in particular.
Questing takes the form of mostly linear quests. The vast majority ask you to speak to a character, go and find something from a specific area and bring it back. This will then usually be followed by a task such as learning a new build recipe, farming, cooking, or building a shack.
As you progress further into the story you'll encounter combat, although this is very limited and just requires you to spam one button to wave a sword about.
Building And Fishing
Alongside the adventure, you're also setting up a base camp. My main issue with this system is its inflexibility. Each building can only be placed where the game designates and building it is simply a case of fetching the materials and hitting a button.
Your farm forms the center of camp and requires you to dig, plant, and water crops before harvesting. Watering needs to be done fairly frequently, especially for low-level crops, which will cut into your day's energy usage. However, you can immediately cook and eat some of your wares to boost it back up.
Recipes are discovered by the bizarre practice of placing ingredients in random combinations in a menu until you “discover” a new one. This pointless mini-game seems to serve only as a minor time sink and feels unnecessary.
For those who love fishing, the fishing system is one of the best things about the game. It requires some input, allowing you to time your casts and pull for efficiency, and is far more relaxing and rewarding than the fetch-and-carry quests.
The pace does begin to pick up once you’ve rescued all of the crew, but the length of time to do so feels like a very delayed reward. The increased pace is much more appealing and enjoyable. It brings more choice and engagement in the later game, but it still doesn’t change the basic restrictions of the title.
Little things like having to walk all the way around the beach to reach certain huts or your boat feels unnecessarily restrictive, especially for an "open-world game."
I can see the appeal of this title to someone who is searching for no demand, chilled out gameplay with a low-level structure to it, but if you’re searching for an exciting adventure, then Stranded Sails will make you work for it.
A Switch copy of Stranded Sails - Explorers of the Cursed Isles was provided to TheGamer for this review.Stranded Sails - Explorers of the Cursed Isles is now available on Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.