Before we start, I got to confess something: I never played Stardew Valley. Over the course of the years, ever since the indie press and fans were following the solo work of Eric Barone to create a spiritual successor of Harvest Moon, I was preoccupied with other games and didn’t learn about it until I read its dedicated chapter in Jason Schreier’s Blood, Sweat and Pixel. And so here I am, playing Barone’s Stardew Valley thanks to Chucklefish Games, which quickly caught my heart like many other players and critics.
If I were to explain quickly what Stardew Valley offers, it would be first of all, an escape from your urban environments. If you live in a metropolis or in a smaller city, it is not difficult to identify yourself with the main character (boy or girl according to your choice), who’s been killing himself at work in an office in the middle of several cubicles (or not if you’re younger). One fine day, our hero (or heroine) inherits a farm from his grandfather, which he sees as a perfect opportunity to leave the pollution, public transport, and the city life to start a new one in a quiet and green pasture. The town you’ll be moving to, Stardew Valley, is not perfect, and in addition to learning your new job as a farmer, will shower you with other tasks to bring back its former glory.
The mood of Stardew Valley is peculiar in its own way, and can calm your bloodiest rage quits form other games. To compare it with its spiritual predecessors like the iconic Harvest Moon or even Story of Season (a 3DS title created by the original developers of the Harvest Moon), Stardew Valley is a farming game more oriented to adults. Sure the PEGI rating is only 7, but the kind of stories, mysteries and other notable topics in the game will connect more to adults.
One of the many qualities of this soothing title – which is even more reinforced now that it is closer to you physically on the Nintendo Switch – is that it can be played in so many different ways. Stardew Valley gives you almost total freedom, even if you have a base guideline with main quests, which you can totally forget about. As well as the many side quest that happen frequently, you can choose to focus solely on your farm, and just plow your plot, plant the seeds, harvest and get your land in shape. But it would be a shame to miss out on what Stardew Valley can offer, which is more than just plant and harvest turnips.
Starting from scratch means cleaning your land so that you can begin to grow produce. You have several basic tools such as the axe for chopping wood, the pickaxe for rocks, the hoe for plowing the land, the scythe for clearing weeds, and the indispensable watering can. On top of these familiar tools, Stardew Valley also gets deeper into the farm lifestyle, with the possibilities and to expand your land and start breeding animals, so you can sell your goods and get paid for it. Because, in the end, it’s not because the game is so mellow and soothing that it doesn’t remind you of the reality of life, and sadly money is the driving force of Stardew Valley. Build new buildings (like a greenhouse), buy seeds, improve your tools, everything will require hard earned cash. Fortunately, the sales of your harvest will award your hard work, with money depending on the amount and the nature of the produce. There’s also other ways to win money, such as fishing, mining precious stones in the mines, finish sidequests and more.
Although quite similar to Harvest Moon in its own way, Stardew Valley has an RPG aspect that will justify your addiction to the game. Your character throughout the days and with every action can improve his fishing or farming skills by gaining experience. As a result, you have access to new equipment, weapons, and even spells. The other RPG factor is the crafting element which is quite key to expanding your farm. Everything you harvest will eventually be used to craft many practical or aesthetic objects, such as a storage box, sprinklers for your plots, bee houses, etc… There’s so much to build! Finally for those of you that like the NPC interactivity side of an RPG, you can also meet everyone that lives in the town, which have their own quests, or even build relationships to a point of dating some of them.
Graphically speaking, the early 1990s pixel design fits Stardew Valley like a glove. Sometimes simplistic but also detailed, the whole is soothing and great to look at whether on the handheld mode or on the TV screen. With the weather effects and the seasons changing, you can easily be amazed by how cute drops of pixelated dead leaves can be. The music, also composed by Eric Baronne, contrast perfectly with the peaceful tone of the title.
Stardew Valley was reviewed using a Nintendo Switch downloadable code of the game provided by Chucklefish. The game is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC in online store releases. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A great amount of content for its price
• A true spiritual successor to Harvest Moon
• Can really get addictive
• Finally Stardew Valley on the go
• Controls are still optimized for mouse and keyboard