Without a doubt, two of the largest simulators in recent memory are Animal Crossing: New Horizons (henceforward called ACNH for the sake of brevity) and Stardew Valley. Despite their vastly different graphical styles, these two amazing games have a lot in common.
Are you trying to decide which one is going to be your new addiction? That’s an excellent question. As someone who’s been hooked on both of them, I think I’m qualified to answer that question with this Animal Crossing: New Horizons vs Stardew Valley comparison.
What are Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Stardew Valley?
In the event you’ve been living under a rock (and I really couldn’t blame you there), I’ll start by giving you a basic description of these two games. Let’s begin with Stardew Valley, since it was released first.
Stardew Valley is a farm simulator game. If you’ve ever played any of the classic Harvest Moon games, you know exactly what it’s like since it is essentially just a Harvest Moon clone.
You play as a farmer in the small, homey town of Stardew Valley. Your only goal is to work on improving your farm until it becomes an efficient money-earning machine. If you happen to sweep one of the townspeople off their feet along the way, then that’s cool, too.
In ACNH, you step into the shoes of a person who’s settling on an island as part of an exclusive travel package offered to you by the infamous raccoon, Tom Nook. You have a small island home that you can expand by taking out home loans and subsequently paying them off.
In addition to customizing your home, you can shape your island as you advance in the game. The landscape, the locations of crucial buildings, and the aesthetic of your island are all things you’ll have total influence over.
Stardew Valley and ACNH aren’t games you play to “win.” While you could argue it’s possible to achieve victory in Stardew Valley in year 3 when your grandfather’s spirit grades your farm, I’d say that’s not really the point.
In either game, you gather resources, build, and chill out. There’s no pressure to rack up points or level up. You can continue playing either one indefinitely, although you’ll potentially get to a point where there’s no further progress to be made on your farm or island.
That makes ACNH and Stardew Valley some of the most therapeutic games you can play. The no-pressure environments in either one are perfect for unwinding at the end of a stressful day.
One of my favorite things in games where it’s possible is to exhaustively customize my character. I can spend literal hours in the character customization screen trying to build someone who looks awesome, only to find that they look like a mutant at the end.
I can’t say that you’ll be able to get in-depth with it, but both ACNH and Stardew Valley allow you to customize your character. Again, the options will be limited. You won’t be able to go so far as to adjust the distance between your eyes or your height, but you will be able to pick eye color, hair color, gender, and more.
I think this is helpful for roleplay purposes. Personally, I get way more invested in my character if I can make them look like someone I’d want to play as.
Relationship Building Mechanics
ACNH and Stardew Valley are often about building relationships with NPCs. Of course, you can develop romantic relationships in Stardew Valley while relationships in ACNH are purely platonic. However, both will allow you to make friends with NPCs, which is what I wanted to point out.
The way you build positive relationships with characters in these games is similar, too. You can give them gifts or make sure to talk to them every day.
I think it’s a bit easier to befriend characters in ACNH, though. You can write them letters, craft them décor, or track them down easily on your small island. In Stardew Valley, you’ll need to talk to them daily in game and figure out which gifts they like most, which can sometimes be annoyingly obscure items.
Home Customization and Décor
One of the selling points for these games is the way you get to customize your home and surroundings. In Stardew Valley, that means setting up the layout of your farm and decorating your home accordingly. In ACNH, this means decorating your home and the layout of the island.
You’ll have a lot of options to choose from to make your space truly feel like yours. Wallpaper, furniture, and sometimes even the exterior of your home are things you’ll have control over.
One thing I should say is that Stardew Valley is a bit less flexible when it comes to interior design. You won’t have as many options as in ACNH. However, like in ACNH, you can still expand your home and add some décor to it.
Read Next: Stardew Valley: Best Spring Crops for Year 1
Optional Multiplayer Modes
Want to share the experience with your friends? Fortunately, with both ACNH and Stardew Valley, that’s entirely possible – although there are some differences between the multiplayer modes.
In Stardew Valley, you can play with up to three other people. If you do, you essentially all share one huge plot of land and you each build your own tiny farmsteads on it. You can then individually go about farming how you like, but since you’ll share one pooled pot of currency, it may be best to work together.
ACNH has a couple different ways you can play with other people. One is to use the Nintendo Switch’s online function to visit the islands of other players or to invite them to yours. Another method is to allow friends or family to make profiles on your Switch, then build their own homes on your island.
Online play is a real weakness in ACNH, though. If someone else is visiting your island, they can easily accidentally (or even purposefully) ruin your flowerbeds or steal any items you have on the ground. Furthermore, any time someone else flies to or from your island, the game makes everyone else stop and watch the progress of their flight, which takes a couple minutes.
If you like learning recipes and crafting your own items, you’ll love either ACNH or Stardew Valley. They both require you to learn to craft basic items and then upgrades to those items in order to progress.
