When you think of cozy games, there are two in particular that almost immediately come to mind. They are, of course, Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing New Horizons. Both have amassed a cult-like following since they released, each with their own incredibly loyal and dedicated community.
Both of these games are the epitome of calming and relaxing video games and are absolute masterpieces of the sim genre. But while they do share many similarities, they are by no means clones. They actually have many differences, for better or for worse.
So if you are looking to get into the cozy world of simulation games but you aren’t sure what game you should start with, this guide will help you come to your conclusion. I would like to say just get both, but let’s stick to one borderline unhealthy gaming obsession at a time, shall we?
Main Differences Between Stardew Valley vs Animal Crossing New Horizons
The main differences between Stardew Valley vs Animal Crossing New Horizons are:
- Stardew Valley is a farming sim with life-sim elements, whereas Animal Crossing New Horizons is more of a life and town-building simulation game.
- Stardew Valley has combat elements for those more adventurous types. Animal Crossing New Horizons doesn’t have any sort of combat mechanics.
- Stardew Valley has more story and RPG mechanics, while New Horizons is more of a blank canvas. The game is centered solely around designing your island and doesn’t include any other adventure elements.
- Animal Crossing New Horizons has the Happy Home Designer DLC, which gives you more gameplay opportunities, but also comes at a price unless you have the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.
- Stardew Valley was developed by a one-man studio, ConcernedApe, while New Horizons was developed by the giant gaming conglomerate, Nintendo.
- Stardew Valley uses a quaint pixel art style which differs from Animal Crossing New Horizons more stylized art style.
- Stardew Valley is available on almost any platform compared to New Horizons, which is only playable on the Nintendo Switch.
- Stardew Valley is an older title released in 2016. New Horizons is much newer and hit the market at the height of the global pandemic in 2020, which may have been a contributing factor to its mind-blowing success.
- Each of the NPCs in Stardew has their own unique personality and dialogue. Animal Crossing’s roster of over 400 villagers, on the other hand, all share one of 8 different personalities, making them very one-dimensional in comparison.
Both Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing New Horizons are simulation games. These are titles that emulate some part of real life, but of course, making it seem way more exciting.
Sim games can take the most mundane tasks from real life and make them gratifying, like how Marenian Tavern Story makes being a waitress far more enjoyable, and PowerWash Simulator makes cleaning your car one of the most satisfying activities ever.
Stardew Valley is more of a traditional farming sim, taking heavy inspiration from games like Harvest Moon. The story is very reminiscent of almost any farming sim game ever. You take over your grandfather’s farm and move out of the big city to start your life fresh out in the countryside.
Most of your gameplay will be spent developing your farm, watering your crops, planting seeds, and caring for your livestock. There is little else that compares to the satisfaction of watching your little farm grow, and Stardew Valley captures that feeling perfectly.
Stardew Valley draws inspiration from Harvest Moon not only in terms of its farming mechanics, but also by having explorable mines.
These mines, however, involve combat unlike their Harvest Moon counterparts. There are several mines in Stardew Valley that almost act like dungeons. The main mine has 120 floors. Each level has stronger enemies that require you to increase your combat skills as well as your weapons and armor to stand a chance against them.
Completing the mines can take several in-game years to complete, and once you reach the bottom, you will find a key to the Skullcavern, which is yet another mine the game has to offer.
The combat in the mines offers a refreshing change of pace from the relaxing yet repetitive farm work and introduces a little more adventure for those who enjoy more action in their games.
The Community Centre
To accompany the mines and your farm, Stardew Valley also has another overarching quest to fill out your days. The Community Centre is a large and dilapidated Town Hall located behind Pierre’s General Store that is in desperate need of fixing up. And, of course, you are the one to do it.
The Community Centre has several different rooms, each with its own bundle to complete. These bundles are essentially fetch quests that push you to explore every aspect of the game to collect all the necessary items.
Some of these bundles, for example, require you to grow all the crops for each season or collect fish from each different biome in the Valley. After you complete a room’s bundle, that room is renovated by the Junimo until, eventually, you have repaired the whole building.
After the Community Centre is completed, more gameplay opportunities open up for you to keep the game feeling fresh and give you more content to explore.
