Stranded Sails – Explorers of the Cursed Islands allows players to create their own plucky sailor, the child of Captain Charles. “Create” is a bit of an overstatement here, unfortunately. There is no character customization beyond choosing your name and gender. Nothing else, like your skin tone, hair style, or clothes can be altered. Though you do eventually unlock hats. Your character has set out with their father and his crew but ultimately wind up shipwrecked after a storm destroys their vessel. You awaken stranded on a mysterious archipelago, with your crew mates scattered on the various islands. You’ll need to track down the cast of characters, including the likes of Brenda the Blacksmith and Fiola the Farmer.
Finding additional crew members benefits your character. One will give you a shovel so you can learn to farm, one gives you a rod so you can learn to fish, and another still helps you to craft rope bridges and a sword for the combat. If your eyes are turning to stars thinking that Stranded Sails sounds like some sort of magical love child between Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, then you may want to sit down for the remainder of this review. While there are elements that make those games charming evident in Stranded Sails, fitting the game perfectly into its genre, there are also elements about the game that are incredibly frustrating.
Stranded Sails’ biggest sin is the reliance on a stamina gauge as a punishment. Stamina gauges are typical to this genre, and the obvious influence of Stardew Valley’s stamina system is evident in Stranded Sails, though it is not nearly as well executed. Every step you take is Stranded Sails is punished by costing stamina, whereas other games in this genre typically only deduct from your stamina bar when you’re actively carrying out a task like digging or engaging in combat. This reduces your willingness to set out to explore the archipelago, as you know that by the time you get to any one destination you’re barely going to have any stamina to do anything of value. All of your stamina is wasted on the journey, leaving you none to actually explore the destination. You can eat, sure, provided you’ve put energy into farming and deciphering recipes to prepare some food for yourself before you left.
If you do run out of energy while exploring, Stranded Sails simply teleports you back to the safety of your bed and refills half of your stamina gauge for your trouble. There’s no other punishment besides being taken away from where you were. You do not lose any items, you do not fail a quest. Its just an arbitrary set back that adds frustration to your experience more so than feeling like something you can or should attempt to overcome. It eventually reaches a point that you may feel like letting yourself pass out from exhaustion is nothing more than a means for fast traveling back to your boat.
This decision to lose stamina for every step could be understandable if the map for Stranded Sails was much smaller than it actually is. Unfortunately, the development team at Lemondrop have made the archipelago you’re stranded on spam across several islands. There are large swaths of the game’s land area with absolutely nothing to experience, leaving players to cringe with every stamina draining step as they trudge across nothingness.
The game’s story is surprisingly linear for a genre that usually embraces open world exploration. You can take off and go looking around for yourself, but there won’t be any actual progress until you complete the scripted quests in the predetermined order they’re programmed for. Rowing out to a distant island is just a waste of time and stamina until you’ve reached the quest that determines one of your NPCs will be there. The strict, linear narrative leaves next to nothing for replay value, especially considering there is no XP to gain or leveling system to progress through. There is not anything left to experience once you’ve finished the story, leaving Stranded Sails to sadly be cast aside.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher