Stardew Valley is undoubtedly one of the most influential indie games ever made. Building on the foundations built up by the likes of Harvest Moon, it has become a staple of the life sim genre. Just like how Harvest Moon influenced Stardew Valley, Stardew Valley itself has gone on to inspire others. Pixel Sprout Studios’ Sun Haven is the latest addition to the ever-growing list of Stardew Valley-inspired life sims.
World’s Dawn, Littlewood, Hokko Life, My Time At Portia, and many more. The life sim genre has become oversaturated, making it harder than ever for games to stand out from the crowd. It isn’t enough to just be a Stardew Valley clone because that doesn’t hold any long-term value. Any game looking to enter the life sim genre has to somehow differentiate itself enough for gamers to stick with it.
Welcome to Sun Haven
Sun Haven is another farming-centric life sim that at first glance is comparable to Stardew Valley. However, it is by no means a mindless clone. This game moves away from many of the core themes set by Stardew Valley in favor of its more traditional RPG roots.
From skill trees to equipment tiers covering both weapons and armor, Sun Haven has more in common with an action RPG than Stardew Valley. Furthermore, it has a detailed narrative and story to work through, whilst Stardew Valley focuses more on the gradual development of a community.
By far the biggest difference between this and Stardew Valley is the pacing. The latter is a slower game. Making substantial progress can take tens of hours. In contrast, maxing out a skill in Sun Haven or even completely overhauling your equipment is a relatively easy task.
These differences in design philosophy even extend to simple aspects like movement. Sun Haven gets rid of the cursed stamina mechanic of Stardew Valley and provides several methods of getting around faster via the exploration skill tree. Even though the world of Sun Haven is big, this increased movement allows you to explore it without using up a whole day just to get where you want. Everything in Pixel Sprout Studios’ game caters to the player more so than its inspirer.
Getting to work
There are a lot of different things to do in Sun Haven. You can level up skills, customize your farm, adventure into the mine, explore the wilderness and slay anything that dares to get in your way. Those looking for something a little more relaxed may instead prefer to build up a relationship with one of the fifteen romanceable characters.
The best part? All of this is supported in multiplayer where you and up to seven of your friends can work together. Having the option of eight-player multiplayer in a life sim is one hell of a unique selling point.
It’s not just the gameplay where player choice is prioritized either. The character customization screen features levels of diversity that Stardew Valley could only dream of. Thanks to its fantasy setting, Sun Haven can remove the limits of reality and allow a player to become whatever they want.
There are currently seven races: Angel, Amari, Demon, Elf, Elemental, Naga, and Human. Each one has a wide range of customization options from hairstyles to clothing to accessories. I find it easier to get immersed in a world when my character feels more personal to me, and a generic protagonist can hurt a game’s ability to get me invested in its world.
Credit has to be given to Pixel Sprout Studios for having three different towns at launch. These towns aren’t just extra locations for the developer to shovel the main story quests into either. They each have their own communities to meet and cultures to learn.
Although sidequests do exist this aspect of gameplay needs fleshing out. The daily fetch quests from the notice board don’t add much and most character-centric side quests have no meaningful impact. Some back story is shown if you date characters but it would be nice to see Sun Haven tap into its inner RPG and use these sidequests as an opportunity to explore the NPCs’ pasts and motivations.
Early access blues
As you’d expect from a game that is at version 0.1, Sun Haven is far from perfect. It has its fair share of bugs and design oversights that can definitely affect the gameplay experience negatively. How big an issue these are is going to depend on what standards you expect from an early access title.
The art is a good example of one of these shortcomings. For the most part, both the character and environment art is beautiful and I’d actually argue superior to that of Stardew Valley. However, it never changes. Regardless of what a character is saying or thinking, the exact same set image stays on the screen. This can get jarring when an NPC is confessing to you or telling an emotive tale of the town’s past but their face shows no emotion.
The general lack of polish is hard to miss. Sometimes when wrapping up the conversation with a character they will disappear and teleport across the map. Another example of this is when you feed a Snaccoon to open up a blocked path. Instead of getting up and moving out of the way, the big guy just vaporizes from existence.
Perhaps the worst offender though is the map. The world of Sun Haven is big and exploring all of it will take some time. Nevertheless, learning where everything is located takes longer than it should. Why? Because the in-game map is useless. It’s so bad that a user on Reddit had to create their own. I highly recommend using it at least until the developers get around to addressing it.
A long road ahead
Sun Haven is in an interesting position where there’s plenty to do in theory, but the reality is that not too much of that content is well fleshed out. Couple this with the various bugs and gameplay design shortcomings and you end up with a promising, yet typical, early access title. Regardless, there is a good chunk of content there and it would be unfair to overlook that.
At just $25 Sun Haven remains a good deal even if Pixel Sprout Studios was to leave it as it is right now. Knowing that the developers have several months worth of content planned out makes purchasing Sun Haven a relatively easy decision to make. Some critics may draw comparisons to Stardew Valley being just $15, which I’d argue is unfair given the age gap between the two games. This is a good game in its own right. With some strong support moving forward, it has the potential to become a real contender even in this oversaturated genre.