Game Recommendation - Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley (released Feb. 26th) is a farming & simulation game developed by sole developer ConcernedApe over the course of 4 years. Originally started as an homage to game series Harvest Moon, it has since sold over 400,000 copies since its release and is currently one of the top played games on Steam. As of writing this review, I have put 50+ hours into the game. I have also given myself the (somewhat) impossible task of explaining why this game is fun.

Stardew Valley puts yourself in the shoes of a player who, while working at a soulless corporation (with a pretty obvious real-life parallel), opens a letter left to them by their grandfather.  In the letter, you are gifted the deed to the family farm, and asked to go fix it up and make it profitable.  There’s a bit more to the story, but much of that is open ended and you are allowed to play through the game how you’d like after this.

The largest element of the game is farming. The game is split into the 4 seasons with 28 days in each, so paying attention to when you plant seeds is important. You have to use tools such as the hoe and watering can to cultivate your land and keep your crops alive. You use your axe, scythe, and pickaxe to clear your land of stumps and rocks to give yourself more farmable land. As you gain more skill, you can build things like scarecrows, automatic sprinklers, preserve jars, kegs, and other sorts of tools to help on the farm.

Alongside farming is ranching. As you build up your farm you have the opportunity to build coops and barns to house animals on the farm. Most of these are pretty normal farm animals such as cows, sheep, goats, and chickens. There are other “special” animals that you can unlock as the game goes on, such as ducks, rabbits, and pigs (to hunt for truffles, not to slaughter for meat). In fact, there is no meat production in the game. You can sell off animals, but they don’t say anything about what happens to them.

On top of your normal farming chores, you also have other ways of making money, such as fishing, mining, and foraging. You can catch different fish in different seasons, and also depending on the time of day and whether it’s raining or not. You can find different wild fruits and vegetables around the valley. The further you delve into the mine the better ore and gems you’ll find. But watch out, there are monsters that you have to defend yourself against in the mines.

Most of the challenge of the game is fitting in all the activities and plans within the limits of time and energy throughout the day. Many times you’ll end up not getting everything done, and have to re-prioritize the next day to fill. This can change depending on weather, crops, animals, odd jobs for the other townspeople, and constructing buildings. Alongside time management is managing the money coming in and going out, and making smart investments with your money in order to have the best payoff. This game really makes it easy to see the investment vs. time throughout the seasons.

What makes this more than a simple simulation game is the town that is built around the farm. There are 28 villagers, each with their own events, schedules, likes and dislikes. There are a few you can marry and even start a family if that’s your thing. Through these villagers we see all sorts of issues, for example Linus, the homeless man who lives in a tent in the woods; Sebastian, the emo kid who deals with his step-dad; Shane, the depressed alcoholic working at the local Wal-mart Joja-mart, and many others. As you play through the game and participate in the town, it will slowly change in your eyes as you see them each interacting with each other and with the town. One of the main goals of the game is to fix up the local community center, and you are given multiple ways to do that. I could (and probably will) write a whole blog post just on the town dynamics that the developer has managed to create.

It’s a rare game that can inspire us to explore nature while being a “video game”. It actively makes you feel slightly guilty for the time that we don’t get to enjoy outdoors. It also promotes the value of hard work paying off. The earlier you invest your time and work, the more it exponentially pays off as you go on in the game. The same applies to life: the sooner you get to work, the quicker it pays off.

Like I said before, it’s hard to put into words how much fun this game is. It’s simply a niche type of game that many will have not tried yet. If the person enjoys games like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon, this should definitely be on their list. I strongly recommend googling Stardew Valley a bit to see if it might be your kind of game, or at least watching the trailer below (which features some outstanding music by the creator.) It’s currently only available on PC, though the developer has been asked about console ports down the road