Tag Archives: Family

Fandom: Stardew Valley

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.

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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

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.

Your character’s has an old and ill grandfather. He leaves his legacy to you.

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…

Your first look at “Joja”, the major corporation that threatens to consume everything that your character seems to care about.

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.

Life isn’t better with Joja…

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.

You’ve kept the letter for an indescribable amount of time. Yet, today is the day you choose to open it.

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.

Robin, the town carpenter. She is the first of many characters you’ll meet in the game.

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.

Lewis is the town mayor. If you want to get a divorce later in the game, you can do it at his house.

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.

Final Thoughts

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, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.

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Anime Review: Sweetness and Lightning

Sweetness and Lightning is a slice of life series that aired in 2016. At its core there’s a story about family, grief, and finding a place to belong.

These themes are wrapped up nicely in a show that centers around the heart of every home, the kitchen. On the surface, this is a cooking series. Beneath that, each dish that the characters make provide catharsis for their struggles.

The anime isn’t dark by any stretch of the imagination. In spite of the themes surrounding it, the series is very upbeat. The writing is masterful, but it’s not deep. Each emotional issue is handled maturely, but, the series itself can easily appeal to almost all ages. At the end of the day, the story is about familial love, and finding comfort in places that the characters would least expect them.

The anime is an adaptation of a manga with the same name. The adaptation is true to its source material, diverting only slightly when the narrative demands it. Those occasions are rare, minor, and actually make the anime a better viewing experience. The subtle changes aren’t always easy to notice, and that’s the way it should be.

The twelve episode series follows two very different family dynamics. It focuses on both equally, but, one family stands out more.

The Inuzuka Family

The first family is a father and daughter. Kōhei Inuzuka is left a widower after his wife’s passing. His daughter, Tsumugi Inuzuka is still quite young. She’s only in kindergarten, and therefore she’s solely dependent on her dad for almost every need. Kōhei struggles with the demands of being a single parent.

Working a full time job as a teacher and seeing after his youngster are large emotional commitments. He is not a homemaker, and he has no idea how to fill the void his wife left behind.

The Iida Family

The second family follows the Iida family. Kotori is a student in his class. She spends a lot of her time alone, both at home and at school. She’s a loner by choice and routine. Her mother is often away, having a very small role in the anime. The absence of Kotori’s mother is a driving force for her loneliness in the series.

Kotori has a passion for food. Since her mother is an acclaimed celebrity chef, she knows her way around the kitchen. However, her incredible fear of knives keeps her from enjoying that passion to the fullest.

Mundane Life

This is not an action filled series. It is not full of suspense or plot twists. There are not a lot of over the top “anime style” gags, and you won’t find many standard tropes clogging up the anime either.

Even among the slice-of-life anime often provided to fans, this show is something that might appeal to a “non-anime” fan due to its down to earth nature.

The series asks its viewers to sit down and enjoy a relaxing story. Sweetness and Lightning is episodic, and mundanity is literally everywhere.

This is a series that finds its excitement by characters interacting within the confines of every day life. Each struggle begins and ends with one key component; the family dynamic.

The story opens with the the facts of life at the Inuzuka home in plain view. Six months before the series begins, the love of Kōhei’s life passed away. He’s still grieving, and trying to make ends meet. As a single father, this is no small task.

Kōhei has no idea how to cook, and so he lives off of ready made meals, serving his daughter the same. These foods aren’t healthy. Often times, they aren’t even tasty. His wife had been the one to make the family meals, but with her passing it now falls onto him.

Kōhei fails to keep a largely stocked kitchen, and can’t prepared the dishes his daughter loves to eat most. Worst of all for him, his daughter often comments on this.

While still grieving himself, he feels incredibly guilty that he can’t live up the memory of her mother.

Tsumugi obviously misses her mom, but the concept of death is a foreign concept to the little girl. She can’t quite grasp it, and the way she mourns reflects this. Everything is in the little details for her. She complains that meals have become different now. She gets upset with the changes in her routine.

The things her mom used to do are now in her father’s hands, and Tsumugi has to cope with those changes. It’s all very age appropriate, and fits the narrative well. It never comes off as “too much”, and it isn’t overbearing either. There are plenty of scenes that follow her day-to-day life too, and the conflicts that she runs into. Both at school and at home.

To that point, I want to reiterate that Sweetness and Lightning is a very down to earth series. Tsumugi is a little girl, and she acts like one. She can be very bright and cheerful. However, like all small children Tsumugi throws her fair share of tantrums too.

She’ll pick at her food, or reject it entirely. She’ll babble nonsense, or fight back a little when she’s scolded by her dad.

She is a very accurate depiction of a child. If you don’t like children, this aspect could easily get on your nerves. Tsumugi is such a major character in the anime that you can’t avoid her. She has way too much screen time to be ignored.

Unlike other family style anime that may have a child in it, this series focuses on those complexities. Kōhei’s personal story is about the difficulties of being a parent. Tsumugi is her own unique character, and she does challenge her father.

Meanwhile, Kotori is an average teenage girl. Her passion for cooking aside, she can be a bit of a wallflower. She does have one close friend her own age named Shinobu. The character makes occasional appearances every now and then.

Other than that, Kotori mostly spends time on her own. As an only child of divorced parents, she’s used to being independent.

The only interesting character quirk she has is a terrible fear of knives. She managed to cut herself pretty badly as a child, and the fear of knives persists because of it. Other than that, Kotori isn’t very interesting on her own.

