Hey guys, Kernook here. This is not a review. Rather, this is a post about a game I absolutely adore and always suggest to those looking for a casual gaming experience.
I love farming simulators. I always have, and my first introduction to the genera was Harvest Moon. I absolutely loved it, and my mom did too. We’d spend hours after I got home from school playing it together. The two of us dedicated way too much time building a farm, raising the animals, and befriending the characters. Getting to play my wholesome little farm family lingers as some of the most memorable gaming moments in my life just due to how often I played those types of games.
Naturally, when I’d heard an indie developer was working on a game to rival the Harvest Moon franchise I didn’t believe it would be successful. I was told the game would be available on steam, and when it released, I bought it. I was skeptical, but soon I realized my fears were unfounded.
Stardew Valley is one of the best farming simulators I ever played. It’s a game I often return to when I just want a game to play casually.
Farming isn’t all that you do, but it is a rather large part of the game’s core design. Tending to crops and caring for the animals are the only way to make some of the highest quality goods in the game. Unsurprisingly, Stardew Valley was heavily inspired by the Harvest Moon franchise. Therefore plenty of the core features in the game revolve around key aspects that were so loved by players of Harvest Moon.
In many ways, those core ideas were expanded upon, and new concepts were added too.
Eric Barone, also known as “ConcernedApe”, developed the game as an endeavor to improve upon the genera. I’d like to think that he certainly did, as Stardew Valley is an incredibly robust game all on its own, not to mention the modding community that comes along with it.
Published by Chucklefish, the game was released for Microsoft Windows in February of 2016. Later ports of the game were released for macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android devices.
ConcernedApe developed the game over the course of four years, and players are still treated to occasional updates. If his updates aren’t enough to satisfy, the modding community has a wealth of content to satisfy even the most seasoned players looking for new challenges or simply additional features.
The story starts the same way many other farming simulators do. Usually, an aging family member decides to leave you an old farmhouse in hopes that your character will continue the family’s legacy.
Upon starting the game, you play as a young adult who takes over your grandfather’s farm. Packing your bags, you move to Stardew Valley. The farm is in a horrible state of disrepair. It’s your job to get it into proper working order.
In this respect, Stardew Valley settles into a predictable pattern. However, the game will subvert expectations quickly.
Let’s take a brief look at the opening story…
Now I’ve made a male character, but both genders are open to creation. You can make a male or a female character, and have that character marry a man or a woman.
Once you’ve made your character, the scene begins with an old man lying in bed. He’s clutching an envelope and struggling to breathe. This man is your grandfather, and he says that this letter is for you. Then, he asks you to not to open it until the time is right. He gives you the letter, and the screen fades to black.
A moment later, a new visual awaits…
A grey and lifeless office building comes into focus. Cubicles stacked closely with one another pan slowly, showing office workers in poor conditions. Two figures loom over the exhausted employees, gazing down at them from the comfort of their offices on the floor above.
This is the first indication that Stardew Valley has a darker story to tell. Make no mistake, this isn’t like the farming simulators of the past. The plot elements begin the same, but this is a somewhat mature re-telling of classic tropes. The game is riddled with grim subtext and context clues to further its narrative.
This oppressive atmosphere seems like a prison. The building is untidy, and workers are being treated unfairly. The imagery in front of you suggests long hours and little pay. The sounds themselves are mechanical, lacking any warmth. There are none of the usual comforts you might find in a typical office building.
The lighting is dim, grime cakes the desks, and a security camera hangs over the head of each employee. The skeleton of a deceased worker hangs limply in his cubicle. The slogan plastered upon the wall is a lie.
Your character is unhappy. The poor working conditions have obviously taken their toll. His eyes are closed as the monitor in front of him glows blue. He looks as dull and lifeless as everyone else around him. His eyes slowly open, groggy and with a sense of hopelessness.
He bends forward to reach into the drawer of his desk. His grandfather’s letter rests neatly inside, sealed and waiting. He opens it, finding a heartfelt letter from his grandfather.
