Have you ever had the urge to just quit your stressful city job working as a faceless employee to a large corporation, and move to the farm your dear old grandpa left you?
No? oh… well that is the premise behind Stardew Valley.
Published by Chucklefish, who also published the excellent Terraria-like Starbound and the exceptionally addictive Risk of Rain. And developed by ConcernedApe, Stardew Valley is a farming/social simulator.
Before starting your new game you are shown a strangely comprehensive pixel art character creation screen, choose your sex, choose between a cat or a dog for your preferred pet, alter your skin colour (24 to choose from), hair style (32) and shirt (112) and even alter the colours with a handy set of sliders, select from 12 different accessories for your face (beards, glasses, earrings).
And finally, name your little farmer and his farm and list your favourite thing. With that done it is on to the game.
At the start of the game we are shown a large grey room, full of office drones mindlessly tapping away on their computers, the camera focuses on one employee… you. A flashback shows your grandfather in his bed handing you a letter with instructions to only read it when life has completely gotten you down… Luckily for us, today is the day.
From the dingy grey office we take the bus to Stardew Valley to discover that dear old Grandpa has left us his farm, unfortunately, it is a bit run down and covered in weeds and rubble and in desperate need of some tender loving care.
If you are familiar with the classic Nintendo series Harvest Moon you will know what to expect, for those of you who are not, read on.
You start out on your crumbling farm, with nothing on it but a single room shack, some ruins, and a lot of greenery. It is your aim to turn this sad little plot of land into a successful farm and live in peace and harmony with the townsfolk, maybe find a wife or husband and raise a child.
As you stare at the screen it’s easy to feel a little daunted at the prospect of creating a fully operational farm, armed with nothing but a set of hand-me-down tools and a dream. You are given the freedom to progress however you want, there are no strict “go here, do this” instructions.
There are quests that appear in your journal, the first few automatically pop up, but others are made available to you from your post box or from the information board in town. Starting out with introducing yourself to the townsfolk, make friends, and learn the basics to becoming a farmer, these are fairly easy to do but the text could be a bit more descriptive in telling you what the game is asking of you, the “To The Beach” quest simply states:
“Someone named Willy invited you to visit the beach south of town. He says he has something to give you.”
What the game does not tell you is that you need to visit the beach before 5 pm or Willy will be wandering around the town, yes each of the townsfolk has their own daily routine that alters slightly depending on the day of the week and what season you are in.
Each townsperson also has their own likes and dislikes, so becoming super best friends with everyone requires you to work out their favourite type of gifts, not essential but as your friendship with someone grows they will start sending you recipes in the mail, if they are one of the 10 singletons in the town they will start to grow fonder of you, potentially leading to a happy marriage and a child in the future.
Of course managing a farm with tools that are older than time itself is doable, but eventually, you will want to upgrade them to something a bit more productive. You can upgrade your tools with metal bars made with the metal ores you find in a seemingly bottomless mine found in the north of the map. Inside the mine, you will not only find stone, ores and precious gems (which can be sold for a tidy profit) but also creatures who’s sole motivation in life is to use your corpse as a throw rug. Luckily the adventurers’ guild is set up right outside, ready and willing to sell you weapons, magic rings and armour to protect yourself.
Tools are not the only items that can be upgraded, located just outside of town is the carpenter, for a modest sum and an ample supply of wood; your lowly shack can become a palace. Want some more farm buildings? A silo for hay? A coop for our feathered friends? A barn for the four legged one? The carpenter can do it all, and when the coops and barns are built, go and see Marnie in the farm to the south of yours to get some animals to inhabit them.
The best way to look at Stardew Valley is as a time management game, 10 minutes of in-game time is equal to 10 seconds real time which in theory gives you 20 minutes for the day. 20 minutes sounds like a long time but as your farm grows in size, the time you have to spend on watering & harvesting crops, feeding the animals and checking the crab pots (yes there is fishing in Stardew Valley) slowly starts increasing. So you need to plan ahead for what you want to achieve.
A typical game day for me goes like this:
Wake at 6 am
Finish watering crops, feeding chickens and collecting eggs
Run to town and stock up on seeds before closing time
Collect upgraded tools from the Blacksmith
Hand over collected artefacts to the museum
Check crab pots
Spot of fishing on the beach
Quick trip to the Spa to replenish energy levels
Dash into the mine to collect ores
Lose track of time and run back to the shack for bed
Collapse 2 feet from my bed as the clock hits 2 am
If your unlucky enough to be caught out of bed at 2am you literally drop to the floor in exhaustion, and will wake up the next day to find your energy levels greatly reduced, a note from a townsperson with a short story about how you were found and potentially with some money missing (this is from either a medical bill, or you were mugged while you were laying on the floor…)
Getting knocked out in the mine by a monster is similar; if you take too much damage you will slump to the floor and wake up at the entrance, with Linus the homeless mountain man standing over you. Instead of losing energy the penalty is a bit more severe, every 5 levels in the mine has a checkpoint with a lift so you can quickly resume your exploring the next day, getting knocked out results in you forgetting some of the levels as well as losing gold and random items from your inventory.
I absolutely adore Stardew Valley, it is fantastically addictive, one of those games that suck you in and before you know it, your clock is telling you its 4 am and you need to sleep.