I missed the the Harvest Moon craze. Several of my friends were bit by that bug and had I played it then I likely would have been hooked too. While I cannot actually compare Stardew Valley to Harvest Moon I can say I it is my favorite farming/agriculture simulator. My favorite in the genre for more than the game’s mechanics, soothing effect, and replayability (which are awesome by the way) but because the game promotes empathy.
Throughout the game you have an opportunity to meet the community. Of the two main story tracks players can choose to revive Stardew Valley’s community center a room at a time. Many of the community members npcs throughout gameplay have multiple special interaction cut scenes that develop their stories. These stories explore frustrations with disability, alcoholism, war related PTSD, being an outsider, and more. The situations are provided without moralizing and they aren’t forced by any means. The player can help several neighbors out with food, constructing a home, providing them with birthday gifts, and running odd jobs for them. The game keeps track of your relationship with each npc and as your relationships improve you start receiving gifts from your neighbors.
The game also allows dating and marriage between the player and npcs of either sex. Players can adopt or have a child. No onscreen or offscreen sex references, sounds, etc. occur in the game and the dating component includes date cut scenes with a quick kiss being the greatest physical affection shown.
Something that struck me though was the wheelchair user. The portrayal was reasonable and realistic as well. Also there was no magical cure in the game (a trope we will get to later on this site). I use a wheelchair and it is not something you see often in primary or even support characters in games. Chatting with some friends we couldn’t think of a recent(ish) game that had a wheelchair user outside of Stardew Valley. Joker from the Mass Effect franchise is seen almost exclusively in the cockpit but has heavily reduced mobility which does come up in gameplay.
So if your looking for a fun farming sim, inclusive game, or tool for teaching empathy we totally recommend Stardew Valley.