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Stardew Valley – PC

Stardew Valley – PC

Platform: PC

Developer: ConcernedApe

Publisher: Chucklefish

Release Date: February 26th, 2016

Genre: Simulation, Role-Playing Games

Reviewed by Nips

When I was younger, I used to adore the Harvest Moon series. Evoking that countryside, home-on-the range aesthetic, nothing made me feel more productive and more relaxed at the same time, as I tilled my field, planted my crops, and planned ahead for the Winter season. These games had good pacing, simple, yet effective game mechanics, and even social structures that made you feel immersed in their fictional Midwestern worlds. But we haven’t really seen a Harvest Moon game for quite a few years. So what’s a guy to do?

Enter Stardew Valley. A game about farming, fishing, mining, foraging, civic engagement–and just maybe a little falling in love–all wrapped up in one tidy package. Self-described as “an open-ended country-life RPG,” Stardew Valley was designed by Eric Barone, who seemed intent on scratching that Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing itch that plenty of us players have had for quite a long time. PC gamers have been enjoying this title since 2016, but it just released for the Nintendo Switch on October 5th. While I don’t own a Switch, I have nevertheless been dying to try this game out. Let’s explore the wondrous land hidden inside!

From the first few moments of the game, Stardew Valley wears its influences right on its sleeve. Inheriting your grandfather’s farm, you are a newcomer to Pelican Town, intent on striking out on your own as a farmer. As you set foot on your new farm, making introductions with the townsfolk, it is immediately evident that the farm is in an incredible state of disarray, so it’s time to start cutting down some underbrush and tilling some soil!

The central gameplay components to Stardew Valley focus on farming, fishing, and mining. You can raise crops and animals, spend an afternoon catching fish, or even explore the local mine to collect ores and upgrade your equipment. At the end of the day, put all of valuables into the outgoing box and you make money! It’s as simple as that!

Well, it’s almost that simple. Along the way you may want to build  fence, buy a coop, buy some chickens (and maybe some cows and ducks and goats and sheep and rabbits), upgrade your equipment, donate to the museum, check your crab pots, turn in that quest for Mayor Lewis–oh, and make sure that you have enough time to grow your crops before Winter comes! Phew, that’s a lot! As my game progressed, I found that the seemingly simple premise of Stardew Valley led to quite a complex routine on my part, as I was constantly juggling several things in my head at the same time. “Are my chickens fed enough? Did I bring all that ore to the blacksmith? Did I turn in that quest?” Stardew Valley has an interesting way of stacking up all these micro-objectives so that full completion sort of looms over the player’s head like a giant.

But that’s not to say that Stardew Valley is really that intimidating. In all honesty, my experience is likely to be very different from that of anyone else who plays this game. One of the beautiful things about it is that everyone brings their own personality to the table, and the game’s sandbox style means that everyone’s farm will look and operate slightly differently, a product as much of trial-and-error as of the player’s own imagination. Stardew Valley is the sort of game that you can just chip away at, completing small objectives here and there that slowly increase your abilities and available resources. There’s no rush, man! Just relax, enjoy the good vibes, and do a little fishing if you can’t get all of your objectives completed today. Over time, that looming giant gets smaller and smaller, and the player’s sense of satisfaction grows and grows.

And this chipping-away embodies the flow of Stardew Valley. At first, watering just a handful of crops seems like a daunting task. What do you water them with? How many can you water? How should they be organized? But, as you complete more quests and gather more resources, you start upgrading your equipment and building structures that make each menial task just a little bit less arduous. This creates an exponential income model, your farm continually growing in complexity to allow the production of even more expensive crops and animal goods in staggering quantities. Certain upgrades will unlock different things around the world of Stardew Valley, and others will simply make your life a bit easier with nifty tools and gadgets. I really enjoy these Metroidstyle unlock-a-thon games, and Stardew Valley does a good job of capturing that feeling in its own unique way.

Much like Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley runs on a seasonal cycle. Any crops you plant have to correspond with their appropriate time of year, and foraging and fishing will change as well, as the year goes ’round. This gives the game a more realistic aesthetic while adding a feeling of constant momentum.

While the mechanics are rather simple, they are nonetheless very enjoyable. Playing with a mouse and keyboard, the player moves with the typical WASD keys and uses their mouse to click on stuff. However, from my own experience, I would say that Stardew Valley is a lot more enjoyable with a controller in hand, since only a handful of buttons are really needed to play this game. But, where it lacks in complexity of controls I would say it makes up for in the complexity of the daily farming routine.

So these simple, universal controls are used for farming, mining, and fighting, but there is one relatively unique idea presented here: Fishing. From my experience, game developers seem to have trouble making fishing mini-games fun. When I think back on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, all I can do is shake my head in embarrassment. That was a selling point at the time! Stardew Valley, however, seems to have perfected its own take on the elusive genre. It has a very simple setup with a green bar that bounces up and down with a fish you have to chase. It’s actually a lot of fun and rather dynamic, and after 36-plus hours of in-game time, I haven’t tired of it.