Stardew Valley has a lot more depth in terms of gameplay elements than Animal Crossing New Horizons does. From your farm, to the mines, to the community center, and all of the secrets in between. There is never a dull moment in Pelican Town.
Animal Crossing New Horizons
Your task in New Horizons is refreshingly simple – relax. There isn’t much of a storyline to explore, no quests or adventures, just you and your island, trucking on at your own pace. The beauty of Animal Crossing New Horizons is that it’s a game where you don’t have to do anything.
But how can a game where you do nothing be fun? I did think the same thing before I experienced the joys of Animal Crossing New Horizons myself, and honestly, it’s a hard game to explain.
It’s difficult to explain New Horizons in a way that makes it sound enjoyable since it doesn’t have any of the draw cards that usually make games sound exciting, like dragons or epic quests or anything along those lines.
But although there is no time limit or quests per se, there is, of course, a point. The game begins with you and a couple of other villagers who sought out a relaxing island escape to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
But the island is completely barren, and it’s your job to fix it up and make it a nice place for your villagers and yourself to live.
The starting goal is to unlock all of the tools you will need to develop your island, such as an axe to clear land and a ladder to gain access to every nook and cranny of your island (apologies for the pun, I couldn’t help it).
And once you start delving into the simplicity that is developing your island, you start to become swept into the obsession. And that truly is what the game can become, a full-blown, life-gobbling obsession. In the best way possible, that is.
As you gather the materials to build the first couple of houses and start to draw your own paths and decorations, your island starts to take shape and expand. You can head to other islands to invite new villagers to live with you on yours, buy items to decorate their gardens or your home, and thus the addiction is born.
The premise of Animal Crossing New Horizons is simple and uncomplicated, but that’s exactly what makes it so incredible. The entire experience is calming, relaxing, and the perfect game to play if you want to de-stress after a long hard day.
The appeal of a game like this for many people is the opportunity for self-expression. Both Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing deliver this in spades.
One of the main goals for ConcernedApe during the development of Stardew Valley was to take those beloved farming sim elements from games like Harvest Moon and improve on them. And one of the ways he achieved that was by offering much more customization on the farm.
Stardew Valley has next to no restrictions when it comes to decorating your farm, unlike other farming sims that restrict the shape of your fields to predetermined sizes, Stardew Valley allows you to till each tile individually so you can create fields of whatever size and shape you want.
You can even customize your buildings by changing their color palette so they all match. You can truly make your farm whatever you want it to be in Stardew Valley, and the customization options are excellent.
Animal Crossing New Horizons
But creativity is kind of Animal Crossing New Horizons thing. Absolutely everything in the game is a form of creative expression. From each room in your house to the island itself. There are thousands of items available to decorate your spaces with, along with plenty of path and road tiles, so you can customize your island even further.
One of the biggest assets the game offers in terms of customization options is the drawing mechanic. There is a little app on your Nook phone that allows you to create your own custom designs and lay them anywhere on your island.
The possibilities are only as endless as your creativity. You can design bespoke hats, clothing items, and even your own custom path designs to make your island completely unique.
Animal Crossing New Horizons lets you customize every part of your island, down to the island itself. Terraforming is a new mechanic introduced to the franchise in New Horizons, and it’s one that I honestly hope they keep forever because it was my personal highlight of the entire game.
You can create waterfalls, heart-shaped ponds, cliffs, and almost anything your heart desires with the terraforming mechanic.
Creativity and creative freedom are kind of the key points of Animal Crossing New Horizons, so if you are looking for a creative outlet to craft something that is truly your own, Animal Crossing New Horizons is the game for you.
Animal Crossing New Horizons and Stardew Valley are very similar in a lot of ways but still remain very distinct gaming experiences. One of the biggest manners in which they deviate is in terms of their story elements.
Animal Crossing New Horizons
Animal Crossing New Horizons doesn’t have a story per se. It has a scenario, of course, which provides you with the incentive to play in the sense that you are building up your island for yourself and your villagers to happily live out your days together. But this is where the story ends.
Once the scene is set up, you are set free from any further story constraints. The island is your oyster, and you go about making it your own.
