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9 Games like Harvest Moon for when you need a break from real life

(Image credit: ConcernedApe)

Video games are fun, but they can also be stressful. I don't care how many mods turn Resident Evil 2's Mr. X into something silly like Thomas the Tank Engine, I will never get over the first time I turned a corner to find him lifting a helicopter out of his way to get to me. Fortunately, while few and far between, games like Harvest Moon exist solely to help you chill.

Whether it's the farming aspect you enjoy, tending to relationships, or just wandering around in the rainy mood of a small town, the life sim genre offers a well-needed respite from the guns, blood, and confrontation so often at the core of modern games. And that's not to say there's anything wrong with those elements in video games, but games like Harvest Moon certainly serve a valuable purpose, and I'd implore anyone reading to check out the following games when you just need a break from it all.

9. Staxel

Available on: PC

At first glance, you'd be forgiven for assuming Staxel is a Minecraft farming mod. Visuals aside, you literally build and make changes to your farm using a voxel-based editing tool. But Staxel carves its own niche by focusing solely on farming and role-playing, offering a relaxing, combat-free alternative to Minecraft's survival-based gameplay. When you aren't laboriously restoring an old farm to prosperity, you can get your chill on by interacting with your new neighbors, taking on quests, and going fishing. And like the best games in the genre, Staxel lets you share farming responsibilities or become neighbors with real-life friends online.

8. The Sims 4

Available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4

It would seem blasphemous to speak of life simulation games without invoking the genre's most prolific franchise, The Sims. And fortunately, the latest entry in the series, The Sims 4, is a faithful evolution of the foundation laid down by the nearly 20-year-old first game, sure to please fans of the franchise and newcomers in search of a new, less chaotic world.

The Sims 4 tells you that you can do anything, and in this world you actually can. You can take to space as an astronaut, climb the ranks in a criminal enterprise, or take matters of the planet into your own hands as a conservationist. In the meantime, you'll build the house of your dreams, find your soulmate, and build a family. And speaking on the latter, same-sex couples can adopt and even have biological children together. It's virtually impossible to cover everything The Sims 4 has to offer here, but if you're on the hunt for a life simulator in the truest sense, you mustn't skip The Sims 4.

7. Garden Paws

Available on: PC

The story and basic setup of Garden Paws might sound familiar - it's blatantly inspired by genre classics Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon - but this charming life sim takes care executing its core features and adds its own twist with animal taming, shopkeeping, a surprisingly deep crafting system, and seamless Twitch streaming integration. Visuals and sound are fine-tuned to provide the most settling, dreamlike experience possible and with no shortage of aww-inducing cuteness. Quests can demand an exceptional level of time and energy to complete, which only makes it more perfect for mindlessly losing hours of time in the bleak real-world to the magical Garden Paws.

6. Farming Simulator 19

Available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4 

If your favorite part of Harvest Moon is running a farm, and you could do without the cuteness of its town and romance elements, Farming Sim 19 should sort you out. You won't find a turtle mayor or leaves that transform into living room furniture here - this is as realistic a farming experience as you'll find in a video game.

For those in search of calm though, Farming Simulator 19 is as effective as any game. Here you'll ride around on big tractors, tend to realistic-looking farm animals, ride your horses through Farming Simulator 19's vast explorable environments, and enjoy a rich catalog of community-made mods. If romance, magic, and talking cows make your stomach turn, Farming Simulator 19 offers a true-to-life farming experience sure to help you wind down after a long day.

5. Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles

Available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch

One of the more visually enchanting entries on this list, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is about as cute, breezy, and innocent as the name implies. Weather changes from illuminating daylight to blazing orange twilight and star-lit nighttime, and the vast, expansive landscapes glimmer against light sources in way comparable to Breath of the Wild.

There's a big focus on exploration here, and it's just as well because everything you see is eye candy. And don't expect that to change, as like most games on this list, there's no fighting or killing in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. There is a conflict of sorts, however, as your number one goal is to rid the mysterious island where you're stranded of "murk," a colorful fog that's making everyone stressed out. Your goal here is to literally chill, and make everyone on the island chill. And thankfully the game's pacing asks nothing more from you than to move at your own pace, which is best done leisurely and with a sense of wonder.

4. My Time at Portia

Fancy your farming sims with a mix of RPG and crafting mechanics? My Time at Portia must not be overlooked by fans of the genre, as easily the most eclectic entry on this list. You do everything you do in any other life-sim/farming game as well as fight monsters, explore, build stuff, mine for resources, attend festivals, and learn to cook. And going well beyond the usual romance system, Portia lets you actually have kids by way of pregnancy or adoption.

My Time at Portia takes elements from genre staples like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, and injects its formula with workable mechanics borrowed from other popular genres such as exploration, dungeon-crawling, crafting, and management simulation. The best part is it works each component into the experience with a sense of personality that pervades throughout your entire adventure.

3. Stardew Valley

Available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android 

Stardew Valley just might be today's foremost farming sim phenomenon, perfectly trapping the visual and spiritual essence of 16-bit era Harvest Moon, except with its own active modding community. But modding aside, at its core Stardew Valley is the ideal reprieve from busy lives and games.

Unlike Harvest Moon though, Stardew Valley starts you out in a small, overgrown plot of land inherited from your late grandfather that you'll slowly transform into a lush, bountiful farm brimming with colorful crops and happy animals. Stardew Valley also improves upon Harvest Moon's romance system, breaking ground for the genre by allowing same-sex marriage. If Harvest Moon is near-and-dear to your heart and you're looking for a similar vibe in a premium package, Stardew Valley is your answer.

2. Animal Crossing: New Leaf 

Available on: 3DS

If you're looking for a game like Harvest Moon and haven't played Animal Crossing, you have my express permission to bookmark this list for later and check out any one of the series' mainline games. New Leaf on 3DS is a fantastic entry in the series as well as the most recent, but even the original Gamecube adventure remains as charming and easy to play as it was in 2001.

You won't tend to crops or look after farm animals in Animal Crossing, at least not until Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrives in March, but you will fish for rare and valuable catches, upgrade and decorate your cozy nook, and celebrate holidays in an enchanting little world with a community of diverse, lovable, and often downright hilarious characters.

1. Story of Seasons

Available on: 3DS 

If you're wondering whatever became of your favorite farming simulator franchise, fear not - Harvest Moon is now called Story of Seasons, and a brand new entry just released in Japan on Nintendo Switch. Harvest Moon first became Story of Seasons in 2014 on 3DS, a game that successfully evolves the 3D formula introduced to the franchise with Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland. The latest worldwide release, Trio of Towns, tells a familiar, yet reliably soothing story about a city-slicker fulfilling their dream of building a successful farm. It's everything you remember about the best Harvest Moon games, with meaningful updates to the economy, mechanics, and player interactions.

If you're looking for more farming adventures, check out our list of the best farming games