Since its release, “Stardew Valley” has sold over two million copies on PC and Mac alone.
From indie-developer Eric Barone and publisher Chucklefish Games comes “Stardew Valley,” an isometric roleplay game (RPG) that gives fans of franchises such as “Harvest Moon” or “Animal Crossing” a fresh take on the farming simulator subgenre.
Released in February 2016 on Windows with ports later bringing the game to other systems, “Stardew Valley” delivers a familiar, community-based farming simulator packed with enough twists and nuances to distinguish it from other games in the same genre. Since its release, the game has seen an incredible amount of success for an indie game of its caliber, and rightfully so.
With the charming original soundtrack and simple yet beautifully detailed pixelated graphics appearing almost immediately as the game starts, one may find it difficult to not feel an immediate positive response. Having grown tired of the monotonous life that comes with an office desk job, the game begins with the player being left a small plot of nearly deserted land and a few coins to their name, charging them with the responsibility of creating a new life out in the countryside.
At its core, “Stardew Valley” is a farming simulator. Seasons change, crops are planted, grown and harvested over time, and the player can find satisfaction in the fruits of their labor (literally) paying off. However, beyond the farming is where many of the title’s smaller details begin to really shine. With various other activities available almost immediately such as fishing, mining and adventuring, players are encouraged to carefully plan out their limited time and energy available each day, only to be left scrambling back to their home before they pass out from exhaustion because they could not fight the urge to explore one last dungeon level or harvest one more row of crops.
It is important to keep in mind that if one is looking for an intense, action packed adventure, “Stardew Valley” may not be that game. Though death does incur a relatively heavy penalty in the game, it is a factor that is not encountered often. The gameplay experience may vary based on the initial choices the player makes, such as choosing to live in the much more dangerous wilderness as opposed to the “standard” farm world, but generally “Stardew Valley” proves to be a relaxing and relatively stress-free game. The focus is more on building both a home and relationships with other characters found within the town.
After a while the farming and building may seem monotonous, but the game’s world is one of discovery and secrets; every time the player thinks they know what to expect, another veil is lifted and interest is almost immediately rekindled.
However, this concept does seem to work against the game at certain points, with some game mechanics being revealed a bit too late and leaving the player moderately frustrated in realization of how much time they could have saved in earlier gameplay. Regardless, while nearly every part of the game has been broken down and explained on Wikipedia pages and forums since its release, “Stardew Valley” is a journey better experienced blind. Discovering for oneself where the world Eric Barone has created is a much more rewarding experience than simply reading about it online.
Even after over 40 hours into “Stardew Valley,” the player will still feel as if they have only scratched the surface, with exciting and mysterious items, characters and locations that still have depths left to be traversed. It is a game that appropriately encourages a slower pace, with it being largely left to the player how the time given to them is spent, tying in well with the game’s narrative of leaving the hustle and bustle of city life for a more meaningful and peaceful existence.
Always left wanting more, players will grow along with their farms. They will feel satisfaction and even a bit of pride when they finally reap their first harvest, build their first barn or produce their first block of cheese for sale. Though not for everyone, “Stardew Valley” is a game with a wealth of secrets, charm and relaxation to offer, provided players are willing to put in the time it may take to experience them.
“Stardew Valley” is available on PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One and PS4 for $15.
Final Grade: A