Genre: Farming Sim, Life Sim, RPG
Original Release: February 26, 2016
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch
Played on: PC
I remember picking up Stardew Valley as part of the Humble Freedom Bundle back in mid-2016. I was hesitant at first, given how deeply Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town had absorbed me in the past. But once I gave it a chance, the game clicked almost immediately. In the grand tradition of farming sims, you start off with some basic tools and a farm that’s absolutely littered with debris from years of wild growth. But with a little time, a bit of effort, and some planning, you can turn that debris into valuable resources for crafting or construction! Or you can sell it off for some quick money if that’s your cup of tea, but I’m partial to holding onto my stone and fiber personally.
But there’s more to Stardew Valley than just farming. There’s a cast of approximately thirty NPCs spread around the world for you to meet, become friends with, and (for twelve of them) potentially marry. Each of them has their own unique likes and dislikes, and their own stories. On top of that, there’s some light adventuring you can do by exploring the local mines, a slew of archaeological treasures to donate to the museum in return for some really neat goodies, so many fish to catch, and plenty of recipes to unlock and cook. Eat your heart out, Julia Child.
Finding something about Stardew Valley that I can cover without parroting so many others before me, intentionally or otherwise, is honestly pretty tricky. I’ve been trying to mull over what I want to say for the past week, but in the end I think the best I’m going to be able to do is discuss some of my favorite parts of the game, as well as some of the decisions I made that may have negatively impacted my enjoyment so that you can hopefully avoid those same pitfalls and have an experience all your own!
To start, Stardew Valley is impressively deep. Everything you do as an individual impacts one of five skills: farming, foraging, fishing, mining, and combat. The more you do any one of these, the better your skills become, and once you hit certain milestones you can choose between one of two special perks for each of them! It’s not as complicated as you would see in a game like World of Warcraft and the various talent trees, but either of the two perks is useful and somehow that more limited choice provides a more uniquely tailored experience than the aforementioned talent trees.
Watching your farm grow from a small patch of parsnips to something of an agricultural juggernaut is also incredibly satisfying. With a handful of scarecrows and a few sprinklers, I was able to convert maybe a quarter of my land into a crop field and still have plenty of room left for an orchard, barn, and a small patch of lightning rods for battery pack generation. It’s crazy, just how much freedom you have to design your farm exactly how you want it right from the start, provided you have all of the necessary materials available. But that’s one of the best parts of the game. Unlike Friends of Mineral Town, you get to choose where all of your buildings are placed on your plot (aside from your house and greenhouse), so you’re free to make your farm as tidy or as labyrinthine as you like! You could even have a bunch of fish ponds set up if that’s all you want to do!
And that’s the beauty of the game. It really takes the saying “The world is your oyster” and runs with it. How you earn money and what you do with it is entirely up to you. Upgrade your tools, buy seeds or food to improve or prolong your spelunking, buy gifts for your romantic interest, or just go fishing. Now that I think about it, you really do have to spend money to make money.
So I think that’s what I really like about Stardew Valley: the sheer amount of freedom to do whatever you want right from the start. It’s refreshing, to say the least. But I mentioned that I made a mistake earlier, and I would be remiss if I didn’t address it here.
If you’re going to play Stardew Valley, don’t force yourself through a season by ending the days early.
That’s going to require a bit of explanation, so let’s dive right into it. Certain items are seasonal. Fish, crops (at least until you get the greenhouse), and forage all have a season and time and if you’re like me and missing one autumn fish from your collection in the middle of summer it’s going to be all too tempting to just go back to bed right at 6 AM, heck the crops and farm animals. They won’t go bad until the next season so you’ve got time. Don’t do it. Trust me, it just sucks the fun out of things and if I could go back and do it differently, I would. I would take each day slowly, grab a bunch of forage items and craft seasonal seeds, dig up artifacts hoping for ancient seeds, build another silo and just have a ton of grass in the open spaces on my farm to make sure I didn’t have to keep bugging Marnie to feed my dinosaurs (yes, you read that correctly, their names are Magnus and Gribble) through the winter.
Stardew Valley is definitely one of my favorite games in recent years, and it just recently had a massive content update with the 1.5 patch. I cannot recommend it highly enough if you need something to just unwind at the end of a long day or if you’re looking for something relaxing. And thus, I hereby name it the first recipient of my personal seal of approval.
Ya done good, ConcernedApe. There’s a lot of love in Stardew Valley and it shines bright all throughout. If you don’t already have it in your library, do yourself a favor and pick it up.