Stardew Valley turned the gaming community upside down when it was released in 2016, especially the farming sim community. According to the game's press page, the indie hit has sold over 20 million copies since it was released - that widespread success changed things for indie developers and games in general, but it also changed things in its genre.
The farming simulator genre had been around and thriving for decades before Stardew Valley was released. The creator of the indie hit, Eric Barone, has said on multiple occasions that his game was based on the love he had for the original Harvest Moon games. While it’s clear that Harvest Moon impacted Stardew Valley from Barone’s comments, what’s not so clear is the possible impact of Stardew Valley on Harvest Moon. Considering the sheer number of sales, it would make sense for the older series to take notes from the indie newcomer.
When discussing the original Harvest Moon games, it’s important to note that the games are now called Story of Seasons. There are still games being made under the Harvest Moon name, but the original developer, Marvelous, is releasing under the Story of Seasons name. Therefore, in order to compare the series of games that inspired Barone and Stardew Valley specifically, it’s important to look at older Harvest Moon titles but Story of Seasons titles once they enter the scene in 2014. There are a few ways that the Story of Seasons franchise has seemingly changed since Stardew Valley.
The Impact of Stardew Valley on Inclusivity in Story of Seasons
Stardew Valley brought some new things to the farming simulator genre that Story of Seasons seemingly adapted to its own games. Most of these have to do with letting the player customize who they are from gender identity to sexual orientation. Stardew Valley has no limits on who a player can marry, besides the fact that they have to be a bachelor/bachelorette. This was unprecedented as past Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons games didn’t include this.
The closest thing the series had ever had was in Harvest Moon DS: Cute, which had a “best friend” system. The female playable character was able to become “best friends” with certain females and move in together, starting a family in the same way that the player could with male characters.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, which came out five years after Stardew Valley's launch, opened up marriage between any of the marriage candidates, regardless of their gender or the player’s gender. There have been other Story of Seasons games released, but they were either a remake that kept classic marriage systems or the new and original Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, which was released just a few months after Stardew Valley and was being developed before the indie game made an impact.
It’s worth noting that the upcoming Story of Seasons game, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, is supposed to include same-sex marriage despite not being in the original version of the game. While this may be a sign that games are becoming more inclusive in general, Stardew Valley was the first high-profile game to include it in the genre, and others followed suit.
Another thing that Stardew Valley introduced was player customization. Players had a plethora of options to choose from to make their character whatever they wanted between numerous tops, bottoms, hairstyles, skin tones, and sliding color options for a nearly infinite number of combinations. This was something unheard of in the prior Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons games. While there were small customizable options in the games, it was laughable compared to Stardew Valley.
The Impact of Stardew Valley on Remakes
It’s worth noting that Barone’s reasons for making Stardew Valley could be part of why Story of Seasons is focusing on remakes more than ever. In Chapter Three of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by journalist Jason Schreier, there’s a section on Barone’s reasoning for creating Stardew Valley:
“Barone’s vision was well defined, if unglamorous: he wanted to make his own version of Harvest Moon. The original series had grown less popular thanks to a trademark dispute and a sharp decline in quality, and it was tough to find a modern game that evoked the tranquility of the original farm simulators,” Schreier wrote.
These kinds of observations, and the success of Stardew Valley, could be why Story of Seasons has turned its sights to remaking old games. Again, this could be a trend in gaming in general. However, it’s interesting that the players seem to want blasts from the past, and when Stardew Valley proved it, the series started developing remakes. It’s even more interesting that the one game that wasn’t a remake, Pioneers of Olive Town, had three content updates/DLC that brought back characters from past games in the series.
Stardew Valley’s Legacy
The impact that Stardew Valley had on the farming simulator community is impressive. It took over as the main farming/social simulator, and many call other games in the genre “like Stardew Valley” as opposed to “like Harvest Moon.” While the game perfected various aspects of the long-standing series, it added new things that players seem to love. Some of these things have since been seen in Story of Seasons, the series of games from the original Harvest Moon developers. Stardew Valley may be the epitome of farming simulation for some time to come.