Version tested: PS4
I’m ashamed that many indie games have passed me by without so much as a second glance from me. This can only be explained by my own ignorance – I used to peek at the 2D graphics and simple styling and do nothing more than move on. To me, they looked outdated and thus not worth my interest. But recently, I have been sampling many delights I overlooked (mainly in part due to being free on PS Plus each month such as the brilliant Not a Hero) and eventually purchased Stardew Valley after spotting it on the PSN store. I’m a huge fan of Animal Crossing and to an extent, Harvest Moon so you’d think I would have played this sooner, right?
Stardew Valley is a sandbox style farming sim that was designed and developed by Eric Barone, who felt that Harvest Moon had moved away from what the game was originally meant to be and started his own game in a similar vein. The game took him 4 years to make (2 of which were part time before Chuckle Fish snapped the game up to be published) and the hard work certainly paid off.
You start by creating a character, giving them a name and a couple of customisation options for their look. The game starts with a piece of land given to you from your grandfather before he passes, so you can escape “city life” and bring back a farm from ruin.
To begin with, you will just have your (small) house, a large area of land (that’s covered in grass, stones, wood, and other bits that need clearing) and a couple of tools to get going.
On first inspection, the visuals look quite simple (2D sprites in a sort of 3D layout) but after playing the game for a while, I find them quite charming. The game runs on 28 in game “days” for each season, the landscape change every time from wonderful lush colours in spring to snow coverings in winter that really change not only the way things look but also determine at what time when things grow. It’s something to bear in mind when planting crops as they each take different amounts of time to grow and only available in different seasons. Time management is key here.
The mayor of the town has you introduce yourself to the town’s 20 or so inhabitants (a lot like Animal Crossing except the town is full of people not strange animals that can talk) and opens the now derelict Community Centre – you’ll need to visit this a lot but more on that later.
Stardew Valley is essentially a farming sim that relies heavily on time management doing anything in the day will lower your energy meter – from watering the plants, to hoeing land and even feeding your farm animals will deplete your energy how much will depend on how strenuous the activity. You can replenish energy by eating or drinking anything you come across – some are better than others and some foods can even make you ill. The better the produce, the more energy it will recover, allowing you to get on with the important things in life, like sowing seeds for example.
Day to day activities range from restoring the farm – hoeing land, planting seeds, watering plants, feeding animals as well as general up keep. This may seem boring but there is so much more that Stardew Valley offers – exploring the town, you’ll come across standard places like the local shop (you can buy seeds and sell items here) the local pub (food and drink can be purchased) but also more interesting areas such as the mines which are basically different dungeon style levels filled with rocks (obvious I know) ores, diamonds and much more! The mines also contain enemies (bats / bugs to begin with and get a little more sinister the further down you go) that will harm your character so best getting yourself armed before you venture down. Using the pickaxe to mine will greatly deplete your energy as well as being mindful of attacks from enemies on your health. It’s a great way to find expensive items to sell – such as diamonds they are a girl’s best friend after all.
Time is also a constraint when visiting the mines as a “day” in Stardew Valley (Starting when your character wakes up at around 6am) will tick by quickly (I think their hours equate to our minute or so) and when 12am arrives, your character will be warned “It’s getting late…” and eventually pass out if they don’t get home to rest. This happened once to me and I not only lost my energy and health the next day, I also lost items and “forgot” 15 levels of the mine. Grrr!
It all sounds like there are many limitations with what you can do – but the fact is, this is what makes Stardew Valley so good – the balancing of time, energy, and what actions you take each day makes it feel rewarding when you make some progress. It’s about making the most of your day to achieve whatever goal you have in mind, such as if you need quality crops for the Community Centre, better buy some seeds, quality fertiliser and get planting! Need some money quick? Head down to the mines and pray for a good haul. All while keeping up with the townsfolk and ensuring their needs and wants are met too. Nobody said being a farmer would ever be easy!
Certain events happen throughout the year – such as festivals, dances and so on. Most have rare items and all townsfolk attend but I don’t really care for them and it takes up a whole day. Don’t these people know I have plants that need watering?!
I mentioned earlier about the Community centre being opened – this is a derelict building in the middle of the town that has different rooms that have all been in desperate need of some of TLC. There are small creatures that inhabit the centre and by donating the correct items to each symbol, good things will happen. Basically, it means collecting rare items and crafting new ones to give to the centre in order to help the town – completing parts will earn you rewards to help the farm and completing each room will result in the room itself being spruced up and an area of the town fixed too.
So far, I have been able to fix mine carts (makes it much easier to get around) and fixed the broken-down bus – this will take you to a desert like part of the town and it also gives one resident their job back as bus driver.
I find relationships in the game tricky – you can check your progress with each person by how many hearts they have for you. You can get them to like you by giving presents (maximum 2 per week) and try speaking with them each day. Some have been labelled as single too – but whenever I try and talk with someone or give them something they always seem negative and thus our friendship doesn’t go anywhere. But I have made friends with the homeless guy in the town, Linus – he even gave me a bait recipe to help with my fishing which was nice.
It’s not always sunny days and collecting bits & bobs – strange things do happen in Stardew Valley – such as on rainy days, you can hear strange noises. There are uncommon events that happen – like a meteorite falling in the middle of the night and so on. I’m not always sure what I need to do but it’s a good way of breaking up the day to day in Stardew.
The game isn’t without its problems, some of the controls are a little difficult and I find some of the mechanics a little frustrating – for example, businesses usually open from 9am but you need to be sure to get there right on time as the workers seem to like to just wander from their post. It seems to happen a lot (Especially Marnie) and while it does make the town feel alive, it can be mega annoying to not be able to purchase some hay 3 days in the row because Marnie isn’t there. What else are my poor chickens going to eat?
Same goes for when you accept a run and fetch type request from a townsperson – yes certainly I can bring you a leek no problem, except where the hell are you? The map doesn’t really help and as the townspeople go about their day, there is no way of knowing where they will be and often, the request will expire before you can reach them. It can be extremely irritating.
Still, small qualms for such a wonderful game. It truly is a touching, thought provoking and addictive game that will take hold of your life and not relent until you have every item donated to the community centre, every level has been reached in the mine and your farm is flourishing with wonderful crops you can sell. You have been warned, it will consume your life. Welcome to Stardew Valley.
9 / 10