Stardew Valley (PC)

Stardew Valley (PC)
Developer: Eric Barone
Publisher: Chucklefish Games
Released: 26th February 2016

A couple of months ago, I came across a cute little title while browsing through the front page of the Steam store. At the time I was mainly preoccupied with finishing Bloodborne and thought it looked really good and greatly resembled a Harvest Moon game, but otherwise quickly passed it over. 

Fast forward a few weeks, I've finished Bloodborne (loved it!) and classes have resumed. Looking for a title to spend some free time on and having nothing in the immediate docket at the time, I decided to finally pick up a copy of Stardew Valley. Why not? I thought to myself. I have a blast of a time playing the Harvest Moon series of games up till Back to Nature on the Playstation1. Newer entries have been less than desirable in recent years, but if the glowing reviews are anything to go by and if it is anywhere near as good as Back to Nature it will be worth that 10 bucks or so I spent on it, right? And Oh Boy did I get my money's worth, as this title is one of my favorites this year.

You start as a custom character a few years before the events of the game, where your grandfather gave you a will on his deathbed, with instructions to only open it if you ever grown tired and apathetic of modern life. Fast forward some time, after no longer being able to stand the dull, monotonous corporate lifestyle, you decide to open the find a deed to a old farmhouse in the quaint countryside of Pelican town, and off you go to start your new life.

Life as a village farmer won't start of as a pretty bed of roses of course, as the sizable lot of land known as your farm had fallen into disrepair over the years and its up to you to decide how get it up and running again. This new 'simple' life of a farmer does not mean you are relegated to rote farming chores however. Your daily duties on the farm may include the expected planting of crops, foraging, mining, building facilities, rearing animals and getting along with the other villagers, as the many  options gradually  become available to you. There is even a couple of dungeons you may enter to fight monsters and mine the area for artifacts and crafting materials. Your ability to do all these activities are off course limited by your funds, your stamina bar, and the sheer number of hours within a day, as you automatically fall asleep after 2am and wake up with reduced stamina the next day.

It is to Stardew Valley's great credit that none of the activities in this game feels like a dull, slow grind, as games of this genre can very easily devolve into at certain times. It certainly helps that actually doing any of these individual tasks are never that boring and the somewhat tight energy and time limits keeps you at a brisk pace. The games always make you feel like you're on the cusp of your next breakthrough and next endeavor, changing the way you perform your daily schedule. It is always rewarding to harvest a huge crop batch, expand your fields, rear a new animal, upgrade a tool, mine for new crafting materials, finding new weapons, developing a proper sprinkler system, and constructing breweries & processing machines, all of it is quite engrossing  to execute and also makes your daily tasks more efficient and/or profitable.

There are also longer term goals you may pursue at your own pace. These goals may include reaching the depths of the dungeons, rebuilding the town's community center and other infrastructure, collecting all the museum's artifacts, and building your own family. The game never really forces you to partake in all of its activities and many tasks can be optionally skipped in favor focusing on other goals. Not a fan of dungeon crawling, fishing or ranching, , you can just focus on building the biggest, prettiest damn crop farm and you will be just fine. You may miss out on some content, sure, but the game will not punish you too much for it. The game itself does a great job at making individuals rewarding in and of themselves and really help at varying up the pace of the game, always keeping things fresh and always more to do.

Even after settling into a comfortable rhythm the game occasionally throws some curveballs your way. Little cutscenes appear as you complete milestones or get closer to villagers, from things like joining the town's many festivals, meteorites landing in the farm, listening to the woes of a flegdling artist trying to make ends meet, or even helping a vet deal with post-war PTSD, these are some of the little moments that really draw you into the world and keep things interesting. Heck, there was an instance of a witch cursing one of the eggs in the coop and what hatched from it was a jet black Void chicken, complete with glowing red eyes and lays void eggs. She's called Hoppou by the way. Did I mention I had a Dinosaur in the same coop that lays eggs?

On the technical side of things the game receives very high marks. The pixel art used here is colorful and attractive. The framerate is silky smooth and I have yet to run into any bugs 40 hours into the game. The addition of mouse controls into what traditionally is a console title is of huge benefit to the game, as aiming tools and inventory management has never been easier, though people who prefer to use a controller will also be happy to know that it also functions perfectly well. The music and soundtrack for the game is also pretty good, and I can't remember getting annoyed at any of the repetitive tunes you get to here on your daily routines. Even, the characters are well written for a game of this genre, as many of the initially one-note characters become fleshed-out multi-facital people, as you get to know them and they begin to share with you their fun moments, their aspirations and their many worries of an uncertain future. None of this is anything groundbreaking of course, but already far above many of its genre peers, heck over many indie games or some AAA productions.

And ALL of this, was done by a single person, mad props to Stardew Valley's creator Eric Barone for his stellar work on this amazing game. There is so much jam packed into this game I wouldn't be too concerned if some of it was soulless busywork, but somehow he has injected plenty of heart and personality to everything that being in this world is a joy in itself. 

Stardew Valley is a crowning achievement for any production studio and it being made by one man is quite an amazing story. I'm now 40 hours into the game and halfway through my second year in-game, and yet I feel there are many things that I have yet to learn, yet to explore, and I eagerly await to see what the game throws at me. I think I will go play some more now XD


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