Review: Stardew Valley

Harvest Moon x Animal Crossing

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Please, send help. I can’t stop playing Stardew Valley. In fact, it’s running in the background right now. Which reminds me, I need to catch an Albacore real quick for Elliot…

All right, so, Stardew Valley. Wait, I need to cook Willie something special for his gift…

Anyway, what was I talking about again?

Stardew Valley (PC)
Developer: ConcernedApe
Publisher: Chucklefish
Release Date: February 26, 2016
MSRP: $14.99

Stardew Valley is a farming and life simulator. But this isn’t like the more modern wave of “simulators” that have dominated the genre. This is old school, Harvest Moon-inspired simulation. It has clear roots in that franchise, but it separates itself with many other mechanics thrown on top of just farming. In fact, there’s an entire season (winter) when farming doesn’t happen!

Here is a typical day, relatively early on, in Stardew Valley: Wake up, water and pick the crops, refill the dog’s water, and feed the chickens. Eat a snack to restore some energy. Head out into the town, check the calendar for anyone’s birthday or town events, then check the bulletin board to see if anyone needs something to be done. From there, it depends on how you feel. Maybe today is a fishing day, heading to the different areas to catch all types of fish. Maybe it’s an adventurous day in the mines, slaying monsters and collecting gems and ores. Or perhaps it’s time to re-plant some of the harvested crops from earlier.

There are a ton of things to occupy any given day. Players start out with a huge plot of farmland and some tools. After clearing some room, it’s time to get some crops and plant them. Nothing is really “tutorialized” to the player, but the game does a wonderful job of introducing the player to new things and hinting at the best way of optimizing skills.

Story cutscenes are introduced sporadically, but it’s mostly up to the player to advance it as they please. According to the developer, the story does have an end, but that’s not the end of the game. Luckily, the community is filled with interesting characters to make the story worth paying attention to, even if it may not seem that way at first.

Many characters will initially come off as one-dimensional, which I think is intended. “Okay, there’s the goth kid, the athlete, the tough girl” and so on. However, by completing quests for townsfolk and giving them presents, they start to warm up to the player, and actual conversations can be had. It’s these dialogues that show each character’s true colors and helps the feeling of attachment to the NPCs who are constantly wandering about town.

And they really are constantly wandering. All NPCs have their own weekly schedules, which vary depending on the season. Sometimes I’ll wonder why the farm shop isn’t being tended, and then I’ll realize it’s the day most of the ladies in the town go work out together in the general store. This could be frustrating to some, but it’s important to remember to relax and take it all in. If you’re unable to buy something because the clerk is out and about, go do something else!

Though I haven’t experienced it myself yet, as players build up relationships they can get married and have a family. There are a lot of bachelors and bachelorettes in the town to be courted, and after reaching a certain “relationship level” with someone, it’s possible to propose.

There is also an overarching goal to achieve: restore the community center. Each room of the center has certain objectives that need to be completed in order to bring it back to its old luster and open up new areas of the town. These quests each involve donating specific themed items. For example, you may need to donate four iconic crops from each season in order to complete a room’s objectives. Obviously these are long-term goals and cannot be completed quickly. 

In fact, the entire game pushes players to take it at their own pace. Everything is so casual, there’s never something to be stressed about. Certain townsfolk requests have a two-day timer on them, but not completing them has no real consequence. Stardew Valley emphasizes motivation, not urgency. Would you rather spend the entire day fishing instead of looking for the mayor’s shorts? Go ahead! 

Personally, fishing is my favorite. There is a small mini-game when hooking a sea creature that involves pressing a button to keep a bar lined up with the fish. Depending on the fish, it will move up and down in an attempt to avoid it. Fish of the same type move the same, so experienced fishers will have a good idea as to what is on the line, even before reeling it in. It almost gives the fishes a personality, and it’s extremely gratifying to hook a rare fish.

Heading into the mines is also a great way to spend the day. The combat is simple, but it’s for the best. Really, killing monsters is a side-effect of gathering resources like stones and ore, though the loot that monsters drop can be great, too. Weapons have two actions, which vary depending on type. Some are better at attacking quickly, others do damage with slow attacks, and some have better range. There are also slingshots, but the control scheme makes them completely useless to me, and it doesn’t seem to work at all on a controller.

The game is a bit rough around the edges. I will say though, many of the bugs I have encountered over my playthrough have already been patched out. Early on, I had multiple instances where a day was lost, and since the game only saves after each day, it was frustrating. That hasn’t happened in a long time, and my only recent “lost” day was due to a bug during one of the festivals. Regardless, anything that causes an entire day to be lost is upsetting.

There’s also something else. Either I’m going crazy, or one of my villagers simply doesn’t exist. You see, even after a year, I’ve only met 27 of 28 villagers, which is the first quest in the game. I broke down and looked it up — I’ve never met Leah. So I went to her house and fished outside it all day. Still nothing! So I checked the wiki for her schedule and went to exactly where she should be, multiple times per week. Despite my hardcore stalking, I never saw her. She’s also not at any festival. So yeah, that’s a bug.

The art is incredibly endearing and beautiful. Character portraits bring be back to my old Sega Genesis days and really help the characters come to life. Everything looks great in motion. The town really feels alive while walking around, and it’s not a bad idea to simply stop and take in the surroundings at times. The music, likewise, perfectly fits the feel of the game. Smooth, relaxing, and catchy tunes that I find myself humming as I go about my day.

There is so much to do in this game. I haven’t even brought up crafting or cooking! Even after an in-game year and over forty real-world hours, I still have things to look forward to each and every day. Whether it’s working on restoring the community center, trying to make a decent buck, helping the townsfolk, or working on optimizing my farm, I know I can always be doing something. 

Did I mention that one person made this? One person made this.

Stardew Valley is a game that keeps on giving. There is so much I haven’t even explored yet that has my giddy for the future. The core mechanics and relaxing aesthetic merge so well together that players will sink in to the experience and never want to leave.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.

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Image of Patrick Hancock
Patrick Hancock
During the day, he teaches high school kids about history. At night he kicks their butts in competitive games like Rocket League, Dota 2, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike. Disclosure: I've personally backed Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2, Dead State, SPORTSFRIENDS, Torment: Tides of Numera, STRAFE, and The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls. I have previously written for and continue to support them whenever possible (like HumbleBundle).