Captain’s log: Day 6 with Seabeard. Exhaustion sets in. What began as a hopeful, energetic adventure rebuilding my grandfather’s once-idyllic island has devolved into a never-ending grind towards an uncertain future. My “mentor,” Rufus Taleweaver, seems to be sending me on wild goose chases while the rest of the villagers provide little help beyond unsolicited fashion advice.
I was promised a ready crew, but have been accompanied by one lone angler this entire time. Her arms are bruised and sore from our non-stop fishing expeditions, as fish are the only certainty in this bizarre archipelago. That, and the incessant ticking of the clock.
It’s easy to be drawn in by Seabeard’s potential. When you first step foot on the abandoned island city of Accordia, the initial sensation is hope. Its plots overrun with boulders and tree roots are merely small hurdles you will traverse in no time. The uninhabitable remains of demolished buildings are the sturdy bones of your future. When Rufus implores you to “restore Accordia to its former glory and reunite the people of this great land,” there’s no reason to think you can’t do it. In my first night on the island, I removed a troublesome root, relieved a ranger of problematic foxes, attracted a fishmonger to town, and hired an accomplished angler onto my crew. Everything was coming up Milhouse.
This initial start is a rush. I began playing at night, and my character traipsed through the real-time darkness with only a lantern to illuminate the scuttling crabs and raccoons before her. NPCs I had not met yet cheerfully waved as I drew closer, and their expressive faces changed from worried to elated while speaking. Quests were doled out consistently and my pockets bulged with gold. Shops were stocked with a variety of furniture I imagined adorning my future home. Fruit trees and berry bushes called out to my Animal Crossing fanself, begging to be shaken and yanked.
Everything in Seabeard is gorgeously polished and charmingly detailed, from those trees to the character relationships you’ll uncover through conversations. It’s a living, breathing world with so much loving thought put into it that it’s impossible to not fall in love at first sight.
But the honeymoon with Seabeard is short-lived. After the rapid-fire advancement from introduction to angler, progress soon tapers off. Even with six initial islands to explore, you’ll exhaust your gameplay options quickly.
Your overarching goal is to rebuild the home island of Accordia. But in pursuit of this, you’ll need to invest a lot of time and—even more—money. Unfortunately, the early stages of Seabeard are unbalanced in their expense to reward ratio. The second story mission after recruiting an angler is to find a warrior, which will allow you to explore dungeons and slay monsters. However, the requirements for recruiting the warrior are needlessly roundabout and often unrelated, such as building a “Swap Shop” where you can resell clothing and furniture to (non-existent) tourists. Buildings often cost upwards of 1,000 gold or more even in the early game, while quests—even significant, “Swap Shop” level quests—only award an average of 20 gold, if they award any at all.
The result is a lot of money-grinding to build things you may not even care about. And at such an early stage, you have few money-making options at your disposal. The only viable income is through fishing, which awards between 20 to 40 gold per fish. Your fishmonger stall can only hold two fish at a time (unless you upgrade with the premium currency), so to have any sort of recurring income you’ll need to check back every 10-20 minutes to collect your gold and then restock. This means a lot of fishing, a lot of fish-selling, and really little else.
This might not be so frustrating if Seabeard offered enough gameplay to keep you occupied while waiting on your fishcome, but the available activities are sparse and exhausted quickly. Foraging for other items—like apples and driftwood—is one option, but these only appear every 12 hours and inventory space is painfully limited. Completing quests for villagers is another, but quests appear randomly and repeat frequently—and are often something you won’t want to do, like “buy a new clothing item” while trying to save up for your next construction project.
The third gameplay activity is the sailing mini-game that can be played while traveling between islands. This is tied to the only energy mechanic in Seabeard, which allows you to play up to four times before a (20 minute) refresh. If you want to travel without using energy, you can bypass the mini-game for free, which generously lets you island-hop endlessly without worrying about energy timers.
While the mini-games are a nice diversion at first with a variety of challenges, such as target-shooting and racing, it’s easy to get worn out on these. For one, they’re ridiculously strict about what qualifies as “winning,” requiring 100% accuracy at every difficulty. Their rewards for anything below first place are pitiful: five gold for bronze and a whopping eight gold for silver. And their first place rewards are limited but randomized, so if you’re hunting for something in particular, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it even if you win every time.
This randomization is another sticking point that can turn entire days into progression-less waiting sessions. For example, on my current leg of the never-ending warrior journey, I need to complete a “smuggling quest.” This is a specific type of mini-game given out by a certain character. However, since quests are random, I’ve gone three days without a smuggling quest and have instead received entirely unrelated requests from that character, leaving me helplessly stuck.
This happens frequently, from the vegetable garden not spawning the veggies you need or the elusive nighttime “stonefish” not appearing near any island. You’re so stymied by the game’s whims that luck itself becomes another timer attached to your sloggy progression.
You can, of course, buy your way out of some of these issues with premium currency. Pearls are used to speed up building and crafting time, replace items you have not collected, upgrade inventory and shop size, and so on. But the game is so stingy about handing out pearls that you would need to use real cash to make even one noticeable upgrade. The inventory is the worst offender, providing only 20 slots for items in a game that is primarily about item-collecting, but there are dozens of areas in need of expansion to make the game feel like more than a beautiful stopwatch.
Seabeard is actually a perfect foil for Castaway Paradise: the latter suffers from a lack of polish and an over-emphasis on its available purchases, although those purchases are completely unnecessary. One of its greatest strengths was offering constant gameplay activities alongside its timers: there was always something to do, some progress you could make. Seabeard, on the other hand, has nearly flawless technical gameplay with brilliant mechanics—like quick-travel within the islands themselves—and breathtaking worlds. Its premium purchases are never shoved in your face, but their ever-looming need is desperately felt. And it’s so lacking in gameplay and player control that it often straddles the line between game and chore.
The most aggravating thing of all is I want to make progress in Seabeard. I want to rebuild Accordia. I want to explore other islands and see the rest of this charming world that developer Hand Circus has created. It’s possible that there’s more here, just beyond the next construction, there will be a spectacular change and everything will open up. But after six long days, it hasn’t happened. I’m still just fishing, and selling fish, and waiting.