Our Favourite Farming Sims (Fall 2023 Edition)

Our Favourite Farming Sims (Fall 2023 Edition)

The pumpkin spice invasion has begun, meaning that fall has arrived, and our favourite farming sims beckon with promises of virtual harvests.

Farming sims have seen a huge surge in popularity over the past decade. It’s never been easier to let chores in our own homes slide in favor of toiling on a digital farmstead thanks to the bevy of great games released in the genre yearly. Elements of them are even bleeding into vastly different games, like the Island Sanctuary mode in Final Fantasy XIV, and it’s starting to feel like every big all-ages franchise is dipping a toe into these waters, like Disney and Sanrio.

For the uninitiated, farming sims can be a pretty diverse category. Many revolve heavily around literal farming (up to and including the literal Farming Simulator series), while also focusing on some form of item crafting. There’s a lot of cross-over with life sims, as the player’s avatar can forge social connections with villager NPCs—often with the ability to romance certain characters and start a family. More than most others, it feels like this genre has looser definitions and broader horizons.

As autumn heralds the return of cozy season, here are our favorite farming sims to curl up with.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Gets A Second Life 1

5) Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Before it received actual farming elements a year and a half after its launch, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was already championed as one of the best farming sims of its age. Originally, it was more of a light take on the genre, with all the daily routines and NPC interactions one might expect but with a bigger focus on building up the island community and customizing one’s own home.

In a twist from its predecessors’ format, New Horizons incorporated a robust crafting system that brought the Animal Crossing franchise closer to the farming side of the sim genre. Instead of simply buying and trading furniture items, players could make and customize them as well, bringing a sense of agency. This amplified after the 2.0 update added crops and cooking into the mix.

With over 42 million copies sold, there’s no question that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the most commercially successful farming sim to date. It also become a cultural phenomenon in itself, drawing in vast swathes of new players to the series and the Nintendo Switch. The real-time approach sets it apart as well, for better or worse—unless you alter the time on your system, being tied to your actual time zone dispels the “one more turn” compulsion that powers most of the games on this list.

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4) Rune Factory 4 Special

Where Animal Crossing leans into the social aspects of the genre, Rune Factory 4 Special leans hard into the dungeoneering elements seen in other farming sims. It’s hard to choose one title above the rest in this series, but Rune Factory 4 Special narrowly won the honour on behalf of its siblings.

Starting out as a spinoff to the Harvest Moon series, Rune Factory was a mainstay on the Nintendo DS until branching out to the 3DS with its fourth entry. Players get to do all the usual chores, but there’s a bigger focus on the RPG-like character development and battles. Don’t settle for just marrying a neighbor—befriend monsters while you’re at it. Where Rune Factory 4 differs from others in the series is its bigger focus on romance, which brings it closer in-line to other farming sims.

Marvelous and Xseed have been showing this series plenty of love as of late, with plenty of “special” updates on Nintendo Switch. If you want a little more RPG in your farming sims, Rune Factory 4 Special has you covered with even more content than the original (and, of course, easier access than tracking down a 3DS copy).

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3) Fae Farm

The latest addition to the genre has immediately skyrocketed up our list of favorite farming sims: Fae Farm, from Canadian studio Phoenix Labs. From early previews through the final review, it has lived rent-free in the mind of our executive editor Dayna Eileen, and for good reason.

In a field that often risks getting stale or repetitive, Fae Farm sets itself apart from the rest with a more whimsical, magical tone. It starts with its unique player models (that “look like Fisher Price Little People”) and storybook feel, and extends right down into the wings and wands unlocked later on.

Despite some occasional gripes with controls, Fae Farm implements a lot of quality-of-life features that fans have hoped to see become standards for farming sims: pulling ingredients from storage automatically while crafting, auto-selecting tools based on the context, and so on. Along the way it checks all the expected boxes, and does so with a charm that feels truly unique, making it one of the most fresh and original in its field in a long, long time.

Story Of Seasons: Friends Of Mineral Town Review 3

2) Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town

The quintessential franchise of farming sims is Harvest Moon—or at least, the multiple series that have been known as Harvest Moon over the years. It’s a convoluted tale, but suffice to say, games under the Harvest Moon banner pioneered the genre; they walked so our top choice could run. Of the series, two games that released in 2003 make a strong case, but it’s the former handheld entry (or rather, its port) that takes second place.

Originally released on the Game Boy Advance as Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, then re-released for modern consoles a few years back under the Story of Seasons umbrella, this classic was a foundational work for farming sims. It codified many conventions, improved upon the handful of games that preceded it in its franchise, and easily consumes player’s time with its simple yet deceptively engrossing system.

The re-release easily ascends past most of the offerings in this field thanks to a bevy of updates. Players can now choose from four avatar options (including the female options from the alternate GBA version, More Friends of Mineral Town) and marry any of the potential suitors regardless of gender. There are more animals and crops, new and revamped characters, more pet options, improved inventory and save slots, and more. While it could have gone a little farther with bonus content and improvements, the remake is a must-play for farming sim fans of any kind.

Our Favourite Farming Sims (Fall 2023 Edition)

1) Stardew Valley

It’s fitting, then, that former citizens of Mineral Town take the farming sim crown. Stardew Valley has been an indie sensation since it launched in 2017, with developer Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone using the Harvest Moon series as a game design case study of sorts. While Friends of Mineral Town has never achieved the same commercial success, Stardew Valley has become the eponymous poster child for the category.

Everything that its inspiration does, Stardew does as well or better. What seems like a chore simulator soon draws you into a very deep mine of content, in which you’re likely to lose track of time. You have greater control over your farm and community, while still enjoying a diverse cast of compelling neighbors.

Harvest Moon may have laid the foundation, and Animal Crossing may have the bigger commercial showing, but Stardew Valley (with over 20 million copies sold) has been the most successful farming sim overall—with a clarity of vision, the most comprehensive set of features, and a strong community presence.

Like the variety of crops across these five exemplary games, there are plenty of options to scratch your particular itch for farming sims. There’s something very zen or calming about losing yourself in these digital fields, so yank up one of these veggies for the soul next time you need something cozy, and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

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