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You know, sometimes, I like to take a break from all of the mindless killing that I take part in during my extensive gaming time.
Yeah, sometimes I like to hang up my sword, kick off my +1 boots of swiftness, and do some back breaking, farm-related manual labor instead. Thankfully, for those moments, I have games like Stardew Valley.
Stardew Valley is an indie farming simulator with some light roleplaying aspects and relationship-building mixed in for good measure. In that regard, this game is similar to games like the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory series.
Your (customizable) character starts off working at a big corporation call-center type place. He or she is getting sick of that soul-shattering labor. Fortunately, your grandfather just so happened to kick the bucket, and he left his apparently long-abandoned farm for you to inherit.
Of course, trading your computer-junkie job for the rustic rural life comes with a ton of work, some of which actually includes farming.
The farming in Stardew Valley is thrillingly tedious. There is a wide variety of different crops for you to grow throughout the year. Each year lasts four month-long seasons, and each crop that you plant will only grow in specific seasons. Also, each crop takes a different amount of time to grow. It is genuinely exciting to plant, grow, and harvest each different crop to see how they turn out as well as how much they sell for.
The tedium becomes apparent as you try to maintain each crop, making sure to water each one every day. The somewhat clunky controls certainly don’t help either, as you may often find yourself struggling against the mouse cursor in an effort to not water the same square over and over. Eventually, though, using the mouse in your favor makes everything slightly easier, and somehow all of that effort makes each harvest feel worth the pain.
Farming is only scratching the surface, however. There are loads of other things to collect, like fish and rare minerals. There’s even an expansive dungeon to mine through filled with monsters to massacre.
Guess I’ll need that sword after all.
Perhaps the part I found most fun was the town of Stardew Valley itself. The town is populated with some fun, if not a little stereotypical, characters for you to get to know. It feels almost like being part of a real community without all of that awkward “having to talk to real people” thing getting in the way.
As you get to know your neighbors, you’ll occasionally come across little events that give you a glimpse into each villager’s life and backstory. Going through a few of these really helps to feel invested in your village and your role as the giver of sustenance in said village.
Stardew Valley utilizes a 16-bit graphics style and it does so pretty well. These days, the return to bit graphics is neither new nor unique, but it doesn’t have to be. Everything just fits together well in its 16-bit, colorful way. The animations are top-notch, though. The way the characters jump and run around feels very reminiscent of games like Chrono Trigger and even somewhat newer games like the Mario and Luigi series.
Another one of this game’s strongest points is its beautifully rustic music and sound effects. The music is a glorious ensemble of pastoral chiptune songs made to fit every location perfectly, from the farm itself to the town to the beach. The ambient sound effects playing in the background is of a quality that seems to transport you to a different time and place. The crickets that chirp sounded so nostalgic that I couldn’t help but feel like I was outside on a warm summer night.
In terms of value, Stardew Valley is currently available for $14.99, which is an insane deal given how comparable it is to bigger titles like Harvest Moon and Rune Factory. There is just so much to do, and it is a perfect game to just pick up and play whenever you want to relax and chill out to the music. On top of that, the developer has been working on steady improvements even after its full release. There are even plans for 4-player co-op play in the future. Honestly, I would have been comfortable paying around $20-25 for this title.
Overall, Stardew Valley presents a strong alternative to the rather Nintendo-dominated farming simulator / RPG type style, which is nice to see. The farming, gathering, and crafting are all as fun as to be expected. The world feels alive and full of breath. The graphics work well together. The music is fantastic. The controls can feel clunky at times, but that is still largely overshadowed by the overall high quality of this title.