For a long time, I’ve been aching for a chance to get back into the farm/shop management game genre that was pioneered by games like Harvest Moon. However, the last few years for this genre have not been too great, with the last iterations of Harvest moon and Rune Factory being less than spectacular. Thankfully, it seems that many share my thoughts, including a one-man developer team by the name of ConcernedApe who decided that he would take things into his own hands and create the game of his dreams – Stardew Valley.
Stardew Valley begins as you arrive in the titular town, having decided to quit your job in the city and move to your grandfather’s old farm in the countryside. Your role is to tend to the massive fields available to you and slowly increase your initially meager fortune, while at the same time exploring the huge town’s numerous locales, discovering its secrets, and meeting/building relationships with its varied inhabitants.
The first thing about that you’ll notice about Stardew Valley is that the game’s visuals and music are absolutely amazing. The pixel art is gorgeous, and contains a huge variety of color palettes that change according to the weather and in-game season. The soundtrack is also incredible, with 70 tracks spread throughout the vast and varied environments that do a wonderful job of capturing the relaxing and homely atmosphere of the game.
As you begin the game, you are immediately introduced to the huge plot of land available to you. At first, this land will be largely unusable – covered in trees, roots, and rocks that you must slowly clear away in order to plant crops in their place and sell the fruits and vegetables they produce. In the early stages, most if not all of your seeds will be bought from Pierre’s store in the middle of town, but other means of discovering and acquiring crops and animals will be available to you as you progress through the game. The game enables a large variety of playstyles, allowing you to pick between occupations including farming and raising animals, foraging, fishing, mining, and spelunking, or even dabbling in all of them!
The game offers so many different options (even within professions), that it seems almost scary when you first get started. However, the tutorial quests do a great job of introducing the world and the many ways you can approach it without suffocating from its many systems. You never feel like you are pressured into choosing particular options or playstyles, and are always free to progress as quickly or slowly as you desire. If you so wished, you could live a simple life doing nothing but fish all day, not interacting with a single soul. The seasons may change – bringing in a new series of available crops and gatherables, but there is no fail state and you can always find a way to pick yourself back up if you mess up a field of crops.
The game gives you just enough information about crop production that min-maxers like myself will have a grand time of finding and calculating the best ways to earn money efficiently, while at the same time being straightforward enough that people who just want to experiment and relax while playing can still have fun. The game’s progression is also quite deep, with more and more of the town being unlocked as you become more involved with its light-hearted mysteries. Stardew Valley houses over 30 unique citizens all with their own distinct personalities and schedules, who you’ll meet and learn about as you progress through the game and develop your relationships. Keep it up, and you may even be able to get married!
Stardew Valley is an extremely charming, polished, and nuanced game that is a breath of fresh air in the management game genre and the entire games industry as a whole. I don’t think I’ve had so much stress-free fun in a game for years, and would highly recommend it to anyone. In addition, the game has had an extremely well supported launch – with five updates containing balance changes, bug fixes, and even small content additions released within less than two weeks of launch – and all of this is done by 1 person! I’m currently 32 hours in, and I’m still constantly discovering new mechanics and content. I haven’t been able to wholeheartedly recommend a game with no reservations like this in a long time, and am glad to be able to do so now. Go grab Stardew Valley here on Steam now!