So it was the holidays recently, a time in the year where everyone relaxes and I stuff my face with Ferrero Rocher and Baileys. During this chocolate binge however, I tend to play something super laid back to help me wind down from the stressful year that is soon to be behind us, and this year I picked up Stardew Valley… and didn’t put it down.
Stardew Valley is a farming simulator akin to the 32-bit era Harvest Moon games, with extensive RPG elements to make it a more refined version of its forebears. Solo developer Eric Barone has done a fantastic job of capturing the charm of the Harvest Moon series whilst simultaneously making it fresher and more fun to play, so much so that I sunk over 50 hours in the week and a bit I spent playing it.
The game starts off with your Grandpa leaving you a letter on his death bed, which turns out to be a deed to his farm in the titular Stardew Valley, a town largely untainted by a consumerist society (which you leave behind). You step foot on the decrepit plot of land and are expected to clear it up and start growing crops and from then on the world of Stardew Valley is your oyster. You can choose to do a wide variety of activities in order to make money and grow your farm.
The game starts you off with a few parsnip seeds, and then lets you figure it out from there. Sure you could wait around for the crops to grow and nothing else, or you could explore the wonderful Pelican Town and what it has to offer.
With the game being broken into four seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter), you get the chance to grow different crops each season (with the exception of Winter, where no crops can grow on your farm). Each crop will have different growth cycles and values with some even continuing to produce after the first harvest. This is a relatively straightforward way of making bulk money if you plan out your harvests.
“I named all of my chickens and ducks after Wu-Tang Clan members, and cows after members of Odd Future.”
Stardew Valley also has the player caring for a variety of animals on their farm, from chickens and ducks, to cows and pigs and more for you to name and look after (I named all of my chickens and ducks after Wu-Tang Clan members, and cows after members of Odd Future). The wide variety of animals offer different items which can be sold as is for a quick profit or used to make an Artisan good . You can turn an egg into mayo, or cows milk into cheese (which can prove very useful when making progress in the Community Bundles). It really comes down to player preference if you do get animals or not, but it certainly helps restore the charm of your grandfathers farm.
You can also use animal products to make meals, which restore health and energy, with some even offering additional buffs for fishing, dungeon crawling and many more.
“…explore around the beautiful Pelican Town when you’re not caring for animals or murdering nasties.”
Speaking of dungeon crawling, there are plenty of places to explore in Stardew Valley once you have spent the morning dealing with your crops and livestock. The main aspect of this is exploring through the 120 levels of the mines, which are procedurally generated and in which you can find rare gems, artifacts and more. It pays to go with a supply of food so you don’t run out of energy. The mines are a great way to find rare artifacts
You can also explore around the beautiful Pelican Town when you’re not caring for animals or murdering nasties, where you can find all sorts of things to do.,
You’re probably wondering “Sure you can do all of this, but what does it lead to?”. Pelican Town and Stardew Valley aren’t in the same state they used to be. The evil Joja corporation is tainting the tranquility of the town, and it is up to the player to fix it through the community bundles. These are ways for the player to put all their hard work to good . After collecting the various items required for each bundle in a particular group, a certain aspect of the town is repaired and given new life, from the abandoned and broken green house on your farm, to the empty lifeless bus you came in on. This gives the player a true sense of working towards something great. I felt so happy when i managed to get the greenhouse repaired (which enabled me to start making serious money)
In true Harvest Moon fashion, the game also has a relationship mechanic, in which you seduce the local bachelors and/or bachelorettes by giving them gifts they love. Doing so will result in them sending you gifts or even recipes in the mail. This also applies to the other villagers too, and can often result in some pretty memorable cut scenes
Will you help restore the Valley?
Stardew Valley was my personal pick for game of the year. Growing up with games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, it was the perfect amalgamation of everything I wholeheartedly adore about those games. I found myself thinking “now I’ll just harvest these strawberries and then go to bed”, but then something exciting would happen and I’d find myself up at 1am, completely absorbed in Stardew Valley.