Over the last few years I’ve watched the development of Stardew Valley with poise, often wondering how the hard graft of a farmer’s life could be translated onto the pixelated screen. We’ve seen success in the form of the Harvest Moon and Farming Simulator series, but how does the much-anticipated lovechild of these games and Pokémon stack up at release? Ladies and Gentlemen without further adieu, I give you Stardew Valley; the game which has potentially ruined my career and social life for the foreseeable future.
So y’all have inherited your grandfather’s farm in Pelican Town; a remote yet picturesque settlement in the heart of Stardew Valley. You trundle in on the old town bus with a collection of hand-me-down tools and soon realise that your ‘farm’ is an overgrown plot filled with trees, stones and weeds. From there it’s up to you to choose how you’ll go about making a name for yourself in Pelican Town – from greenhorn to master farmer, fisherman to intrepid explorer, it’s an open-ended RPG for goodness sake use your imagination!
Straight away when I saw the first images of Stardew Valley I thought of Pokémon. That isometric view and bright vibrant colours presented in 2D strummed my nostalgia strings, taking me back to the days of Sims Bustin’ Out on GBA. Stardew Valley also offers up a land with a broad lore of it’s own, yet doesn’t let the player feel as though they are drowning in that vastness, as the area surrounding Pelican Town is finite. That said there is a huge amount to do aside from sowing crops and caring for livestock, including the catching of over 40 different types of fish, exploring the seemingly bottomless mine, socialising with around 30 characters who each have unique personalities and quests to complete, decorating your farmstead plus much more. After ploughing 32 hours into the game at time of writing, I still haven’t scratched the surface in some areas such as courting and marriage (something I’m too young to have done in real life!).
In Stardew Valley a year takes place over the course of four seasons lasting 28 days a piece. Each season entails different crop types to grow, rare fish to catch and unique events such as the ‘Dance of The Moonlight Jellies’ festival. The four seasons also showcase some fantastic artwork – as the valley transitions from a colourful spring to tropical summer, falling into autumn before the dark nights of a snowy winter creep in. I hope you know how to get the fire roaring in your lonesome cabin.
Beware of the seasons though, as careful crop planning in the early game can make a big difference to how frustrating your time on the farm can be from the get go. For example I planted a crop of parsnips worth around 2000 gold in my first spring, without looking at how many days were left in the season… I awoke the next day to the sound of my rooster’s call, only to find that my entire crop had died and I had no money left. I spent the next few days scouring the rivers and lakes of the valley for fish to sell so that I could afford to buy a new crop and start over again.
In case you were wondering, I eventually got back on my feet but what a waste of a summer that was, and it made the game feel a little grind too! Once I’d managed to hawk buckets full of fish to the townspeople; who were thoroughly fed up of me destroying the local ecosystem by this point, Stardew Valley began to feel addictive in it’s ability to reward the player. You plan a crop well and water it every day, you place scarecrows to keep them safe and harvest them before selling at a profit. If only real farming were so lucrative and entertaining, I might move away and never play a video game again (sigh).
Despite my misgivings in the beginning and no matter what Stardew Valley throws at an eager farmer, there is a huge amount of replayability here. The depth of features alone is staggering with neat touches such as only being able to pick some berries and fruits at a certain time of year, or only being able to catch slippery slimy eels when it rains. It’s clear to see that each and every feature of Stardew Valley has been planned to work hand in hand with one another. For example if you want to upgrade your tools (making them more efficient in the process) you’ll need to find ores, which are only found in abundance in the mines. So pack your best sword and a few potions because this could get ugly!
After Minecraft and it’s various clones it’s understandable that some of you guys and girls might not want to head down a shaft any time soon, but let me tell you that it’s gonna happen at some point – that’s just the way Stardew Valley works. Don’t worry though because every time you employ one of the five linear skill sets; farming, fishing, mining, combat and foraging, you’ll be working towards that next level which might unlock a new crafting recipe or item to build. This gives Stardew Valley a deep sense of progression without getting into the complex realms of skill trees and exp points.
I’m going to avoid going down the whole “video games as art” route with this one, as I think looking at a few screenshots you’ll be able to make your own mind up there. Stardew Valley does offer up some interesting pause-for-thought moments, such as how you might react upon finding a man scavenging bins at night, or an important local figure having an affair. I also noted that the default player movement speed is an ambling walk – is the developer trying to get people to think about slowing down in life? Taking things easier and not rushing everywhere? It’s got to be said that I’ve never felt so relaxed playing a video game, as I have with Stardew Valley.
As far as negatives go I can’t say I’ve come across anything in particular that would put a dampener on this one for me, and I’ve been gaming since the early 90s when I was but a wee seedling. There was perhaps one bug that I encountered where I couldn’t eat any raw fruit for one game day, but that’s not exactly game breaking is it? No other game has captivated me like Stardew Valley for a long time, not since the days of coming home from school and getting straight on the Playstation – I’d love to give it a 10/10 but nobody and nothing is perfect right? Stardew Valley is well worth your investment of £10.99, especially if it’s going to engulf 32 hours of your life in one week!
Now to move on to courting in real life…
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