A lot of naysayers of popular culture will try to tell you that everything has been done before. That there is only ‘X’ number of stories and Shakespeare wrote them all already. That the hero’s journey has been the same ever since Joseph Campbell laid down a framework for it in his meandering tomes.
I don’t know much about that, but I do know that Stardew Valley is freakin’ rad.
As with all great stories, and as with all genres of games, everything has been done before, but while the stories may follow the same beats, the difference is in the telling of the tale. Stardew Valley is essentially a new Harvest Moon game. It’s got the same cutesy aesthetic, the same wonderful music and graphics, and the same compulsive gameplay loop of farming, tending to animals, and building relationships with townspeople. The wrinkle comes in how it mixes this classic formula with the recent crafting and gathering styling of games like Minecraft, and its 2D inspired ilk, Starbound and Terraria.
Couple this with a slew of deep mechanics, side distractions, and levelling up, and you’ve got an indie title that will swallow hundreds of hours of your life, all made by one guy. It’s not in early access, it’s not free to play, it’s just Stardew Valley, ready and waiting for you to sink hours of your time into the peaceful pursuits of a simpler life.
There’s been a gap on PC for this type of game for a long time now, and save for one terrible port, Harvest Moon has been ignoring the PC master race, giving CuriousApe plenty of time to step in and steal all our free time away. However, Stardew Valley’s cute aesthetic belies it’s serious depth. When you first roll up on your dilapidated farm, it’s overgrown with weeds and trees, and it could take you weeks of in game time to clear it all out, but there’s so much more to do than that.
There’s a hugely deep crafting system, fun fishing diversions, a huge mine and dungeon to explore (with light combat mechanics and lots of ore gathering fun) and building, planting seeds, and crafting is all intuitively done with mouse and keyword, or the partial controller support the game offers. Plus, you can upgrade your house, a la Animal Crossing, buy wallpaper, furniture, other cosmetic items, and even get a little pet. There’s tools to be upgraded, seeds to be bought, skills to level up, relationships to advance, and the in game town is a huge map of fishing spots, houses, nooks, crannies, and odd characters with their own personalities and routines. Everything feels incredibly fleshed out, and the game is polished to perfection, with gorgeous SNES graphics and top notch music.
Waking up on a rainy morning to hear the hushed sound of the rain pouring down, or hearing nothing but the steady drip, drip, drip of water in the mines, or even the waves crashing as you fish, it’s all so peaceful. It’s a game where optimising every second of each day for maximum profit and relationship building is the wrong approach. Just do what you want, and let it all wash over you. Spend a day fishing, spend a day plucking weeds, and then romance the townsfolk in the bar at night. Buy a beer, put something on the jukebox, waste your quarters in the arcade. You’ll sink right into the shoes of your farmer and long for the country air yourself.
Stardew Valley is one of the most serene gaming experiences you’ll ever have, combining the best elements of a range of titles to make a peaceful and compulsive game, where every day brings something new, and a quick play session stretches into hours and hours as you tell yourself just one more day. For a game made by one person, in a world filled with titles that are forever in Early Access, filled with free to play, pay to win messes, Stardew Valley is a breath of air as fresh as your first when you climb off that bus and settle into a wonderful little community of friendly faces.
What’s even better, these people pluck their own weeds. Take that, Animal Crossing.