Plant, harvest, sleep, repeat.
That’s the simplest way to describe ConcernedApe’s farming simulation RPG Stardew Valley, but after taking the PC market by storm, it’s time to see what the fuss is about and how successfully it transfers over to console. Surely there are enough farming games already? Do gamers really need another one on the scene?
Absolutely we do.
In the interest of transparency, I have a personal vendetta against the farming genre. So when Stardew Valley caught my eye, I was a little apprehensive, fearing how I’d cope with another potentially tedious experience that’d no doubt drive me over the edge, leading to over-indulgence on Toblerones again. Maybe those other farming games just dropped the ball, and the genre could thrive given proper love and attention? Fortunately for my general well-being, that’s exactly what Stardew Valley does, whilst adding the all-important ingredient of FUN. But I’m jumping ahead a bit here; let’s go back to basics…
You play as a main character who is tired of the same boring office job and decides to finally open a letter received from their grandfather before he passed away. It becomes apparent that an entire farmhouse in Stardew Valley has been left for your character to inherit, with the only catch being that the living quarters and the surrounding land is in a bit of a state after being unattended to for so long. Your job is to not only breathe life into the farm plot, but also to turn around the fate of the local townspeople and their beloved community centre.
What seems like a lot of pressure on the character’s shoulder is actually a relatively stress free problem to overcome. And that’s simply because there’s no particular time-frame in which to perform such a large task; it’s just a goal to work towards at your own speed. Sure, there are only so many hours in a day, but you’ll learn quickly that it doesn’t matter if you can’t cram enough in, there’s always tomorrow.
After deciding upon the look of your character and choosing a farm map – each offering different plot layouts and one inhabited with monsters by night – suited to the lifestyle you wish to embark on, the world is your oyster. There’s a real freedom to everything going on in Stardew Valley; all the basic tools to start this new life are handed over and how you earn money to spruce everything up depends on what activities you wish to partake in.
Farming is the most obvious way to make cash and requires the player to clear a spot of land, dig it up with the hoe, before planting seeds acquired from a shop, or later on by crafting. Sowing those seeds is just the beginning, as they’ll need watering daily to truly flourish into something like a potato or a melon. Then it’s time to harvest the crops to sell on and then start the whole process again. It may sound monotonous, however, ensuring I’ve tended to the crops within the daily time cycle and reaping the monetary rewards is incredibly satisfying. Especially when a higher quality item grows which in turn offers a higher value cash-in to reinvest in more luxurious seeds.
The sheer variety of crops is only truly realised through progression, simply because each season offers differing seeds which thrive under the seasonal conditions. There are four seasons in a year – Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter – and each season lasts for 28 days, something that needs taking into account before planting; there’s no point planting a 12 day cauliflower when the season is ending in less than that. The whole farm wilts as the new season begins, and that keeps the routine fresh.
It’s not all about farming though, which is probably why I have become rather addicted to proceedings. As long as you don’t let your plants die, each day is what you make of it. Your character has only got so much energy though, as well as health, and so you must get a good night’s sleep – this saves the game too – to restore them both. Once fully fit and raring to go, nearby caves serve well as both procedurally generated mining floors and a place to slice and dice a decent mixture of monster types. Every swing of the pickaxe could reap a rare drop, or a mysterious artefact for the perusal of the local museum curator.
Animals are available to look after as long as you’ve bought the correct housing for the likes of chickens, cows and pigs. Upon getting involved in caring for a chicken, it led to what was probably the first time I genuinely felt like I had no idea what to do. Stardew doesn’t hold your hand much at all, as if to say ‘be free my child’, but it’s detrimental on a couple of rare occasions. How was I to know I’d need to feed the chicken hay to ensure it lays an egg? It baffled me as to why it showed me no love.
Last but not least activity-wise, and the only one to really require a level of skill from the gamer, is fishing. Once there’s a rod in your hands and it’s cast into the ocean, the anticipation is too much to bear as you wait for a fish to latch on, unless you hook a piece of seaweed. When you get a bite, you need to keep a green bar level with the fish by tapping A as it moves up and down a graphical representation of the battle. There’s nothing better than reeling in a large pike after a bit of back and forth.
Chatting to the locals helps build a rapport with them, which could lead to friendships and eventually maybe a little romance if you play your cards right. It appears to take a lot of effort to increase the chemistry with the townsfolk. Even after bringing out the gifts, I’m still not allowed in anyone’s bedrooms – that’s a real goal you know – as you have to be friends just to be able to access people’s bedrooms and sometimes even their home. Luckily, I’m not really in this business to make friends so it didn’t particular bother me how needy they all are.
Everything you do decide to do in Stardew Valley will ultimately level up the skills of the main character; whether that’s mining to increase pickaxe proficiency, or foraging to add axe proficiency, it all counts towards something. Levelling up also unlocks new crafting recipes and can eventually lead to bonuses tied to your profession of choice e.g. becoming a Tiller to receive 10% bonus on crop sales.
Crafting is a very simple affair as long as you have all the components in the inventory, the creation of an item could be done within two button presses. Items range from the aesthetic pathways and fences, to scarecrows and sprinklers. Just like crafting, cooking follows the same easy methods to bring recipes to life and is eventually an option once you’ve got yourself a kitchen.
The visuals are an aspect I could see putting people off considering the pixel nature of the world, but it takes the graphical capabilities of the art style to their limit. It’s surprisingly kind on the eyes, which goes well with the regular melancholic sounds played into your ears in order to create a relaxed atmosphere.
When it comes to the controls, they are rather simple to grasp and that helps to open up the experience to almost any age of gamer. The only criticisms I have from a mechanical point of view are the occasions where the menu cursor goes missing, some people randomly won’t engage in conversations for a day, whilst a handful of times the game has frozen up for a short while.
As far as 2D farming RPGs go, Stardew Valley delivers a wonderful experience, with an open-ended game to be taken in at your own speed. Everything to discover in the local town and beyond is a joy to explore. Plenty of activities ensure each day can bring a new adventure for your little farmer, whilst the vast amount of items keeps on rewarding you to carry on with it. I can’t however help but feel that no matter how crazily addictive it is, there should be more help in-game to explain certain things. That and a few minor issues are all that prevents it from getting top marks.
Come and join the mission to rejuvenate the marvellous place that is Stardew Valley; it’ll be the best farming experience you’ve ever had!