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Change YoY: -2   My Rating: 9.1/10

In some ways, it's quite surprising just how popular Stardew Valley and other games like it have become in recent years. Obviously, these life-simulation games have been around for a very long time, with the likes of Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing having started out decades ago now. Yet, for a long time they were very much a niche genre, beloved by a small minority of players but largely ignored by most others. But then something changed, and by 2022 Stardew Valley has bad sold over 20 million copies, and the most recent Animal Crossing has basically doubled those numbers. As far as video games go, those kinds of sales figures are reserved for a very select few titles.

So, what exactly changed? Who knows, but I can take a few guesses. First, the average age of people who play video games rose significantly, most recent reports stating that it's around 35 years now. Second, the pandemic happened, and people needed something less stressful to spend time with and take their minds off the outside world. And third, video games are being played by a much wider range of different types of people than before, and as such it makes sense that genres that may not have been massive successes in the past have found much wider audiences in these new players. There are probably dozens of other reasons too, but those would make sense to me at least. I first encountered the genre back in the late 90s when I played the original SNES Harvest Moon on an emulator. I certainly liked it, the slow-paced, relaxing gameplay providing a nice counterbalance to all the action titles that tended to rule the gaming space at the time (and still today), but it wasn't the kind of game I would necessarily go out of my way to play after experiencing it once.

Then came Stardew Valley, and it not only retained the stress-free gameplay of games like Harvest Moon, but added other features to give the experience much more variety. Suddenly, it wasn't just about managing and developing a farm, but also dungeon diving, relationships between characters, improving the town, and a number of other features that in other games could have served as the core of the whole experience. There's a staggering amount of content to be found here, but much of it optional, so if you prefer to focus on just one or two aspects of the game, you can do that. This also makes the game great for co-op, as different players can focus on different things depending on what they prefer. Stardew Valley is a game that is easy to go back to even after a long absence, and one that always provides a nice, relaxing experience for however long I might feel like playing it that time.