According to the letter, your grandfather has left you his farm. He tells you to reconnect with what matters most in life. The names you’ve chosen for your character and your farm will be listed in the letter.
Your grandfather writes that the farm is tucked away on the southern coast, located in a place called Stardew Valley. After a moment the scene fades to black again.
Although it isn’t shown on screen, your character packs his bags and heads off for his new home. The scene opens with a bus speeding down an otherwise empty country road. Upon arrival, you meet the first of many NPC townsfolk.
Her name is Robin, and she’s the local carpenter. She’ll be useful later for making upgrades to your farm. She tells you that the town mayor, Lewis, asked her to come and greet you. She offers to take you to your new home.
Befriending the townsfolk is a core game-play mechanic. The closer you are with them, the more you get to know them. All of the characters have at least some level of depth to their backstories. It behooves you to make friends with all of them.
Like other genera titles, giving gifts twice a week and speaking to the NPC’s daily raises their friendship score. Higher scores give you access to more cut-scenes. Each character has things they like, and things they don’t. You’ll have to learn about that through trial and error, or simply look it up online if you don’t want to go through the trouble. Lastly, Don’t forget to give them gifts on their birthdays. It gives a greater friendship boost.
Robin takes you to your farm. There, you see what a complete mess the farm is. Obviously, it’s fallen into disrepair. This is the another core game-play mechanic. There’s a lot of different ways to enjoy your time playing Stardew Valley, and one of them is maintaining your farm.
You can raise crops and animals here. That’s not all, the game offers a robust crafting system, allowing you to run your farm is several different ways. Bee keeping is one of my favorites, but there are others too.
You’ll need to clear the mess on the farm to get it in working condition. First however, you need to finish the cut-scene.
Once you enter your farm, you meet Lewis, the mayor of Stardew Valley. Robin and Lewis banter, proving that not all of the townsfolk get along. Eventually, Lewis tells you to get some rest because there will be plenty of things to do tomorrow.
Finally, the cut-scene ends, and the screen fades to black. After this, you get control of your character for the first time. This is where the story truly begins.
The game isn’t intense or “hard core” in any way. The appeal of it comes from the short bursts of time you can offer and still feel like you’ve gotten something done. The game saves after each in-game day, and they’re fairly short.
Now, you can binge the game for hours on end too, I certainly have at times. However the long-running appeal for me is that I don’t have to binge it to enjoy it.
No matter how you choose to play though, you’ll have to manage your character’s time on the farm wisely. Days move quickly and you have limited energy at first. As a farmer, you’ll clear your land and care for your crops. You can choose to raise livestock, too.
Seasoned players will tell you that it’s best to avoid livestock during your first in-game year. You’ll have to earn money if you want to expand your farm, and livestock can be a drain on time, money, and valuable crafting goods such as wood and stone. That being said, the great thing about Stardew Valley is that it’s meant to be played however you wish to play it. You can set up your farm in many ways, and it’s not set in stone.
By crafting goods, mining for ore, and befriending townsfolk, you’ll make your deceased grandfather proud. It’s important to join in on social activities around Stardew Valley. You’ll be able to start a romance that may lead to marriage. If you get married, you’ll get to have children. If you have a same-sex marriage, you’ll be able to adopt. There are many inhabitants in the small town, so there are plenty of spouses to choose from.
The game is fairly open-ended, allowing you to choose how you’d like to play. Friends can play together too. Stardew Valley features a multiplayer mode that allows up to four people to play on the same farm at once.
I absolutely love Stardew Valley. With the wealth of content constantly being released by fans and the creator alike, Stardew Valley is a game that is always refreshing to return to.
The modding community is a fairly healthy one too, and the types of content you’ll find among them is vast. Some of them produce darker cut scene content, that add to the already lightly mature themes discussed in the series. I won’t cover that here because if you’ve played the game already, the mods are the next logical step. This is more of an overview for players who haven’t heard of the game, or simply weren’t sure if they’d like it.
So, if your looking for a relaxing title, with a story that appeals to an audience that isn’t inherently a child at heart, then look no further. Give it a try and see how you like it.
This has been Kernook of “The Demented Ferrets”…
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