There is a slight difference in how the crafting works. In Stardew Valley, you can craft from anywhere as long as you have the ingredients necessary in your inventory. ACNH requires you to be at a worktable and to have the items in your inventory for crafting.
I’m kind of lazy, so I just ended up building worktables everywhere in my house and spaced strategically around my island as a result.
The passage of time is an important factor in both ACNH and Stardew Valley. You’ll need to wait for crops to grow, buildings to be constructed, and certain events that can only happen at specific times of the day.
Naturally, this means they have day and night cycles. Like with all the other similarities, however, there are some slight differences here.
ACNH is tied to the passage of real time. Thus, it is daytime in the game when it is daytime for you and the same with nighttime.
Stardew Valley’s time passes more quickly in game. You can also skip the rest of the day if you’re waiting for something to happen the next day by going to your bed.
Read Next: Stardew Valley: Why Aren’t My Trees Growing?
There’s a museum in Stardew Valley and on the island in ACNH. You can donate random objects to both the museums.
There is some variation in the things you can donate from game to game. Blathers, the museum curator in ACNH, accepts fossils, artwork, fish, and insects that you haven’t previously donated. You catch the insects and fish, buy the artwork, and dig up the fossils.
On the other hand, Gunther, the curator in Stardew Valley, accepts minerals, artifacts, and books that you have not previously donated. You can find most of the donatable items by mining, fishing, or digging.
Read Next: Stardew Valley: Why Donate to the Museum?
Most games have some time of currency you can use to purchase items to progress. Maybe it should go without mentioning, then, that this the case for ACNH and Stardew Valley.
You’ll need to earn a lot of money to make progress in the game. There are some differences in the things you can spend your money on, but for the most part, it’s just money.
Perhaps it’s also worth noting that gold is used in Stardew Valley and the currency in ACNH is called bells. Don’t ask me why. Maybe this was addressed in one of the earlier games, but New Horizons was the first Animal Crossing game I’ve played.
You have to have something to spend all that in-game money you’re earning, right? Stardew Valley and ACHN will give you an outlet to pump that hard-earned cash into, as they each have stores. The number of stores and what they sell are different, though.
Stardew Valley has a general store, a bar where you can buy food, a carpenter to buy building upgrades from, a blacksmith to upgrade tools with, and a farming supplies store that sells you livestock and hay. There’s a lot to pour your gold into.
ACNH has just two stores on the island: a clothing store and a general store. Items available in the stores rotate out each day, so there’s always something new to check out. In addition to your island’s stores, though, there are merchants who will visit and peddle their own wares. You can also use a computer in the game to order items through the Nook Store.
One of the first differences between these games is immediately obvious: their graphical styles. Stardew Valley has a colorful two-dimensional pixelated style that will remind you of days gone by in gaming.
ACNH, on the other hand, has a fully three-dimensional and cartoony style. It looks like an updated version of previous Animal Crossing entries, from what I can see.
In my opinion, the graphics in either one look fine. Neither of them looks dated right now.
I think Stardew Valley’s graphics especially will withstand the test of time because they’re designed to look traditional, though. This could potentially put off younger audiences that are used to cutting-edge graphics.
What you’re going to be playing either game on varies between them. Stardew Valley is, by far, the more readily available of the two games. You can play it on PC, the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, iOS, and Android.
If you want to play ACNH, however, you’ll need to be prepared to invest in a pricey Nintendo Switch if you don’t have one already. That is currently the only platform the game is compatible with.
Stardew Valley Romance Mechanics
You might hear some people call Stardew Valley a dating simulator because it incorporates romance mechanics. It’s true that you are able to date and eventually marry a range of townspeople.
I hesitate to call it a full-on dating simulator, though, because I feel that’s hardly the point of the game. You can avoid it completely if you don’t feel like romancing any of the characters.
If you do choose to date someone, “dating” just entails talking to the person every day and giving them gifts they like twice a week. Keep doing that, and they’ll eventually like you enough, and you’ll have these cute little cutscenes with them.
There is no such thing in ACNH for a couple reasons: the NPCs are all animals, and it’s a children’s game.
ACNH Tool Degradation
This might be an annoyance more than something you’ll enjoy, but the tools in ACNH break down after you use them enough. You’ll need to regularly craft or buy new tools. This isn’t the case in Stardew Valley, where your tools will last indefinitely, allowing you to keep upgrading them.
Now, ACNH does allow you to get unbreakable gold tools. Doing so is complicated and takes an amazingly long time, however, as you have to get each gold tool separately.
Stardew Valley Combat System
You can’t fight anything in ACNH, and you wouldn’t really want to. Most of the other things you’ll encounter are fish, NPCs, and insects, after all.
In Stardew Valley, however, you can fight various monsters in the mines. I think using the term “combat system” is being a little generous here because it’s incredibly simple. You press a button, you hit the thing. Repeat a few times until it’s dead.
