Have all the burdens of modern and corporate life gotten you down? Yes? Then it’s time to move out to Stardew Valley! Made by singular person, ConcernedApe (AKA Eric Barone), Stardew Valley is a life/farming/dating simulator jam packed with a whole lot of other features from games loved by many. On your grandfather’s deathbed, he hands you an envelope, not to be opened until you feel the weight of the modern world on your shoulders. Once opened, you see he’s left you the deed to his much loved farm in Stardew Valley and you begin your new life in the countryside.
Taking cues from much loved games like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, Minecraft, Fantasy Life and others, Stardew Valley gives you hours upon hours to do basically anything you wish to do. Your world is centralised with your farm, left to you by your grandfather many years ago. It’s a bit overgrown and hasn’t been loved in a while but after a few days of hard work, it begins to come together.
You live next door to Pelican Town; a small town inhabited by some very interesting people all with their own personalities, likes and dislikes, and sometimes talking to you aren’t on their priority lists.
The game starts off somewhat holding your hand, not so much as a tutorial but just subtly guiding you to where you can go, such as quests telling you to grow seeds or go find people in town. But the beauty of this game is that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. You live on a farm, yes, but you don’t have to begin farming until you want too. The world consists of plenty of ocean, rivers and lakes to fish from, a whole randomly generated mine out the back to collect resources from and level up your combat ability, a heap of people to talk to and build relationships with, and stuff to forage for.
Stardew Valley is just one of those games where the grind doesn’t feel like a slow and annoying task. You’re always right on the edge of a new chapter, whether it be on the brink of the next season so you can plant new crops and see how the world changes, or so close to building your barn and buying animals to produce more products for profit. Not only that, but the day-to-day changes dramatically depending on your personal goals for the game. One day could be constructing the layout of your farm (which is 100% editable) and the next could be spending the entire day befriending the locals.
Your world is also… weird and deep. There are plenty of secrets and backstories for you to figure out on your own in your own time. Some stuff will happen and you’ve just got to play along with it, but that’s completely the beauty in this game. The town’s folk you meet seem stereotypical on the surface with people like Alex and Haley being the typical high school jock and cheerleader (despite ConcernedApe mentioning that all the characters are at least 20), Sam being the cool band/skateboard dude and so on, but as you become friends with them, they open up and talk about their goals and struggles with life. It turns the game much more personal than first seen.
I personally directed my attention toward Alex in my first playthrough as he was the first one who took to my gifts. The football-bro seen on the surface quickly turned into a strong willed and determined (despite questioning his self worth) man who had been through a whole lot emotionally and physically.
While writing this review, I was going to mention a downside about the post-marriage gameplay; about how marriage turns your favourite partner into personality-less zombies who just hang in your house and call you “dear” or “honey”, something that seems completely out of character for whom they were before. They never left the house and it honestly felt like you were keeping them from the world, from their families. But it seems in between starting and finishing this review, ConcernedApe – being the wonderful, community engaged developer he is – has already added a patch where the dialogue is natural and your partner comes and goes as they please.
If that isn’t a pro for this game – the fact that the developer does what he can to make this game so much more enjoyable despite the overwhelming success this game has already – then I don’t know what is!
There’s also a kind of adversary; an antagonist in the form of a massive corporation: Joja Mart. You left their grasp to start your farm, however they’ve created a mega store in Pelican Town, taking business away from humble store owner Pierre. You can chose to join them by helping them turn the run down community centre into a warehouse for their goods or fight against them, making the community centre great again by collecting things from around the place for little apple-looking creatures.
Yeah, that took a turn, didn’t it?
A whole bunch of stuff happens in this place that are… unexplained. For example, while I slept, a fairy appeared and ‘blessed’ my crops, making my pumpkins ready to be collected early as well as being extra good quality. Or the one time that I bought a scarecrow that looks like Turniphead from Howl’s Moving Castle off a lady in a caravan pulled by a pig wearing stylish glasses and a hat. Things are weird.