Get up, get dressed, leave for work, sit in traffic, get to work, work some, get lunch, work some more, drive home in traffic, eat dinner by yourself, go to sleep, and repeat. Are you feeling crushed by the burden of modern life? Are you ready for a change of pace and a chance to make real connections and relationships again? If you answered yes to the questions above, you might be the ideal player for Stardew Valley.
The Story, The Farm, and The Valley
Stardew Valley centers around your character inheriting a farm from your dying grandfather. The farm itself is the core of the gameplay, setting, and story, all of which takes place in Stardew Valley. After a fairly brief intro, you leave your mundane desk job at Joja and take the next bus out to your new life. You are greeted by one of the townsfolk, Robin, who shows you to your farm – officially starting the beginning of the game.
You will be given tasks via journal entries to help you get a feel for what you should be doing, but are always free to explore the farm, the town, and the areas around it – just go out, meet people, and begin your new life. The game is presented in a very charming, 16-bit SNES-era style with a lot of polish.The valley is made up of your farm – Pelican Town – a pier, rivers, lakes, mountains, caves, secrets, and much more. At first glance, it might not seem like a very big world to explore, but the world continually expands, opening new areas and regions as you progress. Foraging and fishing can be performed in most places, and there is a huge variety of items to obtain or craft as you play.
There are over 30 NPCs you can talk to daily, building relationships in the process which you will soon discover are a very important part of the game. In fact, most of the story comes from how you interact with the people that live here. If you play the game as a hermit, you may find that there isn’t much story that will pertain to you, but if you make an effort to have actual relationships with the people that live in the valley, you will find that their storylines run deep.
Stardew Valley plays day by day in a sped-up fashion, with one day roughly equaling 17 actual minutes. In addition to the time of day, seasons play a very large role in how the game operates on a daily basis. Each season is 28 days long, starting in Spring and followed by Summer, Fall, and Winter. Different events take place each season, ranging from dances to fall festivals. Townsfolk have birthdays you can keep track of, and giving them presents is a huge boost to your relationship – if you give them something they like, of course. The complexities of this game become very apparent the more you play, but it is a very open game in terms of what you choose to do or focus on.
Time management is very important however, as some things only happen during certain times of the day, week, or season. If you stay awake too late, you will pass out, losing money and/or items depending on the situation.
There are five major aspects to the game: Farming, Foraging, Fishing, Mining and Combat – each of these are supported by a number of additional gameplay elements. Stardew Valley is very much an RPG at its core, using XP and levels as progress meters in both relationships and gameplay elements. The neat thing about each piece of the gameplay is how they interact with other systems that the game can – and will – introduce.
Farming will probably be your main focus in Stardew Valley. First and foremost, it is – by far – the fastest way to get going with a steady income stream. You have a variety of tools at your disposal that will be needed immediately to get your farm cleared, which is key to planting and harvesting. There is a drop-box that you can place grown crops into, and once you go to sleep for the day, you are given money for, literally, the fruits of your labor. The drop-box is not limited to farming sundries however – anything you forage or fish can be dropped in this box for some cash as well.
As you progress, you will level up your farming skill which will unlock an assortment of perks. At first, expect to be watering your plants a lot each morning, unless rain comes. Eventually, you can craft automatic sprinklers which make this way less of a chore. There are a variety of crops you can grow each season – some crossing seasons – each of which has a purpose. Crops can also have different rarities and, in turn, become more valuable. You will likely need scarecrows as your farm grows (thanks to crows) and you can spruce things up with fences and walking paths, should that suit your fancy. The customization options for your farm and house are seemingly endless, but they can be very costly.
Farming goes beyond just crops as you progress through the game. Eventually, you can pay Robin to build coops, silos, barns, and more on your farm. These allow you to have farm animals, like chickens, goats, pigs, and cows that each produce different things. You can also build various crafting stations to produce speciality goods, such as jams, wines, and beer. Once you upgrade your house, you get a kitchen with a refrigerator, which is used to store food and produce meals from recipes. The number of things you can create in Stardew Valley just goes on and on, all of which tie back into the “main goals” presented to you via the Community Center.
The Community Center or Joja Warehouse
Not too long into your game, the mayor of the town will show you a dilapidated community center, which plays into the overarching story of the game. You are presented with a tile in each room of the center that is made up of bundles of items in Stardew Valley. If you can fulfill a bundle, you are rewarded with something cool.
Some bundles are a lot of work to fully unlock though – expect to play well into your second, or even third year to complete everything necessary. Also, be prepared for a lot of back and forth to the community center to complete each bundle. Alternatively, you can go to the Joja mart and buy a membership – this removes the community center, constructing a Joja Warehouse in its place. You can still unlock the major things in the game, but it just takes money to so now. Consider this the easy way out, but it does make for an easier play-through to unlock major parts of the game.
Foraging is a pretty easy and fun way to make decent cash in Stardew Valley. As you wander around, you can find things on the ground that you can collect. You always have a reason to do this, even at a casual level, because some of the items will tie back into the aforementioned community center bundle system. On top of that, one particular resident of the valley loves foraged stuff, so it’s an easy way to build up that relationship.
Just about anywhere you see water, you can cast your fishing rod and fish. At first, fishing may seem very hard and frustrating, but there’s a level of skill to it that, once you understand and get the hang of, can be very rewarding and fun. The fishing system in this game continues to expand with better rods, lures and bait. If you get the hang of it, you can make a very solid living just by fishing to your heart’s content.
There is an entire room of bundles dedicated to fishing, so it is certainly time well spent. Like in real life, each fish has their own preferred habitat and schedule, meaning you’ll want to try fishing all over – in all seasons and time periods – in order to complete your catalog. Fishing is one of the best parts of the game, so don’t let the learning curve keep you from trying it. In addition, you can get some rare items or artifacts from fishing up treasure chests.
On your 5th day of playing, you’ll be given access to the mines. This is one of the main places to actually mine besides the quarry (which is inaccessible early on). Mining is a crucial part of the game and one of the best ways to acquire very valuable ores and other rare items. You will play one level at a time, looking for stairs leading to the next level. Every 10 levels will reward you with a treasure chest, and the mines get much more difficult as you progress. Time management is key to success here because it is easy to let time get away from you, causing you to pass out in the mine or rush back home to bed. Like foraging and fishing, mining ties into other parts of the game.
In the mines, and a few other places, you will want to defend yourself with a weapon. The combat in this game feels a bit like Zelda – maybe – but a little more stiff and not quite as deep. As you play, you can acquire better weapons, making it easier to explore the most hostile of territories. You can equip boots, a hat, and two accessories that provide different perks or stat boosts, as well. Once you progress enough you can earn your way into the Adventurer’s Guild, allowing you to shop for weapons and complete Monster Eradication Goals. Completing these goals earn you items and money.
Graphics and Sound
Stardew Valley has charming sprites and animations – gorgeous 16-bit art is displayed across the Valley, utilizing different palettes for each season. There are a lot of graphical details here when you take the time to look. The music is great, but can get repetitive after a while. Ultimately, I can’t complain about the visuals or sound as they both works in tandem in a simple, charming way.
Odds and Ends
Stardew Valley is a game that gets deeper and deeper the more you play it. This review really cannot detail every aspect of the game, but know that there is a lot to this game. Relationships lead to lots of cutscenes and, eventually, to a girlfriend/boyfriend, then marriage. There are a ton of secrets to discover and places to go, but I won’t spoil that here.
There isn’t much to say negatively about Stardew Valley, but it would be nice to have a permanent way to walk faster. Fast-travel options do open up in certain ways later in the game, which is nice. The day-to-day life can become repetitive also, should you not change your goals/activities up every now and then.
So far, I have put around 55 hours into Stardew Valley. In that time, I’ve maxed out farming, foraging, and fishing to level 10. I’m level 6 in combat and level 4 in mining, but mostly from not spending enough time doing either one. I feel like I could easily play this game another 30-40 hours and still not get all of the content it has to offer. Needless to say, you are getting a lot of bang for your buck.
Stardew Valley is one of few games that I have completely lost myself into recently. If you’re like me, you’ll become hooked in no time, complete with coming up with excuses to do “just another day” for hours on end. The world is charming, full of secrets and great storylines, and the gameplay systems all work very well together. The end result is a fantastic farm-life-sim that is incredibly hard to put down. So, go quit your day job and play this game NOW!