Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review: Stardew Valley


Among the independent games out in the world it seems like Stardew Valley is one that it would almost be impossible not to have heard mentioned at this point. Propelled not by marketing budgets and hype but instead on the power of word of mouth and the enthusiasm of the people who have played it this game made by a single developer has blossomed into something nobody could have anticipated. While there are elements of games that have come before it present, the Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing series in particular, Stardew Valley manages to combine the good while removing elements of the bad from them to create a game experience that, for me, is like putting on your favorite shirt. Even if it may not be in absolutely perfect shape it is all about how you feel when you play it.


Starting out in the game you’ll find that you’ve inherited a somewhat rundown farm from your grandfather, and starting out you’ll have nothing but some basic tools and a pack of seeds with which to rebuild the farm into something great. As you venture out into the town you’ll discover that in many regards it too has become less than it once was, with its former community center sitting in ruins. As you talk to people you’ll find that many of them have problems ranging from simple to more serious as well. What makes Stardew Valley both interesting and special is that there is nothing telling you which of these problems you should be looking to solve, how to do so, or on what timeline or in what order to do them. It lays down a foundation of things for you to look at and deal with but everything else is up to you.

In terms of improving yourself and your farm you’ll have some serious work to do! To simply clear out all of the rocks, errant trees and weeds on your property will take you days and even some upgraded equipment in some cases. You not only have to concern yourself with the clock but also with your endurance, which can get tapped out pretty quickly if you’re working too hard too fast. You can always forage or eventually make food that will help deal with this, but your endurance bar is always something you’ll need to be aware of so you don’t end up passing out and needing to be taken to the doctor. Fortunately as you work on specific tasks and find materials to make better equipment you’ll gain experience and work will slowly become easier. Aside from straight farming of crops you’ll also be able to build a barn to house various animals which will allow you to cultivate things like eggs, milk, wool, and truffles from but those animals will need tending too just as your crops do. Once you progress to a certain point you’ll find there are upgrades you can make to reduce your daily workload in caring for your plants and animals but you’ll still need to collect the fruits of your labors periodically. Beyond farming there’s also fishing to do as well as mining once certain events occur. The interface for fishing in pretty simple but catching tougher fish can be challenging and mining can be tricky business if you push yourself too far or lose track of the time of day but the rewards you get for materials are worth working for.


About the most guidance the game will give you will come through your attempts to revive its community center. There are specific objectives and things you’ll need to either grow, find, catch, or even win in order to restore parts of it to its former glory. As each portion of the center is revitalized that will in turn trigger a change in the game, whether giving you access to a new area or providing a means to move around town more quickly. In that regard you’ll definitely want to undertake these tasks in order to experience as much as possible in the game but at the same time how or whether you choose to do them, and in what order, is left to you. The tasks tend to be broken down by a type of activity whether to do with farming, or fishing, or interacting with people but some are also broken down by the season so you’ll only be able to find the items you’d need at that specific time of year. If you want to restore the community center you’ll very much want to keep a mental list of the things you’ll need as many of them are relatively ordinary, meaning you may simply sell them and not realize they could have helped you make progress. Another avenue to getting new things is by donating artifacts at the library. There are massive amounts of items and things to find in the game and as you donate them to the library you’ll be given rewards there as well. At an even simpler level between the bulletin board in town and simply talking to people you’ll find smaller-scale quests to do there as well. There’s no end to the things you have to choose from to do every day, the decision is yours in how you want to proceed.

On top of all of this choice, opportunity, and freedom it is really the extra special things that make the game shine. Every season there will be a special festival or event in and around town to bring people together and provide opportunities for special prizes or items to buy. If you’re able to cultivate a relationship with someone special you may choose to ask them to marry you and have children with them. If you keep pressing through to the end of the mine you’ll be rewarded but you’ll be even more excited when you reach a new area eventually with a newer and much more challenging mine. By completing a special series of tasks you’ll be able to get a special weapon to use when facing enemies down below. You’ll be able to catch special fish in specific areas you reach if you’re skilled and patient. The number of things hidden away in the game for you to find (or to simply look up if you’re impatient) is staggering!


Stardew Valley is a game I came to adore on the PC and I’m thrilled that it is now on the Switch so it can be played anywhere. Within my family there’s so much love for this game that my oldest daughter specifically bought her Switch for this very reason. Though she has “finished” the game at least 3 times already, and is a walking encyclopedia of Stardew factoids, she still keeps playing. That’s the power of this game, and the sense of serenity that’s so easy to have when playing it, and it is why I’m giving it the first 10 I’ve ever awarded for this site. It truly is a modern classic, blending elements multiple games have touched on before and combining them in just the right ways to make something truly special.

Score: 10

Pros:
  • An amazing variety of things to do but all at your pace and discretion
  • It is generally very relaxing to play and lose hours in
  • More secrets and things to discover than you’d ever guess


Cons:
  • If you want thrills and action there are opportunities for it, but that isn’t the focus of the game
  • Placing items on the ground can be finnicky and I would suggest turning on the option for assistance to reduce frustration
  • The habits and likes of individual people are quite elaborate and you may want to just look up a guide if you’re hoping to woo or make friends with someone specific


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