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We’re in the golden era of farming simulators

Nintendo watered your crops

cows in a field of tall grass in Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life Image: Nintendo/Twitch
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

The role-playing, farm simulation community is thriving after Tuesday’s Nintendo Direct. The Nintendo Direct presentation featured four major games for the genre: Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, a remake of the GameCube classic; Fae Farm, a fairytale farmsteading game from Dauntless developer Phoenix Labs; Rune Factory 3 Special, a rework of the Nintendo DS game; and Harvestella, which combines farming and fighting.

Nintendo is making it absolutely clear that it’s time to leave the city and tend to our crops. The truth is, life simulation and farming games have been on the rise for quite some time — well before the likes of 2020’s smash hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Before we turned to tending-and-befriending in New Horizons as the pandemic separated us, people were enjoying the chill repetition of everyday farm life in Stardew Valley and others.

New Horizons’ popularity may be part of the life sim and farming boom, but it’s games like Story of Seasons and earlier Animal Crossing iterations that built the foundation. Stardew Valley built on that, and now we’re entering a new era — farming sims appear to be taking over once again, and the genre’s fans are thrilled.

Beyond Tuesday’s Nintendo Direct, we’re already living in the golden age of farming simulators. In 2022 alone, Immortal Life, a Chinese fantasy RPG inspired by Stardew Valley, Disney Dreamlight Valley, Rune Factory 5, Coral Island, and Ooblets.

As always, there are a lot of jokes on social media, and plenty of folks watching the Nintendo Direct on Tuesday had stuff to say about how all the farming simulators look the same. But I couldn’t disagree more — each of these games has a really interesting spin on the genre.

Fae Farm, for instance, looks a lot like it took inspiration from Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, but it’s blending online and local co-op in the fairytale magic world. Story of Seasons, on the other hand, is a classic that’s — yes — focused on farming, but puts a ton of emphasis on relationship building and family life. Harvestella probably stands out as the most unique of the bunch, blending farming with big flashy fights.

There’s always something to do in a farming simulator, and it’s easy to find satisfaction in even the smallest of tasks — not to mention the creativity in building out a bustling farm. I’m excited to see how these new titles continue to shake up the format.

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