Stardew Valley is an incredibly fun and surprisingly deep game, available on Steam, that will remind you of old favorites like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. It’s also been available for weeks, and we haven’t managed to finish writing a review yet, which seems like something that a website with a section about video games should actually do. But don’t worry, we’ve got a good explanation for why we’ve so clearly shirked our duties as reviewers of video games, if you’ll just take the time to read it!
10. Farming Isn’t Necessary, But You Might As Well
The thing about Harvest Moon, the classic game that was clearly an inspiration for this one, is that it was all about the farming. The duties of running a successful farm were a significant portion of what you did in that game, and while it was a very good game, its near-singleminded dedication to one aspect of farm life meant that some people might have grown bored with just growing and tending to crops. Well, good news, because in Stardew Valley, you really don’t have to grow crops if you don’t want to, because there are plenty of other ways to make money and succeed without ever putting a single seed in the ground. With that said, however, farming is so easy and profitable that you might as well grow a few things. Honestly, we spent most of the first year with just a small, maybe 6×6 plot of farmland where we grew all of our crops, requiring only a minimum amount of effort every morning to make sure they were watered (and when it rains, you don’t even have to bother with that!) and still ended up with more than enough money to live comfortably. Sure, growing crops isn’t glamourous, but it’s pretty easy to do and can be ludicrously profitable if you grow the right plants (here’s a free hint: cranberries), so why not at least give it a shot? And if you want to go whole hog and build the biggest farm you can imagine, go right ahead!
9. Relationships Are Tricky
As you’d expect, this game includes a dating simulator, although it’s actually much more than that. There are a handful of citizens who are labelled as “Single” and whom you can enter relationships with an eventually even marry if you want to (and as a nice touch, your gender doesn’t matter when it comes to choosing a mate), but to really succeed, you’ll have to form relationships with many of the townsfolk. Doing this will get you access to locked areas of the town, which will occasionally become important when they ask you to complete certain side quests, and can also lead to them gifting you with items, money, or even upgrades for your farm. The tricky part is that you strengthen your relationship by giving people items, from crops on your farm to things you may find around town, and everyone has different tastes, especially when it comes to things they really like. It’ll take some trial and error, but the rewards are worth it, and you’ll even get some fun cutscenes when you reach certain relationship levels with people.
8. We’re Actually Saving the Community Center
Okay, so aside from the main story of you inheriting this farm from your grandfather, there’s a side story involving the probably evil corporation JoJa Mart, which has opened a location in town and is trying to steal customers away from local businesses. In addition, there is an abandoned community center just outside town that JoJa Mart wants to tear down and turn into a warehouse, but the Mayor won’t let them. If you want, you can buy a membership for JoJa Mart, which will cause the Mayor to give up and let them tear down the building. But you can also choose to rebuild the community center, which you do by gathering certain items (which you’ll probably find without trying too hard, although a few require some planning) in order to motivate some very special assistants to fix things up. Completing these challenges also opens up other aspects of the game, like a bus to a new location, a greenhouse so you can grow crops in winter, and a fast travel system. The choice is yours, but if 80s teen movies have taught us anything, you really should save the community center.
7. There’s A Roguelike In The Mines
Okay, it’s not a real Roguelike, but the mines north of town serve the dual purpose of allowing you to mine precious metals and minerals, and engage in combat with the denizens found within its 100+ levels. The mines are all procedurally generated, so the level layouts are different every time you start a new excursion. It’s not particularly hard to stay alive, as long as you have good timing on your sword swings and don’t bite off more than you can chew. However, the mines are not to be taken lightly, because death comes with an extreme punishment: loss of random items from your pack (although any “core” items lost this way, i.e. your faming tools, will be returned a day later), a significant amount of gold, and you “forget” the last ten levels you explored, including the checkpoints you open up every five levels. This is the best way to get the metals required for upgrades, and loads of gems that you can either sell, or use as fancy gifts to boost your relationships (seriously, nearly everyone likes jewelry in this game).
6. A Fishing Simulator That Doesn’t Suck
It is very rare that you’ll find a game that includes the ability to fish that isn’t disappointing. Actually, it’s rare to find an actual fishing game that isn’t disappointing, but perhaps we’re not the intended audience for that genre. Anyway, most fishing minigames end up falling into one of two categories: too easy, or too hard. In the first case, you end up feeling like the whole endeavour was un-necessary and only put in as a stumbling block between you and some sort of progression, and in the latter, you just never play the damned thing unless you absolutely have to. Stardew Valley doesn’t require you to fish, but if you want to, it’s simple to pick up, but difficult to master. When you start out, catching a fish will be frustrating, but once you pick up a second level in the skill (which you do just by fishing repeatedly, regardless of success), things get significantly easier. It’s never so simple that you can do it mindlessly, you’ll have to pay attention at all times, but it does hit that sweet spot where you can catch fish regularly, while still feeling challenged. Especially in winter, when you’ve got more free time, fishing can be an enjoyable way to while away some time, and we never thought we’d say that about a fishing minigame.
