While Overwatch may have won many Game of the Year awards in 2016, Stardew Valley is the game from that year that’s stood the test of time the best. The original Harvest Moon may have established the farming and life simulation genre, but Stardew Valley’s enthralling gameplay and immersive world ensured that it would be the modern standard that every subsequent game in its genre — even new Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons games — try to live up to.
That was particularly obvious during the latest Nintendo Direct Mini Partner Showcase, where Nintendo and its third-party partners showed off three games reminiscent of Stardew Valley. The game’s influence can be seen in countless indie games that have come out since 2016, and we’re starting to see more major companies take on this farming and life simulation genre. June 28’s Nintendo Direct Mini Partner Showcase affirms that Stardew Valley stands up there with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the most influential games of the last decade.
Why Stardew Valley succeeds
As a love letter to Harvest Moon almost entirely created by one person, Stardew Valley was a pleasant surprise when it launched on PC in 2016. It felt like the pinnacle of the life simulation genre as it constantly gave players farming, crafting, or relationship objectives to work toward. Not only were the farming elements very polished, but the game also had a very memorable cast of characters.
Players stick around in games of this genre for quite a while, so the townsfolk have to all be compelling characters that you want to constantly talk to, learn more about, and potentially marry. Every character in Stardew Valley has a strong backstory, believable dialogue, and memorable designs. The farming simulation elements of Stardew Valley are enjoyable and genre-defining, but its lovingly crafted world is what ensures you’d stick around.
While Stardew Valley got rave reviews at launch in February 2016, it never felt like appreciation for it fully sank that year. Most 2016 Game of the Year awards went to titles like Overwatch or Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Those were great games but not nearly as influential in the long run. As Stardew Valley came to more platforms, love for it grew, and developers took notice of all its fantastic ideas. As a result, we’re now seeing how influential this surprise indie darling turned out to be.
Nintendo Direct Mini factor
Just as many people noticed Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest Kickoff livestream had a lot of games that looked like Dead Space, this June 28 Nintendo Direct Mini Partner Showcase featured three games that are clearly inspired by Stardew Valley: Disney Dreamlight Valley, Harvestella, and Doraemon Story of Seasons: Friends of the Great Kingdom. Disney Dreamlight Valley from Gameloft and Disney seems to hone in on the memorable character aspect of Stardew Valley, as the game’s main hook will be interacting with iconic Disney characters. That said, there will be plenty of gardening, town-building, and character customization to engage with.
Meanwhile, Square Enix’s Harvestella will incorporate a Final Fantasy-like job system and more intense combat to stand out between more traditional seasons. Doraemon Story of Seasons: Friends of the Great Kingdom is a Story of Seasons spin-off where Marvelous will hopefully take key notes from Stardew Valley. Even outside of this Nintendo Direct, other upcoming games featured in this summer’s showcases like Roots of Patcha and Lightyear Frontier build upon the modern farming and life simulation formula cemented by Stardew Valley.
This all demonstrates how the farming hits’ overwhelming influence is extremely evident, not just in the indie game scene but in more notable titles as well. Harvestella and Disney Dreamlight Valley, in particular, prove that the concepts put forth in Stardew Valley have penetrated the minds of multimillion-dollar companies like Square Enix and Dinsey. Few games manage to have that widespread of an impact.
It’s also worth noting that farming and life simulation series like Story of Seasons, Harvest Moon, and Rune Factory that predate Stardew Valley have incorporated elements from it in their latest titles.
Nothing has been quite able to reach Stardew Valley’s greatness, but it still demonstrates just how masterful that game’s take on the genre really is and how it is now an influential genre leader. Like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild did for open-world games, Stardew Valley set a standard that games within its genre will forever have to meet. It hasn’t quite gotten its Elden Like-like follow-up yet, but the Nintendo Direct Mini Partner Showcase showed that certainly isn’t for lack of trying.
Stardew Valley might have been acclaimed, if a bit niche, when it was first released. Nowadays though, there’s no denying it’s a bonafide classic and one of the most influential games of the last decade.
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