So, I love this game. Stardew Valley has been able to provide me with hours of fun and addicting entertainment. Although, I don’t think I love it quite as much as other people on the internet.
I had high hopes for this game and it somehow exceeded them. I’m only a minor fan of Rune Factory and Story of Seasons (saying other game to look smart), but I really enjoyed my time with the games. They were fun and involving, and the socializing aspect really thrilled me. So when I heard that Stardew Valley encompassed Rune Factory’s combat, Harvest Moon’s farming and socializing, and Animal Crossing’s fishing and town growth for only 20 dollars Canadian, I was sold. But what I didn’t expect was an obscene level of polish.
I’m a huge fan of sprite art and this game does not disappoint. Pelican Town’s colours are vibrant, but also distinct enough so you can tell what objects are at a glance. The deserts look like deserts and the skies are blue and beautiful. When the seasons roll around, the atmosphere of the game is ramped up as well. Summer days have drier grass and last longer, while spring is vibrant and has more flowers on the ground. The visuals are both visually appealing, but suiting to the situation as well. The game utilizes so many affordances and quality-of-life mechanics that it boggles my mind. For example, you can select a tool by opening your inventory and clicking on it. However, you can also hit a number on your keyboard, or click on it while it is on your toolbar to use it. Like, in Minecraft for example, if there wasn’t text to tell me what certain objects were, I would be completely clueless. Stardew Valley’s pixel art is so detailed that, honestly, if I didn’t even have guiding text, I would be able to tell what objects are. Even areas like the mine use contrasting colours between generic brown and greys for stone, and the distinct colours for ore and enemies. The player always sees exactly what they want, and no matter what, they pop out. It is why object strewn on the beach are visible; the beach is almost completely white, and even colours that are close to that palette are visible. Stardew Valley’s visuals are incredibly impressive.
Stardew Valley doesn’t have an ending, so the game is best enjoyed at a relaxed pace. When I first played, I spent all of Spring just tending to my farm, fishing, and exploring the mine. I didn’t even bother to socialize or give any NPC’s a gift. I think I had a single heart with 1 NPC, which i’m fairly certain was Linus. I had 1 heart with him because I was like “hey, he’s homeless, he probably wants some food!” and I was right. Protip: if you have the slightest idea of what a person wants based on their appearance, you’re probably right. Abigail has purple hair, so I thought she liked Amethyst. I was right. But she doesn’t like grapes. She’s too complicated for me I don’t get her. Abigail this will never work. But I guess this just shows how much I bothered with the social interactions.
The worst thing that happened to me was the Potluck in Spring. See, I assumed that it would be a general potluck in real life. Everybody brings a dish and they all sample each others, right? So, in Stardew Valley, I got a Chocolate cake by completing a quest in the Town Center, and I thought “I’m gonna kill it at this potluck, i’m finally going to get people to like me, and they’ll ACTUALLY want to dance with me at the Spring Dance next year!” Well, in Stardew Valley, the potluck is every villager contributing to a giant vat of soup. This means that everybody has to bring an ingredient to add to the soup, not a whole dish. And, since this was early in the game and I had no idea what I was actually doing properly, I had no inventory upgrades because I was too busy buying seeds and stone like an idiot. So when it came to the Potluck and I needed to contribute to the soup, I threw a rock in there. And then they tried it, and said it was awful and a villager ruined it. And then the day automatically ended. I felt terrible.
But, the fact that I genuinely felt shame for ruining a tradition for Pelican Town is a testament to how powerful the game’s atmosphere is. Stardew Valley makes me ACTUALLY care about the people in it. The characters in Stardew Valley add a lot of charm to the game. When you aren’t meticulously designing your farm to min-max profits…well you’re doing a lot of other activities but you are also talking with the villagers. I feel like, at first, they all hate me. Or, rather, they’re indifferent to me. Except Alex. He asked me once if I think he could be a professional athlete, I said yes, and he would never leave me alone again. He was the first person, I ever got to 2 hearts out of 10 in our relationship. You mean slightly a bit to me, Alex.
