Thanks to games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, farming and life-simulation games are back in fashion. They’ve also dominated September, as Disney Dreamlight Valley launched earlier this month and games like Harvestella, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, Fae Farm, Rune Factory 3 Special, and a brand new Rune Factory title all got segments in the latest Nintendo Direct. Harvestella even got a demo after the September 13 Nintendo Direct — one I immediately downloaded to get my farm on early.
Getting into it though, I found that Harvestella already has a problem I’ve noticed in many titles that are part of the genre boom, including Disney Dreamlight Valley: they don’t get to the farming fast enough, damnit!
While that might seem obvious, recent games in the genre have had long-winded opening before the player has any farming tools in hand. As players come to these games for the farming and simulation elements, developers looking to join in on the trend may want to take some pacing cues from games like Stardew Valley by trimming down their front-heavy lore drops and getting players to the fields sooner.
Let’s jump into it
Part of the beauty of Stardew Valley is how quickly it immerses the player in the game’s core concepts. The indie hit lets players loose to farm or build within 10 minutes before slowly expanding systems outwards and letting players get more invested in the game’s world and story. You’ll know whether or not you’ll like Stardew Valley within 10 minutes of playing, and will already have crops that give you a reason to stick around if you do like it.
In both Harvestella and Disney Dreamlight Valley, it takes at least 30 minutes for any farming elements to be introduced, and even longer before players can get caught up in the gameplay loop of tending to their crops or customizing their home as the game intends. I was eager to try Disney Dreamlight Valley via Xbox Game Pass when it released earlier this month. After getting hit with an immediate exposition dump followed by slowly paced tutorials and a weapon-collecting quest, I got bored with it and dropped out just as it was opening up for me toward the end of the first hour. It didn’t entice me and I had other things to do and games to play.
Shortly after, I checked Harvestella’s demo out after it dropped during the September 13 Nintendo Direct. I expect I’ll end up playing more when it launches, as I’m intrigued by its world and mix of action RPG and fantasy sim. That said, I found myself trudging through the demo as I had to deal with lots of exposition and simple “walk to” objective gameplay before I could actually get to any farming or RPG elements. While I’m glad I didn’t stop playing the demo, I almost did due to the glacial pacing.
I wish Harvestella had more quickly gotten me into its gameplay loop before then dumping its intriguing lore on me. That’s not to say the story isn’t important in these kinds of games. Some of the most memorable parts of Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing: New Horizons are getting to know the residents that you live alongside. The sim elements are what draws the most players in, as well as what will get them into a routine that they can get hooked on.
Devoting over 30 minutes to an hour of extra playtime in a game that can last dozens of hours may seem like arguing over semantics, but the first few moments of the game can make or break an experience. And when you’re in a genre with so much competition these days, players can easily move on to something equally as interesting if they aren’t immediately hooked. The best simulation experiences cut the fluff, get players right into the action, and save the deeper elements for later. Future farming and life simulations game should take note if they want to potentially take off as Stardew Valley did.