The last major free update for “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” rolled out early, landing Thursday and adding a slew of new features. Farming is now part of the franchise for the first time in its decades-long history, taking a page from the wildly successful indie hit “Stardew Valley,” a farming sim with roots in the original “Harvest Moon” for SNES. The game surpassed 15 million sales in September, launching its first esports tournament that same month with a prize pool of $40,000.
“Stardew Valley’s” straightforward controls, laid-back gameplay and availability across a wide array of platforms made the title an entry point for many players into the farming sim genre. “Haunted Chocolatier,” the next game from “Stardew Valley" creator, Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone, doesn’t have a release date yet, but in the meantime, if you’re looking to play some farming sims with vibes and mechanics similar to “Stardew Valley,” check out our list of recommendations below.
The Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series
Before it grew into the game we know today, “Stardew Valley” started as a clone of “Harvest Moon,” Barone has said. The Harvest Moon series established the road map for the farming sim genre that’s still used today: Inheriting a rundown farm, moving to a small town in the countryside, building relationships with your neighbors, working to return a community to its former glory — these are all tropes cemented by Harvest Moon games throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s.
There’s a weedsy explanation involving trademarks for why the original team behind Harvest Moon later rebranded the series as Story of Seasons. But in short, if you like “Stardew Valley” and the Harvest Moon games that inspired it, or are simply excited about the new Animal Crossing update bringing farming to the game, check out Story of Seasons. “Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town” and “Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town,” a remake of a cult classic Harvest Moon game for the Gameboy Advance, are available on the Switch. If you’re willing to dust off an old 3DS, “Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns” and the original “Story of Seasons” are worth your time too. Anything released under the Harvest Moon banner from 2014 onward is a completely different series with zero ties to Story of Seasons or the team that created the original Harvest Moon games. Yes, this has caused a lot of confusion.
The Rune Factory series
Imagine a cross between a farming sim and “Monster Hunter,” and you’ve got a good idea of the Rune Factory series. It’s a spinoff of the aforementioned Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons franchise that incorporates dungeon-crawling and fighting monsters. If you spend as much time exploring the mines as you do cultivating your farm in “Stardew Valley,” then Rune Factory should be on your radar.
The farming mechanics remain the same, though they take a back seat to combat, and players battle and befriend monsters to harvest resources instead of raising cows, sheep and other farm animals. Rune Factory also looks different from its predecessors, its art style and character designs borrowing heavily from anime and Japanese role-playing games. “Rune Factory 4 Special” (an enhanced version of the franchise’s 3DS entry) is available on Switch, PlayStation 4, PC and Xbox One, and “Rune Factory 5” is scheduled to make its North American debut March 22.
‘My Time at Portia’
“My Time at Portia” isn’t the most polished game on this list, but it is one of the best looking. Its pastoral art style seems plucked from a Ghibli movie. You’re still revitalizing a rundown farm, but there’s a twist: It’s set in a post-apocalyptic land where people have begun to rebuild in the ruins left by a society much more advanced than their own.
Exploring and resource-gathering make up the core gameplay loops of “My Time at Portia.” Crafting, a mechanic added to the Animal Crossing series with “New Horizons," takes up the bulk of your time as you need generators and other machinery to process the game’s wide array of resources. Thankfully, your tools don’t break. Players can still farm and raise livestock, but these systems mostly serve to supplement income otherwise earned by battling monsters and completing quests for villagers. And there are plenty of options to customize your home and character just like in “Stardew Valley.” You can play “My Time at Portia” on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch. It’s also available on mobile for both iOS and Android.
‘Summer in Mara’
Like “New Horizons,” “Summer in Mara” takes place on an island you can transform into your personal paradise. Players grow crops, raise farm animals and complete quests to help rebuild the town of Mara while exploring a vibrant, tropical archipelago. While your island farm serves as your home base, you also have a boat to sail on the open ocean to about 20 other islands.
The story and characters are charming, if a bit one-dimensional, and its long list of fetch quests has you zigzagging across the gorgeous scenery. Thankfully, developer Chibig has added a few heavily requested quality of life updates since “Summer of Mara” launched in 2020 — most notably a fast-travel system and additional crafting areas that make gameplay feel like less of a slog. You can get it on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.
“Sun Haven” gives Harvest Moon the fantasy JRPG treatment, setting the “inheriting a rundown farm” trope against a background of magic, demons and other JRPG elements. In this same vein, players can play as seven mythical races and explore three worlds — a countryside human town, an elven village hidden among the trees and a bustling urban center that’s home to monsters.
“Sun Haven" harks back to its JRPG roots with a cast of fleshed out characters and compelling storytelling, making it an easy recommendation for “Stardew Valley” fans who favor the game’s relationship-building aspects. Both its solo and multiplayer modes are available in early access on Steam.
“Staxel” sets itself apart by adding a healthy dose of “Minecraft” to the farming sim formula. Like in “Minecraft,” its voxel-based art style allows for near-infinite customizability, giving players complete freedom over how they want to shape the world. As you cultivate your farm by growing food and raising livestock, you can demolish and construct entire structures and design your estate to a much greater extent than in “Stardew Valley” or Harvest Moon. And compared to the terraforming in “New Horizons,” “Staxel’s" streamlined world-building systems don’t cause nearly as many headaches.
It suffers from a thin story and one-note characters, but, as with most sandbox games, it gives players plenty of tools to build out their own adventures in either solo mode or co-op. You can grab “Staxel” on PC and Switch.
By syncing resource management mechanics to real-world time, “Cozy Grove” feels like an homage to both the Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing series. You play as the afterlife equivalent of a Boy Scout, sent to camp out on a haunted island and help the local spirits to earn merit badges. Your ghostly island neighbors are all anthropomorphic animals, similar to the villagers in Animal Crossing.
There’s only so many good deeds you can do for them in a day, though. In that way, it’s similar to an idle game you might play on your phone. “Cozy Grove’s” campaign takes roughly 40 hours to complete, but there’s only about an hours’ worth of new quests available every day. As far as cozy games go, this one’s a marathon, not a sprint.
What makes this gameplay loop so addictive and satisfying is its visuals. Everything fades into a muted sepia over time, so each day you must complete quests to restore color to your island. It’s satisfying to watch the effects of your actions return a vibrant landscape to life in real-time. “Cozy Grove” is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch and iOS.
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