I’m Sorry but the Guy From Business Insider Was Right: Stardew Valley Is a Better Game Than Animal Crossing

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

I’m going to be transparent about my gaming habits: as someone who did not grow up with any type of gaming console unlike many others my age, I am a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to video games.

However, I’ve dabbled with gaming long enough to know that I am a type of person who prefers games with a clear storyline and structure versus open-world games. I like having explicit goals to work towards rather than just being let loose on the interface. Perhaps that’s why I ended up gravitating towards Stardew Valley (SDV) when I first started playing video games; there was a clear in-game narrative.

Photo by Elias Castillo on Unsplash

I have given the creator of SDV, Eric Barone, my hard-earned money twice now: once when I purchased the game for my Macbook, and twice when I re-purchased the game for my Switch. Across these two accounts, I own three farms: two solo, and one co-op.

To date, I have racked up a total of about 140 hours on SDV. That may not sound like a lot, but yet, I am deep into my fifth year on one of my save files.

I actually bought my Switch Lite for the express purpose of playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH). To be clear, I had never played any version of AC before, but purchased it as I understood it to be similar to SDV and thought it would be up my alley. Many people I follow on Twitter are also loyal players of the game, so I guess you could say I succumbed to peer pressure.

Before I started, I knew several things about the premise of the game: I knew you were basically the mayor of the town and I knew you owed debt to a racoon that you had to pay off.

What I didn’t expect was how deep this debt would run.

Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s introductory scene. Photo via IGN

The game starts off with your player having moved to a deserted island (I imagine to escape the horrors of corporate life) only to immediately owe Tom Nook—your racoon landlord—49,800 bells or 5,000 miles for “moving fees”.

Keep in mind, you are also paying off the debt on your first house: a small yellow tent. To upgrade to an actual house, you will have to pay a further 98,000 bells.

I’m not going to lie: the debt plays a huge part in my dislike for ACNH. Like so many have joked, ACNH reflects an uncomfortable real life situation many people face: we owe many people a lot more money than we would like. And we play video games to escape this reality, only to come online to play a game where we owe a racoon an absurd amount of bells.

Stardew Valley’s opening scene via Junkee

In contrast, SDV starts off with you moving to a rundown farm your deceased grandfather has willed to you. You have three years in game to rescue the farm from its depilated state and build relationships with the other residents in town before his ghost comes back to evaluate your farm.

The debt in ACNH is haunting. It never ends. The moment you pay off one house, Tom Nook is already there, waiting to sell you on the next one with suggestive hints about needing more room to spread out. At least when you upgrade your house in SDV, Robin leaves you alone to decide when you want to upgrade your house.

Debt is also incredibly hard to pay off in ACNH. If you choose not to fuss with the turnip stalk market—which is highly unreliable unless you are playing with a large group of friends—the quickest way to earn money is to sell fish. Depending on the type of fish you sell, these suckers can range from about 160 to 15000 bells. However, in order to find these fish, your player has to roam the entire island searching for fishy shadows in water sources.

Fishing in ACNH. Photo via Polygon

In SDV, you have multiple options of earning money: you can choose to rely on selling either plant or animal based produce, you can fish for your livelihood, you could sell the various materials you find deep in the mines or some combination of the three. Earning your livelihood is easy, and fast.

For a direct comparison, fishing is less troublesome in SDV than in ACNH. There is no need to run around looking for shadows of fish, you simply stand in one spot and wait for fish to come to you. If you know the hotspots, you can catch one fish every 20-ish in-game minutes.

Admittedly catching a fish is harder in SDV than ACNH, but the ability to just stand and wait for fish is a big pro.

Not to mention your fishing rod never breaks in SDV. Nor do any of your tools. You are gifted a set of basic tools in SDV the minute you set foot on your farm, and they work perfectly til you choose to upgrade them. The only difference is that the basic tools take a little longer to work. I’ve made it through all 140 hours of gameplay having only upgraded my tools once.

Photo via Shacknews

In ACNH, I am constantly crafting new tools. After about an hour of trying to pay off my ever-increasing debt, I have to run back to my house or to Tom Nook’s tent to access a workbench so that I can make a new net or fishing rod.

Making these new tools don’t come cheap either, sturdier tools need at least one iron nugget to craft and iron is hard to come by.

In order to find iron nuggets, players must harvest them from the five available rocks on their island, wait to shoot them down from the floating presents in the sky or spend valuable miles to go to another island and farm them there. There is no consistent amount of iron you can get in a day. This limits the amount of times players can re-craft tools, especially if they need the resources to build things later in game. Why is this important resource so terribly hard to come by?

Compare this to SDV where the resources are plentiful and readily available either on the farm or in the mines. I’m never hurting for coal or wood or stone, I have plenty of them waiting in the chests in my house, along with the other expensive gems I’ve found in the mine.

The infamous Business Insider article brings up a few other important points against ACNH as well: the game’s slow interface, the lack of connection with your villagers, the hard-to-access social aspects.

Marriage in Stardew Valley. Photo by Zmario via Stardew Valley Wiki

I won’t go as far as to call those playing ACNH “children” or “dumb babies”, but having abandoned my poor SDV farm to play ACNH for two weeks straight, I can say without a doubt SDV is the superior game.

ACNH stresses me out in ways SDV never has. Working to improve my town and unlock late game achievements, like terraforming and clothes designing, feel more like a chore. Tom Nook annoys me with his constant announcements of how tight knit and helpful everyone is, when I know I’m the only one contributing to the island’s upkeep.

SDV brings me actual joy. My tools don’t break. Leveling up is easy. My neighbours are, for the most part, kind and interesting. One of them even gave me a cat. Lewis, my mayor, actually contributes to the island. And most importantly, he probably has an actual governmental budget for town infrastructure, rather than expecting me to pay out of my pockets for things.

Hui Ying is an undergraduate working on her debut poetry collection and novel. Find them on Twitter at @distanceofio.

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