In the time since Stardew Valley was originally released, I have played it into the ground. I've reached year 10 in my first save, pushed myself to complete the community center upgrades in a single year for my second save, and supported Jojamart just to give myself an excuse for a third save. Like many others, I was obsessed with Stardew Valley for bringing the casual farm and life sim genre to PC where I thought it was destined never to take root. Over a year later, the madness has settled but I’m still craving other games in the same vein.
Although the casual farm sim genre itself is still sparse, there are other games out there that, while focused a bit less on farming and charming, can still keep you awake for "just one more day."
Only a few PC games follow the Harvest Moon formula as closely as Stardew Valley, and most of them are of questionable quality. World’s Dawn is the exception. It is a bit rougher around the edges than Stardew, but all the same charm is there. You can befriend and marry villagers, grow and sell crops, fish, attend festivals, and bring prosperity back to a stagnating village.
World’s Dawn is more about coloring inside the lines than forging your own path. Your farming plots are predetermined and you won’t be constructing additional buildings on your property. That being said, there are plenty of clothing options, home décor, and cooking recipes. Despite the outdated 4:3 aspect ratio and initially confusing menus, World’s Dawn is full of cute characters that make putting up with a few petty complaints more than worth it. If you want to play the same game in a slightly different flavor, this is the best choice.
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
Recettear is, if not a cult classic, definitely a deep cut selection. It was released in 2010—the first Japanese indie game ever on Steam, in fact—and is showing its age, but maintains a very positive player review score on Steam. Recettear is the story of Recette and Tear, circumstantial partners in a brand new item shop for local adventurers. While there’s no farming in Recettear, it shares the dungeon-diving and profit-mongering that I enjoyed in Stardew.
You split your time between organizing your shop, bartering with customers, and accompanying your adventurer friends into dungeons to acquire new loot for your storefront. It reinforces the same daily schedule and time management that makes Stardew tough to put down. The even split between hack-n-slash gameplay and store management makes it easy to pay more attention to the in-game clock than your out of game one. Capitalism-ho!
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is everything and nothing like Stardew Valley. It is not a heartwarming tale about the power of friendship and hard work. It’s the opaque, depressing story of a sentient trash incinerator on a spaceport where trash robots get picked on and can barely afford to pay their electric bills. It may have nothing to do with farming, but it has everything to do with learning your way around a new town, picking out familiar faces, buying and selling goods to keep a roof over your head, and performing the same actions over and over until you collapse.
If you ever got lost looking for an NPC in Pelican Town, the spaceport is going to drive you up the neon-colored walls. If you insisted on completing every achievement in Stardew Valley, you’ll keep playing Spaceport Janitor even after you’ve gotten lost five days in a row and ripped your hair out. It’s weird and confusing at times, but satisfies the same compulsion that always keeps me playing Stardew until the unmentionable hours of the morning.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles
If you thought Stardew Valley was relaxing, wait until you try Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. Yonder takes place on an island plagued by something called murk. It is your job to push back the murk by collecting Sprites to open up additional areas of the map and thereby more Sprites and so on. In the meantime, you’ll be able to accept quests from the locals, engage in some light crafting, and begin your own small farm.
Your primary objectives in Yonder are exploring the island and collecting materials. There are no puzzles. There is no combat. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it certainly sets the tone for the game. Yonder is a happy little experience that won’t try to tax you. Unlike Stardew Valley and other casual sim games, Yonder doesn’t ask you to manage your time, just spend it.
Moonlighter isn’t out yet, but from , it will expand upon a lot of the gameplay so many people enjoyed in Recettear. It’s due for release early in 2018, so you won’t have too terribly long to wait, and there's already a beta out there for Kickstarter backers.
Will, Moonlighter's star shopkeeper and wannabe hero, barters with customers by day and battles with monsters by night. Like Recettear, Moonlighter appears to be one part roguelike and one part management game. You’ll dive into the dungeons outside town to scavenge wares for your shop, and upon returning, attempt to determine through trial, error, and luck what those items are actually worth. Moonlighter will feature an overarching story to carry you through the game, though we don’t know much about the story itself. With only a few months left to wait, Moonlighter should be out in time for you to pick up after losing yourself in some other options on the list.
Farming Valley: Minecraft Modpack
Farming Valley is an impressively thorough modpack that turns Minecraft into a farming simulator. Guided by the Farming Goddess, you’ll recruit NPCs to build a town from the ground up. Just like in Stardew, you’ll plant different crops based on the season, spend large parts of your day watering them until you acquire sprinklers, and sell your goods through a shipment box.
The best part of Farming Valley is that it doesn’t feel like a theme thinly veiling the Minecraft mechanics you already know. To progress in the modpack, you’ll spend your time trading and farming, not amassing long lists of crafting materials like you would in other modpacks. It’s a real testament to the power of Minecraft mods to create an entirely new experience when properly harnessed. If you have a copy of Minecraft already, Farming Valley is a great way to get the Stardew Valley vibe back without buying into an entirely new game.
Ooblets is expected sometime in 2018, but everything we've seen so far suggests it'll be worth the wait. Ooblets takes nods from Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing and Pokemon: part life sim, part farming sim, with lots of goofy dancing. That kitchen sink approach includes growing your own plant creatures and decorating your house with a disco ball. You’ll grow your own Ooblets and pit them in battles against other Ooblet trainers. You’ll sell all your crops and other junk in your own little shop. You’ll sport different outfits and decorate your house to your liking.
Above all other things, Ooblets is keenly aware of its own silliness, which feels like a good addition to a genre that is so often the epitome of sincerity. It’s too early to know if Ooblets will successfully get you in a play-all-night kind of groove, but it’s safe to say you’ll want to keep an eye on it.
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