Game Review: How Stardew Valley compares to Harvest Moon

Hearing that there’s a great game about virtual farming might bring you back to the days when Farmville was all the rage on Facebook, but you’d be making the wrong association. Stardew Valley, a video game developed by Concerned Ape currently available on Steam and the Nintendo Switch, has you live an entire life to make your way through its story, getting you to form connections to the characters you meet, and to the town you’re saving via your farm.

Yes, you still grow virtual fruits and vegetables and raise pixel-based animals, but with much more involved gameplay, and hundreds of goals and tasks to achieve and master, you’ll find comparisons to Animal Crossing and Rune Factory far more accurate.

Stardew Valley places you in a rich world with a lot to do, and a lot to achieve. What makes the game unbelievably addicting is how necessary completing its objectives are, because you’re emotionally connected to everything.

I heard about Stardew because someone in a forum compared it to my absolute favorite video game franchise, Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon games span decades and consoles, but all have roughly the same premise—somehow, you obtain a farm, and now you are tasked with making it a financial success. In the process, you help revitalize the area your farm is in, and befriend the locals, eventually being able to marry one of them and raise a family. Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town was the first game I ever played that made me lose track of time (I played 8 hours the first day I owned it without noticing), so when this person said on a forum that Stardew was “like Harvest Moon but better,” I immediately took notice.

Could a single game really be superior to an entire, excellent franchise? Granted, it was a franchise that hadn’t produced a game I had personally adored in some time, but the older ones I’d been replaying for a decade. I doubted Stardew could really be superior, but, intrigued, set out to find out for certain.

My first impressions of the game confirmed my initial biases. First, Stardew’s entire plot was nearly identical to Friends of Mineral Town, and More Friends of Mineral Town, my favorite Harvest Moon games—the playable character’s grandfather died and left them his farm, which the playable character abandoned city life to repair.

There were more villagers in Stardew, but you befriended them with gifts the way you did in Harvest Moon, and the in-game shops had the same functions and stocks.

There were mines to explore, and magic to discover and utilize in both games.

The game mechanics were similar. So similar it would actually be frustrating when button shortcuts, or crop knowledge, or shop schedules I’d memorized from Harvest Moon games didn’t work or was accessed differently in Stardew. This is the first time being good at one video game made me worse at another, and it was making me want to abandon the game entirely for one I already knew. But I stuck with it, determined to play a season (28 game days, same as in Harvest Moon) to see if anything would surprise me, and make me change my assessment.

I’m glad I stuck it out, because I very much did change my view. The more I played Stardew, the more familiar I became with its particular idiosyncrasies, and it got a lot easier to see what made it different from Harvest Moon, and appreciate how these differences were often improvements.

Stardew’s animation is a lot smoother, and you can move in more directions, as well as through and around more objects than you can in most Harvest Moon games. Stardew’s larger cast is more detailed, with relationships counting for more in gameplay, and their interests and dialogue more developed and compelling.

The map in Stardew is bigger, including those for the mines, and mining in general is way more fun, as you have monsters to slay as well as ladders and minerals to find. It’s amazing to be able to craft things like sprinklers to save yourself time, and it’s also amazing that having sprinklers makes farm planning more important than it is in many Harvest Moon games.

Stardew Valley is simply one of the most complex simulation and roleplaying games I’ve come across, forcing you to strategize, but allowing you to decide on your own goals and pacing. There are multiple paths to follow, multiple choices to make that influence your play through. Yet the overall tone is one of relaxation and ease—except, perhaps, when you play the fishing minigame, which is almost impossible.

In every other way though, I see why that forum commenter compared Stardew to Harvest Moon. The games share a depth, heart, and love for the towns they create, and the characters that populate them. It’s a sense of warmth that makes you want to keep playing, and stay in those worlds forever. Stardew just ups the ante with better gameplay, and more goals to accomplish. So I lose track of time faster than I did with Harvest Moon, and I suspect that will be the case for a good long time. I sincerely hope you give Stardew Valley a try if you’re looking for something fun and relaxing to do; there is no way you won’t enjoy it.

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