Stardew Valley changed the world. Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon have been around for decades, but ConcernedApe’s indie farming sim defined the magic of a rural life away from the hustle and bustle of the city like nothing else had before. It sold millions of copies and embraced a community of modders who continue to broaden its horizons, while also influencing a new generation of studios eager to build on its wholesome vibes.
Farming sims where you grow crops, fall in love, and stake your claim on new homesteads are everywhere in the modern era, with the genre long becoming saturated with familiar gameplay systems and a casual malaise where we are expected to let our worries melt away. But when dozens of these experiences are being developed with the exact same conceit, that appeal ceases to be. Fae Farm, My Time At Sandrock, Harvestella, and Dreamlight Valley all seem like competent games in their own right, but are all too familiar.
Yesterday’s Nintendo Direct was filled with titles that exude the very same atmosphere, all while sporting gameplay mechanics that after so much iteration have grown derivative. The daily routine of tending to our farm before popping into town to build relationships has been established for years, and all of these games are trying to build upon it without ever doing enough to stand out. I was rolling my eyes as farm after farm was thrust into my face even if some of these games might excite me on their own. But there are way too many.
Harvestella has a striking aesthetic and ties in the usual routine from Stardew Valley with a strange apocalyptic twist. It seems that the relationships we build and all the resources we grow will fold into the coming disaster, and the narrative will change depending on how much we’ve managed to prepare in a strict space of time. That’s a cool idea, but on the surface it is little more than a farming sim we’ve seen so many times before. Games like Fae Farm and Hokko Life have way less going for them, and are less exciting because it’s impossible not to compare it to everything that came before. It just isn’t that appealing to me anymore.
The once wholesome draw of Stardew Valley has morphed into something cynical, as if the wider industry is now keenly aware of how we want to escape from reality and bask in lovable characters and rural fantasy far away from life’s bullshit. We know how these games play, we know the atmosphere they’re trying to achieve, and there’s only so many of them we can stomach before everything feels the same. Wholesomeness has become a tool to be taken advantage of instead of an actual sign of passion and creativity, which really sucks.
Not to mention that they all require a fairly decent time investment too, even more so if you want to build relationships and see everything they have to offer. We have reached a farming sim singularity and we need to give it a rest. Haunted Chocolatier I’m ready for, but largely because it steps away from what Stardew Valley achieved and actively wants to pursue a new direction. When that takes over the world will we come to see a bunch of games based on spooky sweet shops? I sure hope not, but at least it will give the farms a rest for a while.
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