You can feel the passion emanating from every aspect of Stardew Valley.
Its sole developer has finally finished the project he has passionately worked for the last four years by putting in 70-hour weeks. Has Stardew Valley paid off? Yes, yes it has. Alright then, thank you for coming out; I’ll get my coat.
Stardew Valley, “an open-ended country-life RPG” seemingly came out of nowhere, but it has taken Steam by storm in an impressive fashion. Stardew Valley was single-handedly created by developer Eric Barone (@ConcernedApe), whose main inspiration behind Stardew Valley is the Harvest Moon series; it’s no surprise then that the premise isn’t dissimilar to that of Harvest Moon. You’re tasked with clearing out a farm and planting crops, and though it may not sound fun on the face of it, Stardew Valley certainly makes it so. A team of 1,000 couldn’t muster the same level of care and depth that Barone has managed to put into Stardew Valley, so it rightfully deserves its place on Steam’s Top Sellers list because it’s good, really good.
It’s just another typical day of work at Joja when you decide you’ve had enough. You open a letter your grandfather instructed you to open on the day you “feel crushed by the burden of modern life”, and today is that day. The letter tells you of how your grandfather once felt the same; he dropped everything and moved to a place he felt that he truly belonged. The letter encloses the deed to said place, which is whatever you decide to name it (“Totally Legal Farm” for me) in Stardew Valley – or more specifically, Pelican Town. So off you go in search of a better life. Unfortunately, on arrival, your new farm turns out to be a bit of a dump, so it’s time to clean up, plant crops, go fishing, go adventuring and live the best farming life you possibly can in Pelican Town.
Stardew Valley’s art style is vibrant and reminiscent of the SNES days, but it perfectly fits the overall aesthetic and feel of the game. I know, however, that this art style can put many people off, but I actually find it really pleasing to the eye and a huge element toward its overall charm. The soundtrack to Stardew Valley partners well alongside the graphical style as well; it’s reminiscent at times of the soundtrack to Minecraft by C418 though never straying too far into that territory. It’s one of those games that is great for putting your own music on in the background, but that’s not to say its official soundtrack is anything other than extremely pleasant.
You’ll probably spend the first few days of Stardew Valley like me: confused without much idea of how you’re supposed to do anything. However, it doesn’t take long before you realise how the farming works; you’re helped in part by being gifted some seeds at the start of Stardew Valley. On top of that, one of your first quests is to meet everyone in Pelican Town, and these villagers give you hints on how to play the game. Through inviting you to explore Pelican Town and meet its cast of characters, you find the places and people you’ll need to keep coming back to for purchasing seeds, equipment, or to upgrade various pieces of your farm.
Every character in Pelican Town has their own personality as well as their own weekly routines, and they all have their part to play in the town: Leah is an artist and sculptor, Penny is the carpenter, Demetrius the scientist and Harvey the doctor. There’s so much finite detail put into some of these characters; for instance, every Tuesday the same group of characters go to Pierre’s shop and take part in a workout session. You begin to memorise these routines and patterns of certain characters and start thinking to yourself “it’s Thursday 4 p.m., so she should be on her way back from there”. These character patterns can be affected by conditions such as the weather or what season it is. Stardew Valley also has a relationship system, allowing you to get closer to certain townsfolk. Eventually, you can marry one of the single characters in town; the most efficient way to get there is to give them gifts they like twice every week and talk to them every day. The relationship system is probably the weakest part of the game but is something that Barone intends to work on.
The game is split into the four seasons, with each lasting 28 days. The seasons dictate your crop rotations, with some that will only grow in a particular season, and on the first day of each season the crops you planted last season will die. Coupled with the time seeds take to grow, this adds a tactical element to farming in Stardew Valley; realistically, you want to plant the last batch of the season so that it will grow on the last day of the season. The day your crops have fully grown you get pound signs in your eyes because they’re going to make you some sweet money. When you know you’ve got a decent amount of money coming in, it’s then time to work out the best way to spend it – do you get more seeds than before? Upgrade something? Buy a barn or coop for farm animals? On the face of it, you wouldn’t think Stardew Valley would involve so much strategy and tactical thinking, but if you want to be successful, it’s important to always plan one to two days ahead of where you are now.
The perfect time to upgrade your farm and equipment is in the winter as you can’t plant any crops that season. Winter is the least engaging season in Stardew Valley; there’s a lot of waiting for everything to upgrade, and a heck of a lot of mining or fishing. It’s in winter that you realise how integral farming is to the game, but you need a period where you can focus on other aspects aside from farming.
Those other aspects? Well, when waiting for crops to grow you could spend the day fishing or mining. Fishing is done in what I can only describe as a mini-game: you throw your line trying to time it on a power bar for potentially better quality fish. Once you have a hit on the line you have a little green bar in which to catch the given fish; you then have to keep the fish in your green bar until another green bar fills to the top. It sounds complicated and, at first, is difficult, but you gradually get better through practise and the acquisition of better fishing equipment.
If fishing doesn’t take your fancy you can always go mining, which is available after a particular event in the game. There is a real element of time management throughout Stardew Valley and it is most prevalent when mining. If you don’t get to sleep by 2 a.m. you will pass out, leaving you low on energy the next day. While mining, you come across the enemies that round off your Stardew Valley experience. There’s a wide range of enemies to encounter within the mine, which only get more bizarre the further down you go. The combat system is pretty simple and usually devolves into swinging your sword as fast as you can, pushing enemies back as you do so, but luckily combat is not an integral part of the game.
I have been seriously charmed by Stardew Valley; there certainly isn’t much about it that I dislike. I like its subtle tactical elements and time management that thread through all of the activities you can do. It’s without a doubt currently my favourite game this year, and I feel it might take something pretty incredible to knock it off. There’s a few that could do that, but I’m grateful to already have a game I enjoy this much, and it’s only March!