Stardew Valley (PC) review
"In times of turmoil, turning up the soil of the past can be a great comfort."
Who wakes up to find their wallet loaded with coin from the previous nightís shipment of produce? Who spends twenty eight days, of which each of the four seasons consist, in anticipation of the next day? Who hands gifts to total strangers in the hopes of befriending or even marrying them? In Stardew Valley, you do.
Your Grandfather is bedridden, and though why is not clear, he gifts you with a letter you are to open when you tire of the grind of modern living. A few stylized screens later and you are standing in front of his old farmhouse in the titular valley, aghast at the monumental challenge. Youíre given a few consoling words, and left to your own devices.
You are now master of several acres of quite wild land, and given no exact quota to meet. In Stardew Valley there are helpful NPCs, a handful of events and quests, but everything is optional. You are never castigated for not partaking of these offerings. You are encouraged to do things, often as a very gentle tutorial to help you survive so that you may follow your interests.
Stardew Valley proudly wears its influences on its sleeve, its head, its tush ... you get the idea. This is one of its greatest strengths, as the aesthetic of the SNES edition of Harvest Moon is its first seedling. The world is presented in 1990s style 8-bit pixel art, with low animation counts and hardware scaling tricks to bring the impact home. For instance, your tools are not animated, but rotated with the addition of motion-suggesting sprites. Itís snappy and quite effective at communicating the impact of most of your implements.
Yet it is abundantly clear that other games contributed their influence to its winning personality. What I am going to do now is talk paths and the influences I recognize in each of them. Letís start with the farming. But wait, I hear you say, what do you mean by ďpathsĒ?
ConcernedApe has stressed that there is no one way to win, even though some pursuits are more lucrative than others. Winning, I gather, means revitalizing the farm and rediscovering the joy of living, over a three year period. Each month, or season, has twenty eight days ... which means you have ... (grabs calculator) ... 336 days until his return.
What? Donít ask me, thatís what the note said on his shrine. You see, before we get on to paths, thatís the sidewinder you arenít expecting from Stardew Valley. If youíre interested in it, stop reading this review and go buy it right now. Donít wait for a sale, donít wait for me to tell you what a delight it is. Go. Iíll be here if you want to return. Have fun!
Still here? Paths it is. You see, while farming is going to pay your way three seasons out of four, it has many facets and even deeper interactions that will encourage you to explore all possibilities. It can be argued that you canít avoid them if you want to unlock portions of Stardew Valleyís map, and more. Since youíre going to be busy anyway, thatís not a bad thing, as all aspects of the title radiate charm.
Thatís right. Radiate. There is an unexpected supernatural element to the game that can augment your earnings and interactions with the environment. No spoilers, as really, Iím just halfway through the fall in my longest running map. Fair is fair. Just look at all that digression. Goodness. Letís take some and look at the nostalgic design elements we were going to discuss.
Mining has combat. Oh yes, and it positively oozes Secret of Mana/Evermore/Seiken Densetsu III all over. You have a selection of weapons to choose from with unique properties, such as swing arc, impact and precision. You may block, with the sword, at least, and you know what? You can cut grass.
On my first playthrough of Secret of Mana I hunted grass nearly as much as the monsters because of this brand new interaction Ė think 1995, folks. Combat in Stardew however, is nowhere near as taxing, at first. As the difficulty curves, so will your access to better gear to meet the enemies in the deep. Youíll also be picking up essential ores for crafting as well. SOE was known for the necessity of items for magic, though this game's approach is naturally more broad.
What is fishing like? Apparently not much; you may immediately recognize the line casting system from Minecraft, Terraria and others, but its reeling mini game will keep you on your toes with its physics oriented take on something sincerely physical. Itís a great analog, and you might curse a little when the big one gets away because of your impatience and imprecision.
Relationships. A staple of farming life simulators is the ability to court a guy or gal and eventually propose and marry them. Like any pursuit, you must be persistent, as all of the characters have daily habits and patterns to learn. They also have likes and dislikes as gifts, and when they see you root through someoneís trash. You can marry whomever you choose regardless of gender, provided theyíre (Single), and even divorce them if you want to. Apparently itís horrible, though Iíve no idea, personally.
Stardew Valley has a way of feeling deeply personal. Graphically it is lush, animated with enough subtly to evoke the suspension of disbelief, but not crowded with color or details. The music is brimming with personality, employing a banjo without hesitation or misstep. That is to say, ConcernedApe knows when enough is enough, and layers other instruments in for a truly rustic feel. Summer sounds like a hot, risky season of delicate balance, whereas youíll hear sustained synth pads during Fall that may make you stop to admire the falling leaves.
Iíd like to say that Stardew Valley will run on any hardware, and that is nearly true, but in spite of low system requirements, I experienced frame drops on more than able hardware. This did not impede my progress, however. As of this writing the developer has been active in updates, as Stardew Valley has hit the mass market with its lovable charm.
Farming offers choices aplenty; animals, battery manufacture, fruit, vegetables, foraging and even foresting. Character interactions are not as deep as a visual novel, but the environment tells a story deeper than the dialogue. While Stardew Valley has a three year story arc and maps with unique environments, you are performing virtual chores, and they will only remain as interesting as they are new to you.
Stardew Valley is finding a new, in fact, older, audience of players who grew up on this experience and wanted some nostalgia. What they got was hours and hours of charm and personality with expert presentation, a heartfelt soundtrack and the freedom to choose. Buy it, and pay full price Ė you wonít regret it. You might also check out my review of the Switch edition, which brings a console-only experience to mobile play.
Community review by hastypixels (November 21, 2016)
At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.
If you enjoyed this Stardew Valley review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!