|Box Art N/A
|Platform Win, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
|Publisher Chucklefish Games
|Release Date Feb 26, 2016
Stardew Valley constantly asks: What do you need to get done today?
Within a couple of in-game days, you’ve built up a routine: Wake up, check the weather, plan your day, water your crops, tend to your animals, say hello to your neighbors, go fishing, hit some rocks, go to bed. Sometimes you can’t go to the store or sometimes you have to visit someone for their birthday and give them a gift, but every day is a to-do list.
I often found myself filling out manual lists in my notebook. I needed to remember to go find some clay to build a hay silo the next day, or that it was someone’s birthday. When I completed tasks, I was pleased with my sense of purpose as I crossed them off. Stardew Valley is engrossing in a way that many games of its ilk aren’t; the most mundane tasks and errands filled me with a sense of accomplishment.
I've heard people call Stardew Valley "that game like Harvest Moon," and that seems like developer ConcernedApe's intent. The premises are similar: Your character works to turn a run-down farm into a functioning institution, learning to raise crops and livestock while connecting with others that live in the community.
But Stardew Valley is more in touch with its message and more grounded in a relatable reality than its inspiration; it subverts cliches that tend to drag down similar games. Is slaving away in a cubicle worth it when you can build something that becomes part of the very ecosystem that drives your world? As someone who has worked desk jobs since I was 14, there’s something here that feels uncomfortably accurate, and it pushes you to build something.
These little details flesh out otherwise simple NPCs
The game begins with a final conversation with your dying grandfather, who leaves you a farm far away from your corporate office job — a place so lifeless that Stardew Valley's music literally stops when you're near it. The farm is a weedy patch of land in a tiny-but-lively rural town beset by the very company that you left behind. The community center is in shambles, bridges are broken, and people are struggling to survive.
More than 30 intriguing characters populate the town, including those you meet after unlocking new areas. Each has their own daily routines and relationships that you can discover. I noticed two people spending a lot of time together in the tavern and realized later that they spend time in each other’s homes as well. One quest tasked me with finding a character’s pants, which you discover in another woman’s abode. These little details flesh out otherwise simple NPCs.
This made me want to know them, and, sometimes, really know them. You can romance people and marry them regardless of gender. But building friendships is a challenge. A Flower Dance that occurs at the end of spring can become a nightmare if you didn’t put in enough time with people, leaving you on the sidelines with no dance partner. It happened to me, and I'll be honest, it made me feel like garbage. This made me determined not only to become romantically entangled with someone, but to please everyone.
One character, Pam, became the center of my day. An older woman living in a mobile home with her daughter Penny, Pam goes shopping at the cheaper megamart instead of the local shops and spends her nights at the local tavern getting drunk. I accidentally gave her a soggy newspaper once and she flipped out at me, so I gave her a nice flower on her birthday.
Nothing was different right away, but being able to please someone made me feel a bit better. And, over time, I learned that these little acts of kindness reveal the characters’ personalities and struggles to you, which in itself is a reward.
Amidst this socializing, there is also, of course, the farm. You can work on your crops and till your land all day, but you can also say hello and give gifts to townsfolk, find ore in the mines while also defending yourself against monsters, go fishing, forage in the woods or help out the spirits living inside the community center. The way you live your life in Stardew Valley is up to you and there are a lot of options.
Some tasks are more engaging than others; farming specifically became a grind when I had to water every plant individually, for example, though later upgrades rectified this. However, the minigames that come along with fishing or mining are subtly complex. They require more strategy than initial appearances would suggest, utilizing elements such as the weather to succeed in your catch.
That strategy can often be hard to find, however, as Stardew Valley didn't always adequately explain what I could do. The tutorial is basic, touching upon the fundamentals of farming and little else. There’s a lot to Stardew Valley, and I understand not having the proper time to teach every single aspect of the game. But when I accidentally starved my chicken because I couldn’t figure out how to feed it, I got frustrated. Imprecise controls made things worse — I hoed the wrong patch of dirt at least a dozen times, even with the targeting option turned on.
Stardew Valley didn't always adequately explain what what I could do
It’s easy to get lost for hours
Once I navigated around these issues, important details began to emerge. While the game is centered around transitioning your farm from abandoned land into a profitable part of the local economy, Stardew Valley seems just as interested in the player’s personal feelings about those elements. I could spend all day planting seeds and cutting down trees, but what would I be without the relationship I build with Pierre, the man who runs the local produce shop? In return, how does this impact my feelings toward Joja Corporation, my former employer, whose megamart on the outskirts of town competes with Pierre's business?
Joja is the closest the game comes to having an antagonist, its industrial, modern nature at odds with Stardew Valley's simpler way of life. The eerily quiet stores are full of stale walls and manipulative managers that give out coupons to Pierre’s customers in order to drive them away. Even without interacting directly with the company, you can see how it affects the residents and the larger community.
This contributed to my overarching goal in Stardew Valley. It’s easy to get lost for hours. Sure, there's a lot to do and a lot of ways to play, but each path also has purpose and detail. Completing even the smallest tasks gave me a sense of accomplishment and kept me digging to find more things to do.
Stardew Valley is a simulation game that explores more than the mundane
Stardew Valley isn't only about what you do, because ultimately you'll do a lot. It emphasizes what you do with what you're given: How you choose to build your community and relationships, and the power of a simple hello, said every day. Building a farm isn't just a physical task, but an emotional one, too. No simulation or game is an exact copy of what it’s trying to emulate, but Stardew Valley, above all, expertly explores the connection that someone can have with their environment, their work and the people around them.
Stardew Valley was reviewed using a Steam key purchased by Polygon. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews