We live in a fast paced, technological world. Social media brings us news so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to process it all. We carry computers in our pocket that can access a database so vast that we are overwhelmed into “wasting” it on videos of animals hugging. Even a popular form of entertainment and relaxation, video games, can be a constant barrage of breaking news and controversial decisions. The games themselves are often filled with action and violence. Which might be what makes a game like Stardew Valley so special.
Stardew Valley is an indie PC game developed entirely by Eric Barone (ConcernedApe). It has many similarities to the Harvest Moon series, and very clearly draws inspiration from it. In the game, you play a newcomer to the beautiful Stardew Valley. To escape the fast paced, technological city life, you have moved to a small farm your grandfather left to you. But this is just the starting point; what happens after is completely up to you. Stardew valley is a large, open world game full of possibilities for you to discover and enjoy.
To begin, you have your farm. The farm is overgrown with trees and shrubs, with fallen logs and rocks scattered throughout. Chopping down trees, clearing shrubs, and breaking rocks gets you wood, fiber, and stones. These materials can be sold, or used as building and crafting materials. Once you’ve cleared some space, you can till the soil, plant some crops, and water them daily with your watering can. These crops will eventually be ready for you to harvest. That harvested produce can be eaten raw, used for cooking (though not at first), given as gifts, or sold for cash. You can use the cash, along with materials, to upgrade your house, upgrade tools, purchase a variety of items from different shops, or build animal buildings on the farm. Once animal buildings are in place, you can start raising animals, who also produce items that can be used or sold. This is only an overview. As you play, you’ll learn new crafting recipes, and trigger new events that bring even more possibilities to the farm. However, Stardew Valley is much more than your little plot of land.
Leave your farm, head due east, and you will find yourself in the quaint village of Pelican Town. In Pelican Town, you can make purchases in the local shop, upgrade equipment at the blacksmiths, spend some time relaxing in the saloon, and most importantly meet the townspeople. Each character in the game has a unique, believable personality. You can interact with the villagers from day to day, and at special festivals and events. Through these interactions, you’ll quickly start to develop preferences; just like in real life you’ll like some people more than others. And if one of those people happens to be single, you can start to develop a relationship. Spend enough time with the person, and give them enough gifts, and you might even end up married!
Pelican Town isn’t the only interesting place in Stardew Valley. North of town is a deep mine, just waiting for an adventurer like you. Head into the mine with a pickaxe and a sword, and explore the depths. In the mine, you can fight monsters for loot, and mine for minerals, which can be smelted into construction materials, or sold for cash. This is the most “dangerous” the game gets, as it’s the only time you have a health bar. However, when you see that health getting low, just hop on the ladder and it takes you right back to the top of the mine.
One of my favorite pastimes in Stardew Valley is fishing. Pelican Town is an ocean-side village. Just south of town is the beach, where you can collect shells or catch fish. There are also lakes and rivers throughout the valley. The kind of fish you catch depends on where you are, what time of day it is, and how far you cast your line. Discovering how to catch specific fish is a fun challenge. Like crops, fish can be eaten, used for cooking, or sold.
What Stardew Valley does great is draw you in, without any stress. Time moves at a reasonable pace, each hour slowly ticking away, each day progressing through the season. In addition, you have a set amount of energy each day. This energy is drained any time you work with a tool, and once it’s gone you hop into bed for a good night’s sleep. The time and the energy systems work together to give the game a structure that has to be planned around. What’s impressive is that it rarely feels like a deadline. This is largely because, in Stardew Valley, you can’t really fail. Sure, you can plan poorly, and not achieve a goal for one reason or another. But you don’t die, you don’t lose the farm, you don’t end up despised by the townspeople. If you fail, you just try again. It’s a wonderful, stress-free way to play.
This review only scratches the surface of Stardew Valley; there’s so much depth and detail to this game. Stardew Valley has really got its hooks in me, and I love it. I’m excited to spend countless hours building my farm, cultivating relationships, and enjoying the genuine charm of this delightful game. I encourage you to do the same.