I wasn't really into the idea of a farming game.
That's what I thought when Stardew Valley first came out. I watched friend after friend fall into its clutches. They fished, they farmed, they kissed handsome doctors with mustaches. It looks cute, I thought. But that's not for me.
Stardew Valley, to quote a friend, is pure, and endless and evil.
Now I have visited the valley, and friends, I am here to tell you what countless fans of the game were telling you back in February. Stardew Valley is addictive, relaxing, engrossing, and goodhearted. I can't fucking stop playing it and I have shit to do.
In Stardew Valley, you are a young office worker who inherits their grandfather's farm. You reach rock bottom, frustrated with your soulless city job, and you move to the country to start a new life — a farm life!
It's a beautiful, contemporary fantasy. You don't have to look for jobs or pay off student loans. You just have to work hard and be nice, and life is good to you in return.
In between gathering resources, you'll build up relationships with the townsfolk. You can even marry some of those young singletons if you give them enough gifts. I thought this would be the most compelling part of the game for me. I love making fictional people kiss! It's my favorite hobby!
But oh, how ignorant I was.
Building up your farm in Stardew Valley is criminally compelling — so much so that I'm neglecting all my romance options. How it works is that every day when your character wakes up, there will be something you want to accomplish. Maybe it's foraging for seasonal crops. Maybe you need to gather some wood and upgrade your house. Maybe you really wanted to go fishing.
You might accomplish that task, but by the end of the day there will be two or three more things that you desperately want to do. And you won't have the time or energy to do them. So you send your character to bed, and lo and behold, a new day dawns! You receive whatever money you got from yesterday's crop sales. And maybe you have a letter in the mailbox. Maybe your new crops have just come in. Maybe Snello and Agnes finally laid more eggs. You have to check. And of course, you wanted to bring a hot pepper to Shane, didn't you? You might as well visit the mines until he gets off work, so you can meet him at the saloon.
And so, another day rolls by.
This hateful, perfect game will keep you engaged for hours. And the systems you can build are so delightfully complex! Leveling up your skills unlocks new crafting options that in turn make your farm more profitable. Every upgrade you make changes your daily pattern; maybe instead of selling all your fruit, you're now holding onto it so that you can turn it into more profitable jelly. Each season brings new crops, new items to forage, and literally other fish in the sea.
There are crafting and cooking recipes to discover, festivals to attend, and collections to complete. Stardew Valley somehow incorporates all this and hits every beat to satisfaction. Once you settle into the routine of the gameplay, it's nearly impossible to break free.
And again, at the core of all these pleasing mechanics is a good-hearted game about rejecting corporate greed and living a magical farm life. There are some nice little touches that make Stardew Valley feel welcoming and contemporary. The fact that you can romance all the single NPCs, regardless of gender, is one lovely facet that makes me so happy.