Note: apologies for the iPhone photos of my TV screen.
Deserted Island is one of the many free PS1 archive games you get if you sign up for Japanese Playstation Plus. It is available to buy for about 600 yen should you not be a Plus member.
Deserted Island is a game about exploration. You pick an explorer from the UK, America, Europe or Japan and are dumped on an island in the middle of the ocean. Your goal (from what I can tell) is to stay on the island for as long as possible, catalogue as many species of creatures as you can and bring back as much treasure as you can find.
You take a crew to the island with you and a base camp is immediately established. As you explore the status of the explorers changes forcing you to rest and eat. At least, I selected a menu option and there was a picture of a camp fire and some time passed and the meters that had been increasing on each character dropped back down to normal levels. There is a lot of kanji (I can only read kana so far) and a lot of menu options. While poking around I found a menu that let me assign new points to the stats of each man and dog and I also managed to end the game. After only a small jaunt round the island I elected to return home and present my creature log and treasures to the government. I got a very low score as I barely discovered anything. There may be a story hidden somewhere in this game but it appears to be more of a systemic survival/collection game.
As you explore the island in first person you’ll come across different creatures and approaching them will catalogue them. The animals all seem to be alien and patrol different parts of the island. They often give off distinctive noises and sometimes appear on your mini map. You will also collect diamonds and catalogue some specific plants.
Being a PS1 game Deserted Island never manages to evoke the atmosphere of exploring a jungle but as an abstraction it is certainly entertaining to discover the denizens of the island. It is especially interesting to look at it through the lens of the surge of modern survival games and see how the genre has grown. It does have a convincing (for the time) day and night cycle which moves from blue skies and intense greens into a vibrant orange dusk and eventually into a grim and foreboding night.
Night appears to be when things get dangerous. Wolves howl all around and the strangest monster I’d encountered appeared. A spinning blue sphere emerged from the trees and murdered me, causing another game over. Until this point the creatures hadn’t inflicted damage but this nocturnal terror sapped me of all my health immediately.
Despite the lo-fi nature of the visuals and the large amounts of Japanese, a non-native speaker can bumble their way through the game and discover a rather enjoyable explore-em-up. There is a difficulty to the game at first as you figure out the systems (is there a way to avoid death at night?) but the island is massive and provides lots of moments of small wonder. I love PS1 visuals more than a lot of things and Deserted Island provides an expansive world full of sprite trees, awesome audio and low poly jungle basins. If you have a Japanese PSN account or are into emulation, I highly recommend it.