- Format: PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Chucklefish
- Developer: ConcernedApe
- Players: 1
- Site: www.stardewvalley.net
- Game purchased by reviewer
There’s a lot you can do in life: Become an accomplished farmer, the greatest angler in the country, a seasoned adventurer of dangerous caves, or raise the finest barn animals in town. If you’re that way inclined you can even get married and have children! If that all sounds like a lot of hard work to you, however, there’s good news! Stardew Valley allows you to do all of this and more without leaving your desk. It probably smells better, too.
If you’ve ever played or even heard of a Harvest Moon game, Stardew Valley might sound familiar: Stuck in a joyless grind of a desk job at Joja Corporation, your character inherits his or her grandfather’s farm in the idyllic Pelican Town located in the eponymous Stardew Valley. After arriving, you’re mostly free to do as you please with the farm while building relationships with the locals and exploring the town and its surrounding areas.
This freedom that some might find captivating might also be off-putting to those who desire a more clear-cut goal. While the game does provide a variety of quests, these are mostly to ease you into the game and few of them are truly essential to progressing. There’s nothing pushing you to do anything in Stardew Valley aside from your own desire to do so. This might be a little underwhelming for players who like a straighter path rather than the complete lack of one.
It could also be quite overwhelming, though in a more positive way: There’s a lot to do in Stardew Valley. A lot. On your farm you’ll have the chance to grow crops and trees, as well as raise cows, chickens, and other animals that can be profited from. Meanwhile the mines will task you with venturing into its lowest depths to fight monsters while collecting ore and gems, and the nearby river and ocean dare you to drain them of fish.
A key component of the game is making a lot of this easier in a surprising variety of ways: farm work can be expedited through upgrading your watering can, hoe, scythe, axe, and pickaxe and eventually completely automated with progressively more effective sprinklers with ores from the mine, the plundering of which can be made less daunting by finding or buying better swords, rings, and boots with which to face the enemies that lurk within. Similarly, fishing begins as a tedious process of hoping you’ll manage to actually find a fish rather than someone’s leftover meal until you buy a better rod that allows for bait and eventually tackle to nearly remove the trash from your angling loot entirely.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about the process as you slowly find yourself with a lot more time left over from your daily chores or able to finally reach the bottom of the mines. Stardew Valley does a great job of making you feel like you are progressing and accomplishing things while also dangling a dozen other carrots before you in an almost MMORPG-like fashion. It’s also great at pulling the rug from under your feet when you think you’re done with one portion of the game with the reveal that you aren’t at all.
Mention of enemies might surprise those who expected a complete clone of Harvest Moon, as those games never featured such. While Stardew Valley’s combat begins quite poorly with simple enemies who merely require you to spam the mouse button until they die, things quickly ramp up and enemies begin to exhibit more interesting mechanics that make navigating the mines a somewhat more compelling challenge.
Relationships are also a core part of the game, and Pelican Town has a wide variety of denizens from quirky malcontents to spoiled fashionistas, surly curmudgeons to selfless do-gooders, and insightful artists to depressed shelf-stackers. There’s a huge cast filled with someone for everyone to relate to, befriend, and in ten cases, marry. Best of all, they’re all fairly well-written and most of them are incredibly endearing. It’s quite easy to find yourself falling in love with some immediately, growing fond of some over time, or taking an immediate distaste to others, but you’ll rarely find yourself feeling apathetic toward anyone.
The relationship side of Stardew Valley isn’t all great, though, as interaction with the townsfolk is a little on the nose: Your entire relationship with people is based on throwing gifts at them until they like you. It’s a system that, while true to the game’s inspiration in Harvest Moon, is a little disappointing. It often feels like you’re simply a bystander in these peoples’ lives rather than a part of it, and the rare dialogue choice doesn’t go far enough in mitigating that sense of voyeurism. It’s also rare to see the townsfolk mingle among themselves outside of their own small groups which is odd for such a small town.
The game has few technical faults, though; it can quite frustrating when your cows or chickens bunch together and clicking on one to pet it insists on bringing up a nearby animal’s status screen, and there were a number of cases where giving someone a gift didn’t offer the recipient’s dialogue box. But there’s nothing game breaking or overly frustrating.
While the game looks fine, it seems like an opportunity was missed in giving it more of a visual flair rather than a fairly mundane if colourful pixel art style. The soundtrack on the other hand is a wonderfully varied collection of music that enhances the game’s incredible ability to immerse you in Pelican Town.
Stardew Valley certainly isn’t for everyone, but those who do give it a shot will find an endearing and captivating adventure ahead of them that will eat away at those twilight hours until you find it’s already four in the morning and you need to be up at seven… but you could get a day of fishing in before that, right?