Backlog Battle: Week 3

Jacob Nash

Week Three- Easygoing Virtual Life

Stardew Valley and Fantasy Life

Video games are often seen as a form of escapism. When the world is stressing you out, video games can provide a break from those stressors. Action games are my genre of choice when it comes to letting off some steam, but I can’t deny the appeal of life simulation games. Life sims are games that give players a virtual world to live in. These games give players the freedom to choose how they want to live and which characters they want to form relationships with. While hobbies like gardening and fishing can be tedious and costly in real life, they are made fun and fruitful in life sims. If you’re looking for a slower paced, casual styling of video gaming, life sims are a great pick. You don’t always need to slay a dragon or win a high-octane race to have a good time in a game. Sometimes, all it takes is paying off a loan.

Stardew Valley

Why I Bought It: Stardew Valley quickly caught people’s attention when it debuted in 2016. With its similarities to genre leader Animal Crossing, as well as plenty of game reviewers singing the game’s praises, I was quickly intrigued with what Stardew Valley had to offer.

What Took Me So Long: Animal Crossing is one of Nintendo’s flagship series; a veritable juggernaut when it comes to life sims. As such, dozens of hours have gone into the series, which has contributed in keeping me away from Stardew Valley.

My Experience: Stardew Valley’s focus on the plot is its defining feature in my opinion. You’re not just dropped into the game after you finish designing your player avatar. Instead, you’re treated to a cutscene that shows your character growing tired of a fruitless office job. When it becomes too much to bear, they pull out an envelope given to them years ago by their grandfather. The envelope contains the deed to the grandfather’s farm in Pelican Town, a small village located in Stardew Valley. The bus then drops your character off in town, where you are free to start a new life.

After the introduction, you are given objectives you can complete, such as growing crops and meeting people who live in Pelican Town. You’ll use tools like a hoe to till soil, a watering can to water crops, and an ax and pickaxe to clear away trees and rocks in your way. You have an energy bar that will show how tired you’re getting, and you’ll collapse if you overexert yourself. You will need to plan out your days if you want to get the most out of them. A day in Stardew Valley only lasts around 15 minutes in real time, which makes the days and weeks fly by. Sooner or later, you’ll experience new seasons, which yield new crops. I am still in the spring season, but I’ve already grown crops, caught plenty of fish, and met everyone in town.

Another feature of Stardew Valley that has attracted players is its sense of community. There are over twenty people living in Pelican Town, and each one has their own personality traits, likes, and dislikes. The characters are all written very well, and that makes me excited to talk to each one. If you’re not jazzed about talking to NPCs, Stardew Valley has a multiplayer mode separate from its single player mode. That means you can have different save files depending on who you play with. I started a farm with a friend who has much more experience with the game. We were able to get a lot accomplished since we could focus on making money in different ways. For example, I would sell fish I caught while my friend would grow crops and mine minerals for money. Stardew Valley is a very relaxing game; the only somewhat stressful part is the threat of exhaustion, but that can be remedied with food or going to bed. It is a great game to play to decompress, especially with friends.

Fantasy Life

Why I Bought It: Sometimes you’ll be sold on a game just by hearing the premise. Fantasy Life’s elevator pitch is simple but effective. You have a dozen jobs you can freely switch between at any time, and each one gives you unique skills. This sounded like a fun game to play, but there was one problem…

What Took Me So Long: …and that problem was Animal Crossing once again. It’s a great game to get introduced to the life sim genre, but it can take a lot of your time. I’m glad I could step away for a bit and try some other life sims.

My Experience: Fantasy Life is a game where the title tells you exactly what it’s about. The game has a “Life” system with twelve options. These lives range from the mundane, like carpenter, tailor, and cook, to the adventurous, like paladin, mercenary, and hunter, to the fantastical, like wizard and alchemist. This is where the fantasy part comes in. Even the most typical lives give you access to weapons and magical abilities. There are monsters to slay, talking butterflies, and even a rooster that lays eggs. The rooster can also talk.

Before you begin, you create a player avatar and choose your first life. I used the incredibly scientific method of rolling a twelve-sided die, which dictated that wizard would be my starting point. When you start a new life, you begin at the Fledgling rank and must learn under a teacher. As you complete tasks and master your craft, you can improve your rank to become a Master or even a Legend, the very best at what you do. As a wizard, I learned under the great wizard Jinx, a black cat with a penchant for puns and practical jokes. You will learn elemental spells by finding elemental spirits, and then you can channel those spirits to attack and heal. Fantasy Life has a much more action-focused gameplay style than other life sims.

All of the lives fall into one of three categories: combat, gathering, and crafting. Wizards are in the combat category, so they, along with hunters, paladins, and mercenaries, spend much of their time fighting monsters. Lives in the gathering category, such as miner and woodcutter, focus on collecting materials to trade. Then there lives like the blacksmith and cook that are in the crafting category. These lives have their own minigames where you craft goods for other characters. The plot of Fantasy Life involves making other characters happy by fulfilling their wishes, which can be done with any life you choose. The sheer variety of options from the start and the freedom to change lives at any point means that no two playthroughs should look the same. It may take a while to explore everything each life has to offer, but I’m eager to see what else Fantasy Life has to offer.

Summary: Life sims aren’t for everyone. There’s definitely an argument to be made about the “point” of a life simulation game. In the same way you can just play a sport instead of playing sports games, many of the features in life sims are real life hobbies. I find that the fun in life sims comes from far the definition of “real life” can get stretched without getting too unrealistic. Stardew Valley is a fairly realistic translation; you work on a farm, you talk to people in town, you get exhausted after hours of manual labor. However, you can experience all of the seasons in a month’s time. The fun of Stardew Valley comes in how much you can achieve in a short amount of time. Fantasy Life is obviously less realistic, but there are options for a more down-to-earth gameplay style. You could cast spells and fight bandits, but you could also go fishing or build furniture. Either way, these games are suited for those who enjoy easygoing gaming sessions.

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