I have two sad confessions to make: the first is in regards to The Sims. The Sims franchise, by and large, is the face of the life simulation video game genre. Being able to raise families and build homes and cities is something the series has a knack for designing well, given how each game continues to be successful, but I had no interest in this series growing up. I found the crude humor to be cheap and humorless, and at the time I didn’t have an appreciation for the customization features that were available.
Since then, I have branched out and played more life simulation games, starting with Animal Crossing: Wild World, and I absolutely loved it. It took several years before I played some others too, but despite my best efforts, I still haven’t played any of the games from the popular life simulation series, Harvest Moon. Even after all of that though, for some reason I don’t find myself any more interested in trying any of The Sims games. Maybe I’m just being too harsh or I’m missing something, but I’m not sure that will ever change.
I’m bringing up all of these points because I was going to make a list of my favorite life simulation games, but after realizing how few I’ve played, I’m instead going to explore my favorite things about each one. From there, I’m hoping that pinpointing the features I enjoy the most about these games will make my search for more life simulation games easier (fortunately for me, the Persona series counts, at least in the social side of things, and I’m definitely planning on playing Persona 5 someday) because I really want more of these games. They’re incredibly addictive, and the writing and social aspects of the games are delightful. I just wish there were more series out there besides The Sims.
What helps Fantasy Life stand apart is its job system. Your character has access to a variety of different jobs, from a lumberjack to a witch, to even a carpenter. Each class unlocks specific skills that the character can use to customize their home, clothes, or improve their fighting prowess. The player can switch between these jobs whenever they want, and they can be leveled up to unlock even more skills. The game plays more like an RPG in the sense of a large, expansive world to explore that’s divided into seasonal regions and its combat system as well. This game is incredibly addictive and encourages exploration, fighting, and helping the NPCs for various awards. I love that the RPG and life simulation mechanics blend so naturally together to create such a fantastic game.
Rune Factory 4
I’ve reviewed Rune Factory 4 in the past and talked about it in greater detail, so I’ll provide the link here for reference. The Rune Factory series is akin to the Harvest Moon games in that it’s a “fantasy” version of them, meaning that the farming and marriage mechanic is the focal point of the game while also including swordplay and fantasy monsters. Where Rune Factory 4 really shined for me though was its emphasis on improving features in the town, the social dynamic with the townsfolk, as well as the character art and combat. Rune Factory 4 was a blast to play. I loved interacting with the characters, participating in local festivals, exploring new locations and fighting monsters. In a lot of ways, it’s even similar to Fantasy Life, but with the added farming and marriage elements, the game truly stand on its own.
Animal Crossing New Leaf: Welcome Amiibo
I’ve talked to a lot of people who don’t understand the Animal Crossing series. “There’s no story?” they ask in shock. “What do you do? What’s the point then?” I try my best to explain that the Animal Crossing series is a game steeped in social interactions and making decisions based around them, but I realize it’s not for everyone. Luckily for me though, New Leaf is the best installment in the series, and the one that I often reference as a great introduction to everything the series is about.
Being promoted to mayor is easily the best upgrade an Animal Crossing game could possibly have given me. When I played Wild World, I already imagined myself being the mayor in the stead of Tortimer because of the amount of time I spent socializing with my adorable animal villagers and making the town as pretty as possible. New Leaf took my head canon and made it a reality, but on top of that, it’s an excellent, well-designed game. New Leaf has the best graphics and controls, but that’s not all. The ability to customize the entire town plus your home is an incredibly fun feature that encourages the players to keep coming back. The new Villager personality is a nice bonus, and the new furniture made my hoarding tendencies kick into overdrive. There are so many new features that I can’t even begin to go over, but it’s such a fun game that I spent countless hours playing with friends and family.
Welcome Amiibo added even more updates and features, and in particular, the campground is an extremely unique and creative addition. Not only does it incorporate even more of the new furniture options from the successful spin-off Happy Home Designer, the update also brings in some of its gameplay features to improve upon the Animal Crossing experience even more. Animal Crossing was my first exposure to how fun life simulation games can be, and luckily for me, New Leaf refines the experience to make it enjoyable for fans of all ages.
So it’s a shame that an Animal Crossing for the Switch has yet to be announced (hopefully the mobile one will be good), and that the company that made Rune Factory went bankrupt, and that the Harvest Moon games are no longer released under that name, and that Fantasy Life 2 was a mobile game that wasn’t even localized. I love these games, and the possibility of not getting more of them is disappointing. I’m hoping that I can find more in the future through Persona, and if not, maybe it’ll be an opportunity to give The Sims the chance I’ve been denying it. Either way, I adore life simulation video games a lot, and I’m happy to play the few I do have over and over again until the next great series comes out.