This eldritch horror spin on a Stardew Valley-like farming game is even darker than I expected it to be

Harvest Island
(Image credit: Yobob Games)

"All the children will die today." These are some of the first words spoken to me in Harvest Island and they ring in my ears from then on. It is a rather jarring introduction to a very jarring game, one that developer Yobob does well to temper with the kind of soothing bright pixel art style adventure you'd expect from something like Stardew Valley.

In terms of gameplay though, Harvest Island veers closer to Potion Permit for its deeper stress on story and exploration. From the get-go, you're given the option to play in either story mode or normal mode, with the latter leaning more into the farming and crafting elements. I'm very glad I opted to play that way and add a little humdrum levity to the experience instead of gunning for pure story; despite its charming exterior, Harvest Island is one of the most unsettling indie games I've played in a long time. 

Happy families 

Harvest Island

(Image credit: Yobob Games)

Watering the carrots is a welcome reprieve from the harrowing opening sequence. Harvest Island succeeds in subverting its own genre and style against my expectations, moving between wholesome cozy game to bleak pastoral horror with a deliberate abruptness.

It all starts out well enough. Stepping into the shoes of Will and accompanied by my annoying little sister, I'm sent by my father to carry out farm chores. They're mostly what you'd expect: fetching eggs, milking cows and goats, and making an offering out of them to the gods. 

That's right: on this farm, we must appease the gods to ensure a bountiful harvest. That's according to my dear old dad, anyway, who reminds me every single day to look after my little sister even as she moans and whines at my heels while I carry out my tasks. But those offerings are nothing to worry about, surely. Not as long as I do what I'm told and don't go poking around into anything not my business. Then again, the more I find, the more questions I have.

The movement controls here take some getting used to, existing on a grid-like system not unlike mobile game Snake in terms of how and when you can turn a corner, but I still have no trouble exploring the sandy shores and secrets of Harvest Island. Venturing into the woods with my sister leads me to a broken bridge, with something scratched on it: "the lies", it reads. Immediately I recall one of the darker moments I experienced just the previous night: waking up as a paranoid, terrified little girl called Becky, running into the man who had locked her up in a windmill after vowing to poison all of the children in town. "It is all a lie," he told me. "And now, you will become a lie too."

Harvest Island

(Image credit: Yobob Games)

Harvest Island does well to maintain a charming edge to all of this, despite the fact that there are literal sprites of dead children dotted about the farm in said nightmare vision. There's apples to gather, good for feeding to goats as snacks to build a bond with them, as well as coconuts and crabs to cook up delicious stamina-replenishing meals as I tire from a day's work. There's so much to see and do in much the same way as many soothing farming sims that I almost forget I need to check in with my father about that spooky sign. 

The art style between the dark color palette of those nightmarish visions and how verdant and green everything is by day is striking in its contrast. It makes the horror sequences feel like a vestige of time, perhaps the town's sordid history floating to the surface that I might be able to wholly ignore; how could a place this beautiful be plagued with something evil, after all? But when I skip merrily back through the woods to ask dear old dad about my findings, he tells me something that sends a chill up my spine. "Oh that old thing," he says of the sign. "I put that there years ago. It used to say Dragonflies." 

I've not yet finished my Harvest Island journey, but I'm telling you now that I don't believe my dad for one single minute. Is he the poisoner who killed all the children in my visions? Why does no one else seem to live on this island? And who exactly are these gods, demanding tribute with ever-changing demands? It might not be the most polished version of itself just yet, but Harvest Island is a beautiful and intriguing indie adventure game that has surprised me at every twist and turn. Judging from the look of shock on my father's face, things are looking set to get curiouser and curiouser still.

Harvest Island is out now on PC. To see what else we've been enjoying, be sure to check out our Indie Spotlight series for more recommendations. 

Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.