I don’t have that much of a history with farming games. I’ve tried the odd Harvest Moon game over the years and I am a fan of the Animal Crossing series but there’s never really been a farming game that held my interest for very long. Perhaps the living through the dark days of Farmville on Facebook soured me on the whole concept.
But Stardew Valley is nowhere near as insidious as a crappy Zynga Facebook game, it’s actually one of the most pleasant gaming experiences I’ve had in recent memory.
In Stardew Valley your character starts out working a soul crushing office job for the evil Joja Mega Corporation. Just as your character is at their lowest they remember a letter they received from their grandfather informing you that you’ve inherited the family farm in the picturesque town of Stardew Valley. So you quit your office job and move out in the country to start your new life. You arrive late at night and only have time to chat to the mayor before you turn in. Once you wake up on the first day of spring this is where the game really begins.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the farm is a little bit of a dump. The ground is covered in rocks, grass, trees and fallen logs and you’ll have to clear a path so you can actually plant anything there. Luckily you start off with a full set of tools you’ll need which was the first pleasant surprise because usually you have to scrounge around for your tools in Animal Crossing and that’s always the most frustrating part. Every time you crack a rock or chop a tree down you also get resources like stone you can use for building, hay you can feed to your animals or tree sap you can craft into fertiliser.
This makes even the most mundane tasks fun because there’s an extremely satisfying pop sound every time you pick something up, it just feels so good. Speaking of sound the music in this game is great, every season has a slightly different theme but they’re all relaxing and very easy to get stuck in your head. One of the spring songs is so catchy I miss it when it changes to summer but it just gives me something to look forward to when spring comes back.
Once you get into a bit of routine most of your days will consist of getting up and watering/harvesting your crops then selling them so you can expand your farming operations. There isn’t really a set goal in the game, you’re pretty much free to make money however you want. You get some quests that will slowly introduce you to some of the different mechanics like building a coop for chickens or encouraging you to explore the landscape.
One of the things you’ll want to explore is an abandoned mine on the outside of the town. This is where you can get ores which you’ll need to upgrade your tools and to build some of the more complicated farm buildings and machines. You can find precious stones here too that you can donate to the museum for rewards or sell for some extra cash. This is also where the game becomes more of an rpg. There are monsters down there which you’ll need to take out before you can mine in peace and you can also equip your character with armor and better swords to make it easier. The deeper you go down in the mine the better the potential rewards can be so any items that speed up your spelunking adventures really help.
Time Enough at Last
Almost every action you take in the game slowly drains your stamina meter, this means you won’t always be able to do everything you need to do in one day. Your character also can’t stay up past 2 am which I found out the hard way while exploring the mine. If you exhaust this meter or stay up too late all that happens is you wake up in the doctor’s office but they do charge you about 500 gold which at the start can be a bit steep.
You can easily use half of your energy just watering your plants in the morning so you really have to plan before you head off into the mines. You can take food with you to top yourself up but you don’t want to be eating too many crops either. Sometimes it can be a lot to think about but there aren’t really any strict time limits, you can keep playing forever because the year just loops.
One thing you do have to watch out for is the seasons because you’re spring crops will instantly fail if you haven’t harvested them when summer comes along. I got caught out by this on my first summer but it’s the kind of thing you’ll only mess up once. The game has a bit of a harsh learning curve at times, I do think they could have included some more tutorials as there can be a lot of trial and error when you first start out. There have been a few times when I’ve had to consult the Wikia just to figure out the basic game mechanics which I don’t particularly mind but it might put new gamers off.
The main thing that keeps me coming back to Stardew Valley is that it’s one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played. Granted there can be a sense of urgency when you’re delving deep into the mines and it get’s a bit late but even then there isn’t much of a penalty if you mess anything up. The game lets you do everything on your own time which is great if you haven’t got the chance to play for hours on end. It also borders on addictive at times, I always find myself wanting to just do one more day which can often turn into about 20 more.
On it’s surface Stardew Valley seems like a simple game but there’s immense depth to be uncovered if you’re willing. It’s all the more impressive when you learn that this game was all made by 1 person (Developer Eric Barone). I really can’t recommend this game enough, its PC specs are so low almost any PC can run it and at the time of writing it was £10.99 on Steam so it’s definitely value for money.