Aside from the holy triumvirate of farming, fishing, and mining, there is also a combat and dungeon-exploring component. There is a Diablo-style mine in the town with descending levels of ever-increasing difficulty, where the player can mine for ores and fight deadly monsters, as well as other dungeons that you can unlock along the way. Combat in Stardew Valley works very similarly to the combat in The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, except in Stardew Valley it’s a lot more basic. Still, I’m glad that it’s there; this game profits greatly from the diversity of tasks and activities available, and the dungeon-crawling adds a very welcome touch of suspense and mystery to the otherwise relaxing gameplay.

But the one theme that seems to encapsulate all of these elements is that you don’t have to do anything at all. You can spend every single day fishing if you want to, or simply run around exploring the town all the time (not that that would be very fun). Stardew Valley does nothing to make you feel pressured to do anything; all the pressure comes from you and the inevitable passage of time. This means that every player will progress at their own pace, since they are the master of their own destiny. Don’t feel like tending to your crops? Forget em! Feel like letting your animals starve? Go right ahead! Speaking of which, I should actually check to see if it’s possible to kill your animals in this game…

There’s even a social system within Stardew Valley. Mind you, this may be one of the more simple systems present in the game, but it’s there. Each of the citizens of Pelican Town has their own personality and preferences, and performing tasks for them and giving them gifts will make them like you more. This way you can win yourself a partner at the next dance, or, if you work hard enough, a life partner to warm your bed at night and start a family with. Of course, this whole section of the game doesn’t really get deeper than even your most basic dating sim, but it does give the world a little bit more texture and character. On top of that, your character can even be gay, so that’s pretty cool. Although, that does say something to whether or not the characters were programmed with sexual preferences, since you can marry just about anybody. I guess everyone in Pelican Town must be bisexual or something. But, for a game where you win a spouse by literally just giving them apricots every day, this probably isn’t that much of a big deal. It just struck me as strange.

The graphic style of Stardew Valley is rather impressive. If I had to use a phrase, I would describe the graphics as “pixel-plus.” Similarly to, but not quite as impressive as Owl Boy, Stardew Valley features pixelated graphics with a rather high degree of intricacy and detail. All of the characters and items look distinct while animations seem fluid and expressive. This gives Stardew Valley this nostalgic feel that evokes the Harvest Moon series while not slavishly tying itself to an antiquated art style. There are a few bugs here and there, but considering the fact that this game was made by one guy, I’m willing to overlook them.

Stardew Valley’s musical score layers on top of the graphics and gameplay rather nicely. Composed and recorded entirely by the creator, the music is good. It’s good, but not great. Aside from perhaps the opening title music, there’s no song in here that I would really write home about or want to hear outside of the game. There are some dynamic aspects, where the soundtrack changes depending on what time of year it is or where you are in the game’s map, but other times the music will just kind of die out and chime back in with no seeming contextual reason. That said, the music at least delivers that immersive quality to evoke the excitement of spring or the melancholy of a rainy day.

Aside from the base game, Stardew Valley’s developer has announced plans for a multiplayer mode. That is simply awesome! Though it’s not out yet, I could see plenty of potential for this type of an expansion, giving players the opportunity to build a virtual life side-by-side with their friends. My only concern is that Stardew Valley takes up a lot of time, so it might be hard to find anybody willing to play with you long enough to really get anywhere.

Now, let’s give a little bit of time for the age-old debate: Computer, or console? I primarily played Stardew Valley on the PC, but I also got a chance to take a look at it on the Nintendo Switch. Let’s face it. This game plays way better as a portable title, something that a PC simply can’t deliver. As a child, one of the things that really stood out to me about the Harvest Moon games was how well-suited they were for playing, well, anywhere. With Stardew Valley, it’s about the same. Playing it on a PC is nice and all, but the ability to move around wherever you want with the Switch is simply unbeatable for this type of game.

At the end of the day, we have a rather addictive game that offers the player the opportunity to care for and expand their very own farm. My favorite element of Stardew Valley is the way each player will bring something new to the table, allowing for an expressive, gestural way of playing within the game’s sandbox structure. Making your way through your own daily routines just has a really comfortable feel to it, as you slowly chip away at the game in pursuit of full completion. I’ll admit that I have not beaten it yet, but c’mon, cut me some slack! I’ve already spent more than 30 hours on the thing!  That said, there is plenty to discover within the world of Stardew Valley, and I look forward to the new wonders I have yet to explore. Perhaps the only downside is that Stardew Valley doesn’t seem to offer that many new ideas. On the whole, this game feels a bit like a remix of the Harvest Moon series, designed more for fans of the genre than anyone else, the only really notable innovation here being the way fishing works.

Stardew Valley makes no promises. It gives you only what you put into it, just like good ol’ Mother Earth. You can’t expect to be handed things in life; you gotta plant some seeds in the ground first! And this negotiation between player and game is what makes Stardew Valley so special. I’ve been really attached to this game for the past couple months, and really think there is a lot here for everybody. Try it out sometime.

Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Written by Nips


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