You’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. Armed with hand-me-down tools and a few coins, you set out to begin your new life. Can you learn to live off the land and turn these overgrown fields into a thriving home?
WARNING: Possible spoilers.
Stardew Valley. Two words that changed me in the span of less than a month. Everyone whom I have talked to about games, or are connected with me on Twitter knows that at one point, this was all I ever talked about. It reached a point where a friend and I would talk so much about it in the office that our workmates would get confused as to whether we are talking about real people or the characters in the game — it just consumed me, to put it simply.
If you’ve ever played Harvest Moon, then this is already a familiar concept. The farming, seasonal crops, going as far as courting and marrying someone from the neighborhood — Stardew Valley has it all.
Now, this isn’t a write-up that aims to compare the 2 games. We all know Harvest Moon is iconic, which is why there’s no point making a list of what has or has not been copied off into our new bundle of joy. Instead, this post aims to celebrate the wonder that Stardew Valley has brought to thousands of players around the world.
The game sold an impressive 400,00 copies on its first 2 weeks of release; its reviews on Steam are overwhelmingly positive, with Metacritic also giving it an impressive 88 metascore and 8.5 user review average. And I’m here to add one more to that pool of reviews, regardless of how late it may seem.
RPG farm simulator with a twist
Familiar concept, but not quite.
What exactly makes Stardew Valley different?
At first, I didn’t really get the hype. Tired of the city life, you move into some old farm with barely any money; you’re starving all the time, and you have no friends in town except maybe for the mayor who’s trying to make you feel as least alienated as possible. Sounds like a total bummer; sounds like a lot of work, right?
Ironically, that is exactly what makes it interesting in the long run. You build yourself from ground zero. Moving in a place where you are basically a nobody makes it a motivation on its own. And this is where the fun begins.
Choose your focus
Ask anyone who’s ever played this, and I guarantee they will tell you that fishing is an entire game on its own. It’s like a crazy spinoff, the way you’ll struggle and scream in frustration the first time you try your hand at that bamboo rod.
The good news is that you don’t have to be great at fishing. Nothing and nobody (maybe except Willy) will reprimand you if you decide that fishing isn’t for you. There’s always the Caravan Lady — yes, I call her that — to buy fish from anyway.
As the RPG that it is, it will let you choose the skills you enjoy upping the most. Whenever people ask if it’s all about farming, I always say that it primarily is, but in reality, if you choose to just get a vineyard going and produce wine all throughout the seasons, who will stop you from doing so? There also are mines that progressively get more and more difficult with its monsters; if you are more of a combatant, there’s also that road you can take. Be a full-time adventurer and impress the Guild!
And if you will ask, yes, every skill you choose to focus on has its own levels, jobs, and special tools, equipment and clothing that move up as your skills do. You can choose one of 5 skills to master, or go for gold and be the master of all. (There’s an achievement for that, too.)
Personally, I love my farm animals but I have made a grave (pun intended) mistake of building my barn near the shrine. Now it’s difficult to expand; sideways and it bumps my crops, downwards it bumps my Slime Hutch. Hence, onwards with the mass production of crops! And killing monsters because I really want the Guild to love me.
Long-term vs short-term goals
Once you’ve decided to focus on a skill (or again, all 5 of them) you might feel quite compelled to master them as quickly as you can. If you are an obsessive player like myself, you might forget some side quests in the game as you focus on the bigger achievements.
Again, the good news is, it’s your call to make.
There are various tasks that you’ll encounter throughout the game, some of them with time limits, some of them without. It can vary from something as simple as delivering cheese, to an extremely stressful ‘favor’ that requires rare minerals to complete. Complete them and you can earn some rewards; fail and, well, not much will happen if you decline minuscule missions, really. Cue another confetti party.
This sort of flexibility is both a boulder of pressure and a huge comfort, in my opinion. Traditionally, side quests in games are a prerequisite in order to proceed to larger quests. In Stardew Valley, the only one that has the capability to pressure you is your own self. You can help villagers tick off their to-do lists, or focus on literally award-winning missions. Whatever you decide to do is nobody’s business but yours.
From the heart, to the heart
The more passionate you are about something, the longer it will feel like you need to practice to be great at what you do.
That’s a mouthful, I know, but basically, developer ConcernedApe took 4 long years to conceive Stardew Valley. By himself. The story, the art, the gameplay, the soundtrack — which is magical, by the way. And you will really feel the passion and feelings that went into the game, with various characters and their backgrounds revealing why they act a certain way or [dis]like certain things, something that you only get to understand if you choose to invest in relationships long enough.
The wonderful thing about this game is the way the story recognizes your every effort. Just like in real life, if you do not work hard enough or if you don’t try to build connections, it will feel pretty lonely pretty quickly. In Stardew Valley, you don’t simply take care of a farm; you take care of yourself in the process as well.
Which might be the exact reason why the longer you play the game, the more personal it will start to feel. Building friendships and relationships with other villagers (take note that they are NPCs) is not a linear story either. Every decision you make with a character will result in different outcomes, different relationships, and advantages. In a sense, every player’s journey is completely unique from another’s.
There is something childlishly exciting about building rapport with the villagers. The way they start to welcome you into their community is probably the start of a change of heart; further escalating when you become best friends with a bachelor or bachelorette (same-sex relationships are very much welcome in the game). Previously cold and indifferent, some of them might come off as tender by the time you reach a certain closeness. And trust me, there are quite some touching back stories in there you might want to dig into.
A slice of life
It’s more than just getting the money and beautifying your property. It’s more than just getting the achievements and mastering your skills. Stardew Valley has unexpectedly hit a soft spot in me in the most humane way a game could possibly do. Initially thinking that it was just another Farmville cum Minecraft pastime, I’m so glad to have been proven wrong after dozens and dozens of hours of gameplay.
It is filled with irony, challenges of strategy and timing, and asks you of sleepless nights if you really want to reach the highest pedestal. But at the same time it manages to balance all the aspects of a traditional RPG with its humor, kindness and authenticity.
With more than just wanting to excel and impress others with your progress, Stardew Valley is definitely a game laced with a lot of heart, and a lot of love.