Stardew Valley, on the other hand, most certainly does have a story. There are events that take place and evolve as you progress throughout the game.
The story here isn’t quite as in-depth as something like Kingdom Hearts, for example, which is more of a pure, story-based RPG experience, but many of the same concepts still apply to Stardew Valley. They just get a little lost sometimes, as you progress through the events at your own pace.
All of the NPC’s have their own dialogue and back stories, which you uncover as you get to know them better. You can actually get to know them quite well indeed thanks to the in-depth relationship and marriage mechanics that allow you to build your own story with whoever you would like.
Marriage mechanics are an iconic part of many farming sims, but that is not where the extent of Stardew Valley’s RPG elements end.
Several story events are triggered as you complete the preceding ones. That is what makes story progression happen in a game. One of the first examples of this is the wizard’s quest that you complete to further the story and unlock the Community Centre.
In the same vein, completing the Community Centre triggers the progression of even more events in Stardew Valley’s story.
These events are more few and far between than many other games, but they are undoubtedly alive and well in Stardew Valley. So if you enjoy more of a storyline to give you a solid incentive or reason for playing, Stardew Valley could be a better choice for you.
Animal Crossing New Horizons
One of the main complaints I hear about Animal Crossing New Horizons is in regard to the game’s pacing, and that is a fair enough complaint. New Horizons works in real-time. That means that whatever time it is in the real world is what time it is in the game. This can introduce some pretty frustrating issues.
For example, I used to be a waitress which meant that while others were at home in the early evening, going about their business in Animal Crossing, I was at work. And by the time I got home, all the shops would be closed, and I had lost my chance to check out anything that was on sale at Nooks Cranny or the Able Sister’s shop.
It was also frustrating for those with regular working hours since you would have to wait overnight for things like bridges or houses to be built.
And this is where time-traveling enters the scene. The game runs off your Nintendo Switch clock. So by changing the time on your Switch, you can eliminate the need to wait until the next day to progress. Many gamers consider time traveling in Animal Crossing to be cheating, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
The slow and steady pacing of Animal Crossing New Horizons can be too slow for some. Thankfully, in Stardew Valley, things move a lot faster.
It takes approximately 15 minutes to complete an in-game day in Stardew Valley, which is much more acceptable for those in a rush. It also allows the game to progress much faster and gives you the opportunity to constantly be working on something new in the game rather than simply killing time.
Animal Crossing New Horizons
Art is subjective, which makes it very hard to compare, but Animal Crossing New Horizons’ and Stardew Valley’s art styles are both extremely different. Animal Crossing has a more realistic and smooth art style with chibi-like character design displayed from a third-person perspective.
Animal Crossing New Horizon’s art style is absolutely perfect for the game. The premise of Animal Crossing is simplicity. Nothing is stressful, nothing is too much. And the unapologetically simple art style resonates with that theory perfectly, not to mention that the villagers look absolutely adorable in their cartoony art style.
Some may prefer this sort of art style as it is more realistic than pixel art, for example, but still cartoonish enough to not verge on the uncanny valley.
I personally find that games that aim for super-realistic graphics often have a tendency to age badly as newer and better engines become available and graphics improve. Once this happens, going back to an older game that used to have advanced graphics is like switching between the PlayStation and Nintendo Switch versions of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
I still remember being impressed at Tomb Raider’s graphics back in the day, but looking at it now, I wonder if I should have made an appointment to get my vision checked.
Animal Crossing New Horizons will never suffer this fate, and going for a stylized, smooth, and cartoony art style will allow it to age gracefully.
Stardew Valley has gone for a vibrant and charming pixel art style with more of a top-down perspective that is somewhat reminiscent of the old-school Pokemon games.
A pixel art style was a brilliant choice, in my opinion. Nostalgia is one of the most powerful emotions a human can experience, and that is exactly what Stardew Valley inspires with its graphics. Not only does the pixel art style immediately call to mind all of the great games of the past that the Game Boy or NES brought to the table, but the top-down perspective doubles down on that as well.
But not only is the top-down perspective extremely nostalgic, but it is also incredibly handy in a farming sim. A good farming sim almost requires a top-down perspective as it makes tilling, watering, and planting crops far more efficient.