But as you give people superficial gifts and never, you know, actually socialize and see what interests and beliefs you share, they start to open up to you more. And this was fascinating to me. Characters’ demeanor improves over time and you learn a lot about their history. Shane is a depressed stock boy at Joja Mart, which is essentially Wal-Mart. While he is cold to you at first, you can infer a lot about his character based on initial appearances. I knew he was an alcoholic because he is at the saloon every night, but I didn’t know the reason for it, and I applaud the creator, Eric Barone, for this subtle writing. See, at the beginning of the game, your character is shown to be working at Joja Mart, which is a Soul-Crushingly boring office job with little sense of employee comraderie and human value. The whole reason the player moves into Stardew Valley is to escape this life. So when you see Shane working at Joja Mart, the player is able to make connections. Without even talking to Shane, I understood the way he was because of the envrionment around me. So while raising affection with people may be slightly shallow, allowing others to open up and understand their hopes and dreams was so rewarding.
Speaking of rewarding, let’s talk about the farming! It’s really good. Like, really really good. I own both the PC and PS4 version of Stardew Valley, and while I do prefer the PC version, the farming is quick and excellent for each. Every input is rapid and receptive, and it is all very convenient. There are plenty of crafts such as sprinklers and scarecrows to spruce up and improve the farm. In fact, if you are smart with your crop and sprinkler placement, your farm can become completely automated. You never need to water your crops and waste precious time and stamina. The fact that the farming runs deep enough for the player to construct an actual automatic operation is boggling to me. The farming looks simple on the outside: till with the hoe, plant the seeds, water, repeat every day until it harvests. Yet, within this simple system, there is so much possibility for creativity. You can use fences and pathways to beautify your farm and segregate livestock and crops. Maybe you have grass growing outside and you want your livestock to have a place to chill. Maybe you want to build a home for your pet cat. Maybe you want a scarecrow empire to fight off a crow phobia. There is so much room for expression that was unavailable for me in Rune Factory and Harvest Moon that it’s probably one of the best parts about this game.
Now personally, I played this game like Animal Crossing for too long. I had a fishing addiction. In Animal Crossing, I was a fishing and bug-catching tycoon. It’s probably a good thing that Stardew Valley doesn’t have bug catching, or I would probably dedicate even more hours of my life to earning virtual dollars. I would fish and fish and occaisionally try and do quests for people. Thankfully, unlike Animal Crossing, people in Stardew Valley can actually pull their weight. People are grateful when you do something nice like remember their birthday and the first line of dialogue isn’t them just asking you a favour. They don’t see that you have an egyptian urn and offer to give you a walgreens t-shirt for it. People in Stardew Valley adhere to a schedule and have daily routines. Knowing these routines is awesome and realistic. After all, my day always starts with coffee and breakfast before I go to school or work. Why would I stray from that when i’ve become so molded to it? Yet, I realized that the greatest profits lie in farming, not in fishing, But hey! when you’re waiting for your crops to grow, it is a perfect alternative to maintaining a constant income. Just don’t be like Linus and eat and sell flowers you find on the ground.
Another thing I like is the amount of villagers. I feel that there is the perfect amount for all of them to be distinct. They all have a lot of dialogue and understandable personalities that just seeing their presence and starting up a small converstion puts a smile on my face. The people make this game feel like a genuine community.
Did somebody say community? Because I say community center! It took me way too long to find out this thing existed. I saw that the messages in the room were written in halabaloo alien desu spirit, and I was like “this is too hard, I can’t figure out a second language, I tired with mandatory French in high school and wanted to nuke Montreal off the face of Canada”. But after visiting the wizard, and having him teach me the language of the little cute spirits, the community center became another integral part of my Stardew Valley experience. Two seasons in, that is, I was halfway through Summer when I saw the option for Spring foraging, and I realized tht I completely missed it. I got demotivated to continue. Until I realized there was a community center area for fishing and I became the greatest resident of Stardew Valley.
Seriously, people insult you all the time, but they should honestly be praising you. Before you, Marnie had the only farm in town, so she was pretty much the only way anybody could eat. Sure, there was Willie fishing. but when you talk to him, he says that “the art of fishing is dying”, so it doesn’t look like anybody cares much for that either. Marnie’s farm doesn’t even specialize in crops; she uses livestock for her profits. So I guess everybody ate animal products like eggs and meat, but even though there are only 28 residents, does she have enough animals to feed all of them, every day of the year? Why does Pierre even sell seeds when nobody buys them. I suppose they could import their crops, but I feel that me and Marnie should be getting some more respect. When Haley is like “ew, farming, that’s ratchet” I get really offended because I’m doing so much for this town and it goes unappreciated.
But I guess that’s not really the point, the point is to relax and enjoy the pastoral farming town. Becausefarminginreallifeismuchmorestrenuousthanitisinfictionandvideogames.
I am also a mining fiend. I said before that I like the contrasting visuals in the mine, but there is something so addicting to the system in Stardew Valley. The fact that you get a shortcut every 5 floors, and the fact that each subsequent floor is hidden in a random stone makes it an exciting gamble. What am I going to find in the mine next time? How much copper will I find to upgrade my tools to make farming better? I better find a billion iron ore to make them quality sprinklers to automate my farm. Combat in this game is uh, a thing that exists. It’s nothing to write home about, other than you need to have MLG zoning and spacing. It is a good thing I bought this Razer Death Adder for Stardew Valley. With ergonomic buttons and ergonmic clicks and ergonomic holds I can be the best slime slayer.
But even with all this praise, I haven’t even gotten to the best part of Stardew Valley. The arcade game. But it seems like everybody hates this game. They’re like “oh nolan you’re so stupid this game isn’t for classy people like me and my 4K monitor and GTX 1060”, but, I don’t know I really like it. it’s just a dumb, Binding of Isaac-esque game where you shoot stuff.
But all is not perfect with Stardew Valley. See, when I played this game, I just assumed that it would have 30 days like Harvest Moon does. I knew that it had the 4 seasons instead of 12 months, but I didn’t know Stardew Valley had 28 days instead of 30. So, like an idiot, I planned a huge harvest of crops for the 30th day of Spring. I didn’t unlock the backpack upgrade, and this was going to be the big day where I finally got my paycheck. I was thrilled. I went to bed on Spring 28th, anticipating how I would build my coop and what animals I would put in, only to see Summer 1 pop up, and be shocked that my entire field was dead. All of those seeds, all of that sweet profit, evaporated. I stopped playing the game for a month after that, because I was so devastated. And the worst part, is it was my fault. I was to presumptuous. I thought I had Stardew Valley all figured out.
Speaking of, when you think you know everything to the game, something always surprises you. You always find some neat, little factoid about the game. Something like, digging in the ground can get you a book, which you can bring to the museum. I saw this for the first time like yesterday, and it blew my mind. It feels like i’m always being surprised by some social event, or some new artifact I dig up, and it is amazing. All of these surprises feel emergent and natural in the game, which is very impressive. Little touches like these can add so much to the players experience. Even on your regular daily routines, you have the possibility of discovering something. I love it. Even through a self-imposed regiment, Stardew Valley’s freedom and discovery blossoms.
Oh, and did I mention that this game gets new content constantly? Yeah, I took a break in May of this year and came back to it later and there was apparently an option to start with different farm types? That feature was made pretty much for me; a veteran who wanted to return but also wanted a different experience. There is just so much content and so many secrets that I honestly haven’t even scratched the surface of this game. If you haven’t guessed, I want you to buy this game. But, I doubt you need me to tell you that. Everybody has sung the praises of this game, and its absurd level of polish. I’ve only played two games that came out in this year, Stardew Valley and Overwatch, and I highly recommend getting Stardew Valley. You can easily get hours of entertaining and incredibly polished gameplay for 20 dollars Canadian, 15 US. I know it really seems like I’ve gone in-depth with this game, but there is so so SO much more. Buy it. Just buy it. Show the indie community some love with this purchase. You won’t regret it one bit. If you want games similar to Stardew Valley, I recommend Rune Factory 4 on the 3ds, and Animal Crossing New Leaf on the 3ds. Unfortunately, games like Stardew Valley are very niche, and you won’t be likely to find one with similar polish on Steam.