by Robert Thomas
reviewed on PC
Idyllic Farm Life
The world of Stardew Valley takes you to a quaint and calm world, where a player can just relax with an Nintendo-esque farm simulator. Inspired by the Harvest Moon games, Stardew Valley expands upon that concept greatly. In the harmonic farm town of Stardew Valley, there's an abundance of things to do beyond just farming. There are dozens of villagers to form relationships with, fish to catch, and a community to restore, yet Stardew Valley never feels overwhelming.
After designing your character, the shows your in-game avatar becoming overwhelmed with his corporate job and stressed with modern life. Looking to return to your roots, you turn to your grandfather's farm in Stardew Valley where you find the farm, as well as parts of the community, in decay and disrepair. While you have your work cut out for you, there's no pressure - the game allows you to set your own pace as you play.
The Stardew Valley Folk
The day-to-day affair of working on the farm varies for different people. For me there's a morning ritual in which I watch the morning shows, predicting the weather and my good fortune, then I tend my crops. In the afternoon I check up on my animals, give water to my dog, and take a quick walk into town. After that are so many things to do it is hard to choose. I could fish at the lake, river, or ocean. I could clear out my farm. I could fight monsters and find minerals in the mine. There's an abundance of activities in Stardew Valley, but no pressure to do any of them.
Each of the folk of Stardew Valley are unique. While the story is fairly minimal, getting to know these people is one of the overarching goals of the game. The first quest you get is to introduce yourself to all 28 of the current residents. Each of them has 10 levels of friendship, with rewards along the way. You can talk to them to receive some points to their friendship level but your best bet is giving gifts to them and hope they like what you brought. Checking the bulletin board for their birthdays and quests is also key to developing friendships.
One of Stardew Valley's bigger goals is the restoration of the community center. In order to fix up the once great gathering place you collect bundles or themed groups of items. For instance, you can donate one of each Spring crop, or a bundle of minerals you collected from mining, or a bundle of loot from monsters. As you donate, the community center comes back to life. To represent the theme of nature versus modern-life, there is also a second option; you can become 'corporate' and allow a corporation to take over the community center. Although it's morally dubious, it allows you to use money to complete bundles, instead of gathering the materials yourself.
A Game that Feels like Home
While Stardew Valley's pixel art could be described as 'retro', a better word for it would be nostalgic. It all feels very familiar, and the simple, yet colorful art helps make the whole of Stardew Valley feel like home. When the pixels aren't enough for villagers, there's also a neat little portrait to help establish a connection to each of them.
The art design is excellent and, coupled with the music, reinforces the happy, calm nature of the game. All of the tunes are catchy and easy to listen to and each song serves to create an excellent atmosphere, one of easy, peaceful living. The blissful melodies make you really feel like you're in a simple little farm village, watering some plants, or fishing on the beach.
You're Gonna Need a Farmer's Almanac
Despite being made by a single person, Stardew Valley is constantly updated. Almost all of the bugs that were in-place at launch have been fixed by patches and there are few bugs remaining. However, one of the larger problems is the lack of information. Of course the game tells you everything you're required to know for the larger picture but for little things there's not much to go on. For instance, in order to improve relationships with people, you need to give them gifts that they will like. There's only a few cryptic hints as to what kind of gifts that are. With a limit on how many you can give per week, making friends without a guide isn't easy. If characters would talk a bit more about their likes and dislikes this problem could be solved elegantly.
There's a TV channel that will appear once a week that will give you a small tip, but it's rarely substantial. I unfortunately received no warning that my fertilizer and plowed soil would disappear at the start of a new season. Perhaps it could give you a warning, or a quick hint about how crops work.
Everything You Could Want
Regardless of a few small issues, Stardew Valley is a successful send-up to Harvest Moon that truly comes from the heart. The one man behind this game created something that is beautiful and warm. It's very easy to see the time and work that went into each and every design aspect. It's a game that allows the player to set the pace, have a good time, and relax in the calm, quaint Stardew Valley.
A peaceful farm simulator with an abundance of things to do. Let's the player set the pace.
You'll probably need a guide.