When I was 10 years old I spent a long weekend at a horse show selling water for a dollar a piece. It was a summer in Virginia, so it must have been hot and humid, think air like soup. I remember working all day for at least 3 days straight. I was also a shy kid, but I remember asking every person that walked by if they wanted to buy some water out of a cooler that weighed almost as much as I did. But at the end of it, I proudly walked into the local Toys R Us and bought my first console with my own money. And with my newly acquired N64, I also bought my first game – Harvest Moon 64.
All that work to buy a farming simulator game, and it was worth it.
I’ve been a fan of life sim games as long as I can recall. The Sims, Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing – if it involves a town I can help shape and build, I’m an instant fan. I’m not really sure what it is I love about the games. Starting from humble beginnings and watching things grow? The characters? Trying to make fat stacks of in game cash? Just playing a game you can’t really lose and enjoying the flow of life? Either way, they’ve always been a big hit for me.
Which is why I am very excited to say I think I’ve found a pair of upcoming gems. Both of the following games come to us off Kickstarter, and while both are unreleased they also have demos out right now. Read below to see why they’re worth checking out:
A cross generational sandbox game brought to you by some of the creators of Fable
Systems: Steam/ PC
Expected Release: Early Access Late 2017, release Late 2018
What makes this unique: When Fable first came out, I remember them excitedly claiming that the world would be a persistently growing and changing one, where your choices and actions would impact the future. Molyneux famously kept talking about planting the seed of an oak tree and watching it grow. These lofty claims never really came to fruition due to hardware limitations of the time. It also probably didn’t really fit with a fantasy adventure game, as the focus was on combat and a long story.
Lionhead Studios and Fable no longer exist, dissolved by Microsoft. The developers from that studio have moved on to making other games- this game, in fact. Even the Fable composer Russell Shaw is on board, which is awesome. It is clear that the ideas they came up with when creating Fable are still alive and being infused into this farming game. A family tree that will grow over time, a village that will age and change based on your actions, its all there. And it makes a lot more sense in a farm/ village life sim than it ever did in a fantasy action game.
I think it sounds like a really neat feature, having a living town that grows over time. Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon games have felt stale in the past because the towns never really change. Harvest Moon: Its a Wonderful Life (Gamecube) played around with this concept, but was imperfect in its execution. Later versions also tried to create growth by having villagers show up over time, but that meant eventually the changes stopped when you unlocked everything. But in this game, it directly talks about character models changing to show an aging town and one of the core features involves handing off the story to your heirs to continue the tale. I’m really looking forward to seeing a fresh take on this where you can continue a story through multiple generations.
The game also has a great art style. Its retro but highly detailed like To the Moon and Stardew Valley. The character model is a little weird, overly tall and lanky, but the natural world in this game is total eye candy. They also pointedly mention their interest in covered European fairy tales and superstitions. It sounds like there will be some spooky fun mysteries and fairy tales to explore, and the art style strongly compliments such a theme. As the Harvest Moon games are all Japanese lore, I am really excited to see lore from the UK. Its going to be fun to see. The music is also quite fitting to the genre. You can check out some of the songs already here and here. If you have ever heard the Fable music, though, you know you are in for a treat with Russell Shaw at the helm again.
I have played the demo for a half hour or so. For a prototype it is already showing promise, with a working fishing system, foraging, and several pets on the farm to care for. You can totally throw the ball for your dog, and feed the pigs pretty much anything. Its always exciting to see what some talented developers can accomplish with a new project, so I am looking forward to seeing this one.
My Time at Portia
A cute 3D Fantasy Life/Dark Cloud/Harvest Moon/Animal Crossing inspired game
Systems: Steam/ PC/ PS4 – Hopefully XBOX and Nintendo Switch
Expected Release: Early Access January 2018 , release August 2018. However backing the Kickstarter will get you into a closed Beta in October 2017.
What makes this game unique: That inspiration list. Are you looking at that inspiration list? Dark Cloud AND Animal Crossing. My heart. There are definitely a number of farming games out there. That genre is pretty well covered, but these guys have an interesting take. They admit they’re going to go for automated farming so that you can enjoy watching crops grow without having to run through a daily chore list. I think this is a fantastic idea. In its place, they will be giving us the tools to delve into more crafting and creating like in Dark Cloud. A workshop, making an aquarium to show off your fish collection, friendship with npcs giving economic advantages- a lot of neat ideas that aren’t as commonly seen in the current game collection.
This game also has a banging art style. They say that the world design is inspired by Miyazaki ala Castle in the Sky. I honestly haven’t seen this strong a design direction that bleeds personality since Flame in The Flood last year, or Don’t Starve. Every screenshot, every gif of this game is bright and colorful, inviting and cheerful. It reminds me a lot of Wind Waker or Fantasy Life, both wonderfully warm and welcoming games. I love this explanation they’ve included here from their Kickstarter “It’s got a dark background, an age after the apocalypse, but it’s a bright world, full of hope. There are enough bleak end of the world games out there already.” YES! 100% I can agree with that sentiment. We have a lot of gritty games these days, so I am always happy for the ones that decide to be cheerful and optimistic.
This Kickstarter also seems like a fairly safe bet, which is always a concern. They already have a 6-8 hour demo out for free. The studio has finished 40% of the game and the page lists a number of hands on reviews already. Their previous game Planetary Explorers was a little too sandboxy, but it wasn’t bad at all. So there is a lot of reason to get excited for this one.
Both of these games look like they have strong personality to them, and look like they bring new things to the genre. They’re still over 6 months out, but definitely worth keeping an eye on. From the rich detailed 2D world of Kynseed, to the bright 3D world of Portia I cannot wait to meet some new villagers, catch a lot of fish, and grow some produce.
Of course, if you don’t want to wait I would strongly recommend checking out Stardew Valley (PC/Consoles) Fantasy Life (3DS) or Story of Seasons (3DS) if you want to try out some life sim games for yourself.