There are different weapons you can get, and different monsters do different amounts of damage to you. But that’s about as complex as it gets.
ACNH Citizen Selection
In Stardew Valley, the townspeople are set in stone. You have no influence on who lives there, and most of them are already there when you settle into your farm. I guess the one way you can influence the townspeople is by having a child with your spouse, but the child stays on your farm all the time and never really grows up, so I wouldn’t count it.
You’ll have a limited degree of control over the population of your island in ACNH. In fact, many people go on the hunt for “dreamies,” or particular characters they want to move to their island.
If you’re a fan of characters in past games, you might enjoy the ability to allow certain ones on your island. You can essentially cultivate a town full of your favorites.
Stardew Valley Alcohol
It doesn’t really matter overall, but there is alcohol in Stardew Valley. One of the buildings in the towns is actually a bar, where you can buy drinks and food or play arcade games.
This won’t be important to you if you’re an adult looking to play the game yourself. However, if you’re a parent searching for a game for your child, you may want to be aware of that.
There is no alcohol in ACNH. It’s a thoroughly child-friendly game.
ACNH Island Traveling
One of the features that really sets ACNH apart is your ability to travel to other islands. There are two different aspects to this: you can travel to other random islands for resources, or you can visit the islands of other players.
You’ll probably just travel to random islands for resources far more often. This allows you to get more wood, stone, and flowers to bring back to your home for crafting.
You don’t do nearly as much traveling in Stardew Valley. You can visit the nearby Calico desert and its terrifying mine, but that’s pretty much the only place you can go outside of the town.
Stardew Valley Stamina Bar
In ACNH, you can technically keep doing whatever you want for as long as you want, provided you have the tools and time. This is not the case with Stardew Valley.
When you’re playing the latter, you’re restricted by a stamina bar. Using most tools will drain a small portion of your stamina bar. If it’s totally empty and you attempt to do an action that uses stamina, you will pass out and wake up in your house.
Usually, you must mete out your stamina throughout the day in-game wisely. However, if you happen to use up a lot of stamina early in the day, you can replenish it by visiting the hot spring if you’ve unlocked that part of the map. If you’re playing multiplayer, you can also regain incremental stamina by lying in your bed.
ACNH Stalk Market
Making money is going to be an important part of the game whether you choose to play ACNH or Stardew Valley. With Stardew Valley, though, your income will almost entirely come from what your farm produces, especially in the late game.
In ACNH, your income will come from selling things…or, if you’re feeling financially risky, you can invest in the stalk market.
Every Sunday, a character named Daisy Mae will come to your island and sell turnips. Nook’S Cranny will buy the turnips from you at a price that fluctuates throughout the week. You have one week to sell the turnips before they rot, so it’s a risky prospect – but one that can pay off handsomely if you’re lucky.
Stardew Valley Farm Animal Maintenance
As you know, Stardew Valley will have you running a farm. Part of that will include farm animals if you choose to keep them on your farmstead.
You don’t really get to keep pets or farm animals in ACNH. I guess that would be strange if you could, since the NPCs are all talking animals. You’d probably get some weird looks if you started capturing people to make a mock farm in the game.
ACNH Island Layout Customization
You have ability to customize your home in either game, but only ACNH will allow you to customize the layout of the whole island. You’re the person who chooses where new buildings ago, whether it’s a business or home.
You have all the power you need to essentially turn an entire island into your ideal paradise. I’ve made separate business and residential districts on my island, for instance.
Stardew Valley does not give you such control. You’ll have a sizable plot of land to shape, but you cannot do anything to the layout of the town.
Which One Should You Play Next?
Overall, you’ll get a remarkably similar relaxing experience from either Animal Crossing: New Horizons or Stardew Valley. They’re both fantastic games to play when you’re looking for something to help you relax at the end of the day.
That being said, there are some differences between them that might make you reach for one before the other.
For instance, I think ACNH is the better game for kids. Remember, there’s no romance mechanic in it and it lacks alcohol, so it’s a pretty safe experience for young gamers.
And while both games give you the ability to customize things, I think Stardew Valley is more fun for those extremely logical-minded people who love to get strategic and fine-tune things. If you’re that type of person, you’ll love planning out every tile on your farm to maximize profits.
Those who want to explore more will appreciate ACNH’s ability to travel to other islands. You never know what you’ll find on an island. I’ve had a couple experiences with islands filled with rocks that drop money when you hit them.
Into dungeon crawling? Then you’ll have a blast delving into Stardew Valley’s mines. They can get surprisingly difficult (and strangely creepy).
You’ll want to think about what platform you have to game on, too. Unless you already have a Nintendo Switch, you’ll have to buy one to play Animal Crossing. Stardew Valley is much more readily available for other platforms.