Games like Rune Factory 5, for example, that have more of an over-the-shoulder perspective still switch back to top-down for the farming elements. This can be super jarring and break your immersion, so sticking with a top-down perspective for the duration of the game is definitely the best way to go.
I have a lot of nostalgia when it comes to pixel art, and any pixel art style will capture my heart instantaneously.
A great pixel art style is also guaranteed to age gracefully, for me anyway. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, and those newer gamers that don’t have the same appreciation for pixel art may find it less quaint and more blocky.
The price of these two incredible masterpieces is one thing. But it isn’t very helpful if the game you’re pining over isn’t available on your platform of choice.
When it comes to accessibility, Stardew Valley takes the crown once again. You can find it absolutely anywhere, from the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation, even on the home of Animal Crossing New Horizons, the Nintendo Switch.
Animal Crossing New Horizons
Animal Crossing New Horizons, being a first-party Nintendo title, is only available on the Switch. So if you don’t have one of those, you should consider getting one since it is arguably the best console on the market, but you should also probably look towards getting Stardew Valley first since it is far more accessible to more gamers.
Animal Crossing New Horizons and Stardew Valley are both incredible games, but there are also plenty more out there if you’re looking for something else to scratch that cozy game itch.
Stardew Valley Alternatives:
- Kitaria Fables
- Rune Factory
- The Harvest Moon series
- The Story of Seasons series
- My Time At Portia
Animal Crossing New Horizons Alternatives:
- Cozy Grove
- Disney Dreamlight Valley
- Potion Permit
- Sims Mobile
- Slime Rancher
Stardew Valley vs Animal Crossing Compared: FAQs
Question: Which game is longer?
Answer: Animal Crossing New Horizons and Stardew Valley both offer potentially endless hours of gameplay. But once you achieve a five-star island and design it exactly how you want it, the gameplay opportunities do slow down significantly, unless you want to completely redesign your island or start again from scratch.
Stardew Valley, however, offers much more in terms of the mines and the post-game opportunities that open up after the Community Centre, like Ginger Island, for example. These extra adventures can extend the gameplay tenfold, even after your farm is top-notch.
Question: Which game is more addictive?
Answer: I personally found Animal Crossing to be more addictive, and it really did consume my life, but that is more than likely due to the fact that my city was in Covid lockdown during its release. I have gone through several different phases of addiction with Stardew Valley, though.
Question: Which game has better music?
Answer: Both games have incredible soundtracks, but I find I often listen to the Animal Crossing soundtrack even when I’m not playing the game. It is fantastic music to listen to while studying.
Animal Crossing New Horizons Vs Stardew Valley: Which Is Better?
Both New Horizons and Stardew Valley are magical, relaxing, and cozy gaming experiences that every gamer should play at least once in their lives. And asking me to choose which one is best is kind of like asking a parent what child is their favorite. But there is one title that does have a slight edge over the other, and that is Stardew Valley.
If you are a beginner when it comes to sim games and you’re not sure where to start, Stardew Valley is a great place to find your footing in the cozy game realm. It has more gameplay elements to offer, which makes it a great way to ease into the concept of doing nothing in a game for fun.
It’s always possible to dip down to the mine for a bit of combat relief if you’re ever feeling restless during the mundane and repetitive activities like watering your crops and making mayonnaise all day.
Stardew Valley just has more to offer than Animal Crossing does in terms of variety and content. These extra gameplay elements give it an edge over its competition, in my opinion.
It’s also incredibly hard to argue with the price as it is far cheaper than New Horizons, and it is the perfect example of how incredible and worthwhile games don’t always have to be first-party AAA titles. I always love rooting for the underdog, and Stardew Valley is an absolutely brilliant success story.
Welcome to The Cozy World Of Cozy Games
Whether you decide to opt for Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing New Horizons, it’s pretty safe you are going to get hooked and get the other one eventually before diving into the many other incredible titles that fall under the cozy gaming umbrella.
I would apologize for your new addiction, but who are we kidding? Cozy games are some of the best in the gaming industry. So instead, I will just welcome you to the cozy gaming community. You’re going to love it here.