If you’ve been listening to the podcast for the past few months, you’ve probably heard me mention that a lot of games I’d normally love like Fallout 4 and Tales of Zestiria have been bouncing off of me. I’ve been in this weird funk with games recently where I would load up an open world game and feel trapped in the environment. I could feel the ‘rails’ of the story pushing me along even when the game tried to leave itself open for me to explore. I felt suffocated in almost anything I played. Then Stardew Valley showed up on Steam’s popular new releases list.
Stardew Valley is a farming simulator that sits somewhere between Terraria’s art style and Harvest Moon’s mechanics. Your grandfather gives you an envelope and tells you to open it when you get tired of modern life. Crushed by a boring life working a desk job, you open the envelope to find that he’s left you the overgrown plot of farmland in a country town pictured above. I was a fan of Harvest Moon on the Gamecube years ago, played my fair share of Terraria, and was getting a heavy Animal Crossing-esque vibe from the Steam store page so I bit. 30 hours of talking to villagers, farming, making wine and other artisan goods, crawling through dungeons for ore, raising animals, and making money later, it feels like I was the one who took a break from modern life and went back to basics. The colorful, comfortable environment was a much needed break from other games and I feel absolutely refreshed coming out the other side.
You’re presented with a ton of options from the very first moments of day one. You can dive headfirst into your farm, clearing the land and customizing it as you see fit with different crops and animals, you can ditch the whole thing and just go fishing, you can spend your days playing the arcade mini game (which is really freakin hard, by the way), you can dive down into the mines armed with a sword and a pickaxe as a member of the Explorer’s Guild or you could simply spend time with any of the games 31 interactable NPC’s; each complete with a unique set of cutscenes and interactions along the way. If romance is your thing, Stardew Valley’s NPCs include five male and five female bachelor/bachelorettes. All ten are available for marriage regardless of your player character’s gender. All of this and more is available from the get go, but the game doesn’t force you to do any of it. I, for example, have never gone fishing regardless of it being one of the game’s five major skills with a level of proficiency to build.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve only just finished the first of three years that the majority of Stardew Valley’s content is focused on, and I’m nowhere near done. I’ve got crops to harvest, wine to make, dungeons to explore and people to build relationships with. Above is a zoomed out picture of my personal farm about halfway through the game’s second year. There’s still so much to do and seeing it all at once fills my head with ideas of things I want to change, and shows just how many things I have left to finish. I plan on turning the space I’ve set up in the top left corner into a second winery full of kegs, and the space in the bottom left will become my second orchard. If you’re feeling bogged down by all the heavy hitting titles that seem to be coming out so frequently these days, i’d very much recommend that you check out Stardew Valley. It’s done wonders for me.