What truly uplifts Kotori as a character is the way she interacts with Tsumugi and Kōhei.

The student and teacher dynamic between them slowly shifts into one of friendship. At the high school, Kōhei maintains his position of authority. After school hours, he begins to treat Kotori as an equal.

The way that Kotori proves herself capable of assisting with Tsumugi helps to lessen the divide between them. As the series goes on, the way these two families merge help to fill the respective voids between them.

The Kitchen: The Heart of Every Home

Obviously, if you don’t like anime centered around cooking, you won’t like this. A vast majority of the scenes take place in the kitchen. It focuses on how meals are prepared, and the steps it takes to make a home cooked meal. Learning these basic steps remain the foundation of the series as a whole.

Kotori’s mother owns a restaurant, although it usually remains closed. Through a series of events, Tsumugi acts as the balm to eventually tie this odd trio together. The three of them end up gathering regularly at the restaurant, learning to make home cooked meals. They eat together and treat each other as a family.

As the characters spend more time together, old pains begin to lessen significantly. The two broken families start to redefine what it means to be a family in the first place.

The teacher becomes the student, perhaps the only actual plot twist in the show. Still, it’s no surprise to the viewer. Kōhei learns his way around a kitchen with Kotori’s help. She knows more than he does, and it’s good that the dynamic shifts here. It shows that the characters mutually respect each other.

With all of her mother’s recipes at her disposal, they work together to make each dish. Kotori finds comfort in spending time with Kōhei as well. She also gets along well with Tsumugi, eventually treating her like a younger sibling.

There is a saying that families are made around the dinner table, and this anime examines that. As time goes on, more friends join in on the nightly gatherings, forming strong bonds.

Although nothing inappropriate ever goes on between Kōhei and Kotori, the connection they build runs deep. You could choose to see something beyond a platonic friendship if you wanted. However, the anime only provides minor subtext for that. You’d honestly have to be looking for romance in places that it just isn’t.

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Kotori’s emotional state shifts as the series progresses. Shinobu, her best friend even takes notice. She states that Kotori seems to be at her happiest whenever she’s cooking food and eating with the Inuzuka family.

Kotori’s mother eventually meets Kōhei and Tsumugi. She finds herself grateful that her daughter found such good people to have in her life and encourages their time together to continue.

The changes over time for Kōhei and Tsumugi are also noteworthy. Kōhei becomes more capable as a father. When he finds himself lacking, Kotori helps to influence the way he deals with his daughter’s outbursts. Tsumugi becomes happier in general, and truly enjoys her time spent with Kotori.

Final Thoughts

If you don’t like anime with kids actually acting according to their age, skip it. Tsumugi is unavoidable as a character. She is a child, and she unequivocally acts like it.

On the other side of the coin, if you’re looking for a romantic series with a significant age gap between the characters, this is not it. You’re going to have to look hard for that subtext and frankly there are just better anime out there for that sort of romantic entanglement.

Sweetness and Lightning is about family, the cultivation of strong familial bonds, coping with loss, and overcoming grief. These are the themes that make the cooking aspect of the anime so powerful. They are the absolute core of everything, without fail.

Trying to take any of that out of context, for any reason, probably won’t serve you well.

The animation in the series is good, and holds up adequately enough. Like all anime that revolve around food, the animation sees a spike in quality when meals are displayed.

Some of them look good enough to eat, and appear more appealing than their real world counterparts.

The musical design is spot on, and enjoyable. Like the series itself, it doesn’t try to be over the top. It won’t stand out over the scenes, and I don’t find it memorable outside of that. The music only serves to be complimentary towards the series. The opening and ending songs are enjoyable for what they offer, but, they won’t make any of my top ten lists any time soon.

The anime leaves these two families as fast friends. There is subtext that the two might become one later down the line. However, that isn’t written in stone. The subject of romance itself is not something that is heavily addressed, and that’s fine. It shouldn’t be.

The anime never pulls a “Usagi Drop” moment either, and Kōhei’s friendship with Kotori is respectful at all times. It never crosses into questionable territory or inappropriate power dynamics.

Sweetness and Lightning is everything the title says. It is a very sweet series. The darkness that comes with it doesn’t overtake the series as a whole. Instead, the sadness is brief, but carefully included. The anime strives to tell a simple story, with a simple conclusion.

In the end, it provides strictly what it promises, and very little more.

It doesn’t necessarily fall into the “cute girls doing cute things” trope, and I wouldn’t call it a “healing” anime either. I didn’t feel refreshed or renewed after watching it.

The fact is that slice-of-life is its nearest comparison, but that’s a lackluster description of the series too. None of these categories do the show the justice it deserves.

Although I enjoyed it, and I would watch it again, for me it’s just a popcorn anime. The series is addictive in the moment, and its very easy to consume. The episodic nature makes it a joy to binge watch. This, coupled with the fact that it’s only twelve episodes long makes it an ideal choice during a lazy Saturday afternoon.

It’s a tame viewing experience. Those qualities make Sweetness and Lightning a top contender for family style anime of this nature.

If you’d like to see a few other reviews on the topic I’d say Them Anime and Lumi has you covered for more opinions on this wonderful series.

In the end, I would say that Sweetness and Lightning is merely a story about life. It doesn’t go anywhere particular, and it doesn’t need to. There are very few anime that can put so much heart and soul into such a mundane story. That alone makes it worth a watch if you like shows that center around family dynamics.

This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.

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