5. Side Quests You Don’t Mind Doing
The important thing about side quests is that ideally, they’re relatively simple to complete without taking you very far outside of your normal routine, especially in a game where time is a resource. Also, don’t keep reminding us every few minutes that we haven’t done them. Stardew Valley doesn’t have a lot of side quests, and there isn’t much variety, but they’re all relatively simple and involve things you were doing anyway, like finding copper in the mine or getting someone a vegetable that you should be growing because it’s the right season. The downside with is that sometimes, you won’t manage to grow the right crop before a season ends, but that’s okay. The quest just sits there in your journal until that season comes around again, and you can plan to finish it then. Also, when we say “a vegetable”, we do mean “one”. Nobody is asking for stacks and stacks of potatoes, or anything, just a single one for this recipe they’re planning to make (which they must really love, if they’re okay with waiting a whole year to get it). There are some other side quests of similar requirements that will be posted at the store every couple of days, and they do have a short time limit, usually two days, but let’s face it, you were going to go kill all those slimes in the mines anyway, you might as well make a few extra coins while you’re at it.
4. A Soundtrack Worth Listening To
When you’re going to be playing a game for significant periods of time, especially one done in an old-school, 16-bit style like Stardew Valley, you have to hope that the music is the sort of thing that you won’t mind hearing over and over again in the background. After all, if you’re going to spend your day waiting for fish to bite, it helps to have something to listen to that won’t drive you insane in the process. Well, there’s very good news on that front, as not only is Stardew Valley‘s music exceptionally good, there is a wide variety of it, with different tunes for each season, and a long list of other tunes that you’ll hear throughout the course of the game. There are so many different tracks, you can even pick up the soundtrack on Steam , and if you like listening to video game music, we recommend that you do!
3. Lots To Do, But Lots Of Time To Do It
The clock in Stardew Valley moves quickly, but not too fast to accomplish a lot of things in the average day. Time moves in ten minute increments, which happens every thirty seconds. That sounds fast, but keep in mind, your character can be awake from 6 AM until well after midnight (although if you stay up too late, you’ll pass out, be penalized some money, and start the next day with half your energy). And since nothing in the town itself opens until a few hours after you wake up, there’s lot of time to deal with your farm-related chores before anything else. And once your farm gets going (which doesn’t take long), there are multiple ways to automate most of your chores (here’s a free hint: invest in sprinklers as soon as you can, they’re easy to make and cut your chore time significantly), freeing up even more time for visiting people, fishing, or visiting the mines, among other things. While it still might not sound like a lot of time, and you will occasionally find yourself running out of time somewhere in the middle of the mines, once you get in a routine there may be some days where you don’t even bother using all the allotted time (especially in winter, when there are no crops to tend to).
2. What Might Happen Tomorrow?
This game is liberally sprinkled with random events that could happen at any time in your game. Maybe a fairy will cause some of your crops to grow instantly. Maybe a witch will turn one of your chickens evil for some reason. Maybe a meteor crashes near your farm. Or maybe you’ll just get a letter informing you that you’ve received an award for helping so many people this month. These are all things that can actually happen. There are so many things that could happen during the course of this game, it’s fairly unlikely you’ll see them all in just one year, and the creator has said they’ll be constantly adding new content when they can. Since your game automatically (and only) saves when you go to bed in the evening, the only way to find out what could possibly happen tomorrow is to wake up in the morning, get out of bed, and go outside. And then, since you’re already up and the clock has started on another day, you might as well water the crops, and feed the chickens, and then you need to go into town to visit your friends…you see, that’s how they get you.
1. Wait, What Time And/Or Day Is It?
Honestly, the real reason we haven’t written an actual review of Stardew Valley, over a month after the game was released on Steam, is because we’re still playing Stardew Valley. Seriously, we’ve got a backlog a mile long, our progress in The Division (which we actually like and want to play more of) has stalled, there are TV shows and movies going unwatched, and our Clash Royale skills have just gone to hell, but we simply cannot stop dumping huge amounts of time into Stardew Valley. Unlike something like the recent Animal Crossing games, there is nothing to artificially limit how long your session lasts, and with all the factors we’ve just discussed, it can be difficult to find a stopping point (we usually try and shoot for any day where the town celebrates a holiday as a sign we should probably take a break, but that’s not a foolproof plan). That sounds like a complaint, but there’s really nothing we enjoy more than a game where we can sit down to play for just a few minutes and then not look up for several hours.
Oh, hey, look at that. It turns out, we ended up reviewing Stardew Valley after all.