Grief is a funny thing. The way it shows off our weird idiosyncrasies, the ways in which we soothe ourselves, how it changes us. It’s hard to deal with anything like this, but the act of getting out and pushing ourselves forward is often what gives us some clarity. When we finally move on, we can look at what we’ve done and feel proud.
Moonglow Bay is a game that both emulates grief and is intrinsically about it. You take the role of a fisherman whose partner goes missing at sea. As someone with plenty of drive and fiercely conservationist beliefs, they are passionate and warm, one of the few souls on Moonglow Bay willing to tread its waters. Where others cower in fear of the fish that lurk in those depths, they tackle it head on. That’s why, now three years later, you are unable to move – stuck without them.
This is until your daughter visits. She pushes you onwards and helps you finally step out of the house. You start the game as someone being driven by other forces but have to learn to take control of the boat and live your own life. You do this by taking your boat out to the sea, catching fish and selling them to the villagers of Moonglow Bay. In doing so, you cement yourself into the town once more – a town that has since fallen into disrepair. It seems that the entire community has been stuck, unable to move on or grow, and needs a helping hand – like the one your partner offered you.
You must solve villagers’ problems, make friends, and help renovate the town bit by bit. Narratively, Moonglow Bay isn’t hugely deep, but its writing is best in the interim. Although your goal is to explore the world around you whilst getting to the bottom of your partner’s disappearance, the story is really one of a town that must heal together. You can take all that you’ve caught to the Aquarium to add them to a log, use your money to renovate tarnished houses, and make villagers happy by fulfilling their requests.
Going through a day and night system, you often have to shape your play around the conventions of the town. If you stay up too long you’ll get tired and sluggish, fitting in with everyone else. Your character is recovering via the act of moving forward, one day at a time. All of this is going on in the background, while you tackle the central quest.
Unfortunately, the game’s quests are inconsistent and not intuitive at all. Sometimes, things just don’t pop up as they should (one even required a full restart to fix). Other times, they don’t lead into the right quest, or the objective is one that doesn’t really make sense. Generally, a game teaches you its systems and internal logic as you play, slowly building to new mechanics or ways of thinking. Occasionally, Moonglow Bay throws a totally new mechanic at you without ever explaining it, leaving you guessing.
For instance, early on you have to find and take on a legendary fish that has a harpoon stuck in its back. Up until this point, you can only throw your rod in the water and the net is used to take on everything else. To solve this, you have to aim your rod at the harpoons, hit them and then pull them out. This is an okay solution, but you have never been able to aim the rod like that before and it doesn’t tell you to do so. You just have to hope you’ve figured out how to beat the next objective – I regularly felt like I beat challenges through pure luck.
This takes a lot of the satisfaction out of the fishing mechanics. They are never overly complicated but have just enough depth to lead to interesting results. You throw your rod in the water, wait for a fish to bite, and then yank your rod in the opposite direction the fish is going to try and tire it out. This would work fine, but you can cheat your way to instant catches with just a couple of strategic pulls at the start of an encounter, removing almost all of the difficulty.
Despite the easy fishing letting it down somewhat, the general aesthetic of the game is relaxing and quaint – a joy to look at and listen to. This lets you just sort of fade out as you catch enough fish to get to the next boat upgrade or repair. If you want to earn money at a quicker rate, you can cook that fish in your kitchen, allowing you to sell proper meals. This is also necessary for friendship, growing your bonds with villagers through their stomach. Going around the island, patching everything up and making people happy, is a genuine joy – and one of the nicest things in the entirety of Moonglow Bay.
Moonglow Bay doesn’t feel ill thought out, it just feels like it could have perhaps benefited from a little more dev time. Many of its issues are technical and not necessarily due to poor design. I was often met with edges that broke nets, time that would stop suddenly for no reason, and boats that wouldn’t spawn. I was constantly worried about how serious the next issue would be.
This being said, there’s a lot to love among the mess. Although time is constantly moving forward in Moonglow Bay, when you cook or talk to new people, that time slows down and disappears from the screen. It focuses everything on you and time just stops. The game I played revolved around cooking in the kitchen and letting the world continue as I relaxed, though it also left the wider world in disrepair as an old man splattered tuna sashimi on the walls in a misclick.
Even though the journey itself is mired in technical issues and inconsistent quests, I still remember many of the villagers’ wishes and personalities. I still enjoyed sitting on that boat, cooking those meals and coming back home at the end of a late day. The journey was rocky and a little frustrating but, when I look back at what has been achieved, I feel proud.
While the lovely visuals, charming story and quaint moment to moment gameplay may keep you going, the many technical issues and inconsistent quest design will make you wonder if it’s really worth it.
- Great aesthetic
- Genuine charm
- Decent gameplay loop
- A lot of small bugs and glitches
- Some weak quests