Long gone are the days we got only a single farm sim per season. There are more every month now and the latest crop has brought in the excessively cute and magical Fae Farm. I was expecting this one to be too sweet even for my taste but Fae Farm makes such a great first impression with its mercantile island and streamlined farm sim systems that I forgot to put my controller down.
Fae Farm begins as the farm sim bylaws demand:
There is an unkempt property in a remote location and it is mine now.
The first thing I'm instructed to do is plant turnips. Why is it always turnips or parsnips? I don't think I know a single person who's ever eaten a turnip on purpose.
I meet the locals who teach me to fish, catch bugs, and care for animals.
I get swept off to collect copper and bash baddies in the local mines.
I harvest my nine turnips and then immediately invest in any other crop available (cauliflower).
It takes place on an island beset by disasters like magical whirlpools, giant thorn hedges, and belligerent knick-knacks ("jumbles") hidden in its mines. I've arrived to farm, fish, and forage, but I suppose I can help with the supernatural issues while I'm here. Its stone-cobbled streets and stacked terraces of shops are exactly the kind of Wind Waker nostalgia-inducing setting I'm a sucker for, so my initial aversion to its smooth and overly-cute characters didn't last long. I caught my first Spring Peeper, these adorable wild purple frogs, and bought my first hen-like Chickoo, and whatever reservations I had about the visual direction evaporated.
Fae Farm held my hand through all of those introductions, chaining together quests given by townsfolk advising me to go meet the next person who would teach me one of these collection skills, enticing me with new activities for multiple hours. Now that we're so spoiled for choices on farm sims, the opening 30 minutes have become make-or-break for the Stardew-descended family of farm sims. Less tactful ones drag me through lengthy dialogue intro sequences and leave me bored during my first days without enough to do.
Part of how Fae Farm nails its intro is that it's managed to remove almost all the tiny moments of friction that I've come to accept as normal in farm sims. My gathering tools are all completely contextual instead of sitting on an inventory hotbar I need to manage. If I'm standing beside a rock, Left Click will use my pickaxe but if I'm beside a tree it's my chopping axe. Standing in my field? Clicking will either water a dry space or collect a grown crop.
Fae Farm removes small obstacles from my life in other ways too. The world is full of purple mushrooms I can bounce off of to reach higher areas, all placed in locations that feel heavily playtested as preferred player shortcuts. I always bounce up a mushroom to my homestead lot instead of walking up the small ramp nearby. I can also swim, meaning I'm constantly hopping, diving, and running all over the island in whatever way is most convenient for me. Townsfolk can be tracked on my map so a little indicator on my screen leads me to them. Oh, and bedtime is midnight sharp, though I'm not penalized for not making it home in time.
I recently really enjoyed Roots of Pacha for the way it so accurately followed the path that Stardew Valley has charted. Fae Farm feels like it's studied the cozy farm sim landscape just as effectively, but learned a different lesson. It reminds me of the concept of "desire paths". These are places where more efficient footpaths emerge between designed walkways. Fae Farm feels like it's identified all the desire paths we've worn into cozy farm sims and decided to make each of them official.
There's a lot more of Fae Farm for me to uncover. After several hours I'm about to begin cross-breeding flowers and attempting to breed special colors of Chickoos. I've not managed to decorate my house yet, though there are recipes galore for wallpapers and furniture items. I need to finish clearing out the trees and rocks from my property so I can start designing the exact fence placement and crop plot shapes I want to build. I've not tried multiplayer yet either, though its four-player co-op is just the right size for my friend group to try out. Oh, and I still need to upgrade my tools and try using some magic. See, this is how these games always get me.
Even as the entire gaming community is being waylaid by Starfield, I found it super easy to sink my evening into Fae Farm, which is a feat not all cozy farm sims could have pulled.