I am surprised I have managed to drag myself away from Stardew Valley to actually write this review. I mean even doing a slight amount of research for this article I just spent half an hour looking jealously at other people’s farms. So before I start let me say right up top, you should already own this game, and if you’ve been on the internet, you’ve probably already heard that. Stardew was developed by Eric Barone, aka Concerned Ape, aka this entire masterpiece was made by one guy, and it is insanely impressive.
For those who don’t know what Stardew Valley is, think Harvest Moon farming simulator meets Terraria mining on steroids. You inherit your personally named farm to get away from the soul-crushing cubicle job that you work to enjoy the lovely country/seaside air. This game doesn’t need to have a story; so many people would still love it just for the gameplay and experience that it gives you. And yet, there is a story, and it is surprisingly complex if you let it be—are you going to commit to the country lifestyle or is there still some big city slicker in you?
You start with your hideously overgrown and messy farm and are told to do what you want with it, and there are so many different ways you can go. Obviously, planting crops and raising animals are available options, but you can also get additions to your farmhouse, spend time foraging, fishing, talking to the locals and solving the strange but compelling mystery that presents itself to you after a couple of in-game days. This isn’t even taking into account the mining, which involves collecting resources as well as battling with dungeon dwelling fodder like your ubiquitous slimes and super aggressive bats.
This is the puzzle Stardew presents you with, this is the “oh just one more day” trap that you will fall into that throws common sense and reason out the window. Along with remembering to eat, sleep, socialise, and all that other crap that isn’t this delicious time sink. I get it now—those people that think games are dangerous may have a point (when they are designed this well). When your adorable little sprite wakes up in the morning, you have 15 minutes of real-world time to get everything you want to be done today, done. And when traveling across the map takes up a minute into town, another to get back before you pass out and then your finite energy meter that runs out faster than time in the day. Well, you better have a plan, or you have just thrown your entire day away.
More times than I care to admit, I found myself not stopping when I promised that was the last day, dammit! This is definitely helped (or not, in the case of addiction) by the lovely pixel art, as everything is adorable and has so much charm. If there was one word I would use to describe Stardew’s aesthetic, it would be “charming.” Even the opening title will have you smiling. There is a lot of detail packed into Stardew Valley; as the seasons change, the environments vary between beautifully vibrant summers to a winter wonderland. Along with a changing soundtrack between the seasons, that is just the right amount of interesting to enjoy, but not so overpowering that you can get sick of hearing it repeating.
I have not even discussed the relationships that are available to you. In town, there are (among all the other interesting characters) five sexy single suitors and five beautiful, brilliant bachelorettes to get sweet on if you so choose. As well as two more being added by ConcernedApe (chosen by popular vote). It’s your standard, give-gifts-to-raise-their-heart-meter, but there is actual variety in the types of people you can meet and get friendly with and not even think about romance. There is even a homeless villager who is treated as an outcast who is initially hesitant to interact with you because of how most people usually respond to him. I really felt awful if I walked past him without saying hi, even if he was resistant, and I thought this was an amazing level of emotional depth to achieve with a side-NPC inside a farming simulator.
I could just keep writing paragraph after paragraph about how wonderful, engaging and moving Stardew Valley is. Also how it has inspired such an incredible community, with players even buying it for others just so more people can play it. It is well worth the US$15.99 price tag. Reading people say that Eric deserves every cent, and that it would feel like robbery to buy this game on sale—I’m one to agree! He spent years devoting love to this game and you can really feel it. I have barely scratched the surface of what there is to find in this mind-bogglingly deep game, and I’m still being surprised by what there is to still explore. Entire sections beyond the huge map, stories that are human and wonderful, but, most of all, a commitment to just doing the best job possible. I cannot recommend Stardew Valley enough; the effort that was put in to make something as wonderful as this should reap everything great that’s coming to its creator.