Stardew Valley review: Not just your average Farmville

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After going through multiple action-packed, intense games whose main mechanic is killing stuff, it is always good to take a deep breath, relax and step back from the bloodlust and smell some pixelated, virtual flowers.

And what better way to smell said flowers than in – no, not Farmville, damnit. Who said Farmville? – I’m talking about Stardew Valley.

Narrative

Aww, Gramps, you really shouldn't have. Died. I miss you already.

Aww, Gramps, you really shouldn’t have…. died. I miss you already.

Bequeathed to you by a dying grandfather, you are the new owner of a vacant and rundown plot of land in the small, but bustling town of Stardew Valley. As the town’s new farmer, you are tasked with the revival of the lifeless (well, technically not lifeless, more like overgrown) plot of land and bring back agricultural wealth to the town. Along the way, you’ll meet and get to know friendly (and not-so-friendly) townspeople, all while growing produce, fishing, mining, and possibly even falling in love.

Gameplay

Despite technically being a farmer, there is much more to do in the game than simply growing greens. You will gain access to fishing, mining as well as crafting in order to find materials, upgrade your tools, and craft items to make your overall life easier. This makes the game a combination of an RPG, a social simulator, a rogue-like, and a farming simulator all in one.

Welcome to my crib! This is where the magic happens.

Welcome to my crib. This is where the magic happens.

After playing for a few in-game days, I’ve built up a sort of routine – wake up, water the plants, socialize with the villagers, and then heading on to the mine to gather minerals and kill some monsters, or to the river or the beach to scrounge up some fish for some extra cash, to give as gifts, or to craft some other stuff.

Tharr fish be bitin’

Socialization is also a key part in the game – by giving specific gifts based on their likes/dislikes, making small talk, attending events and keeping track of their birthdays, you’ll get closer to the villagers. And when you do, not only will you learn certain snippets about their lives, they will also send you gifts to aid you in your daily life. Romance and marriage is even possible between 10 candidates – 5 bachelors and 5 bachelorettes, all bisexual, so you can choose whomever regardless of your gender.

The game doesn’t explicitly tell you what you can or can’t do in terms of gameplay, and it’s up to the player to find out for themselves. The fishing minigame, too, can actually get quite hard, but other than that, it’s a fairly relaxing game.

Home on the range

What really brings out the charisma of the game, however, is the small but vibrant community that inhabits the quaint little town.

And what a town it is.

And what a town it is.

In a small village of roughly 30 people, everyone knows each other, and some even rely on each other to grow and thrive – a book enthusiast teaches the only two kids in the village so that they get an education; some of the ladies meet up to exercise and stay fit; and the saloon owner once even offered food to the resident homeless person to prevent him from going hungry. There are also festivals being held every once in a while, and nothing can feel better than seeing the entire village just getting along and having fun.

Egg Festival - Stardew Valley's version of Easter

Egg Festival – Stardew Valley’s version of Easter

Of course, it is also not without its conflicts – such as a teenage kid feeling that his step-sister gets more love from his parents than him, or the rivalry between the local grocer and the huge supermarket corporation, Jojamart. (With my character having a working relationship with the grocer, and even being rather smitten with the grocer’s daughter, Jojamart became the game’s main antagonist to me.)

Morris, or as I know him, Stinky McButtface.

Morris, or as I know him, Slimy McButtface.

Much like in real life, you’ll only really get to know the complex, multi-faceted personalities of people if you take the time to get to know them and get in their good graces (No one will fully trust a stranger immediately, after all), and when you do, you will find that each and every character in the game has a distinct and fully fleshed-out personality.

You're welcome.

You’re welcome. Credit: idigitaltimes.com/

In addition, it becomes immensely satisfying to see a villager’s face light up with joy after you’ve given them something they like, while giving them something they despise would elicit disappointment from them. The entire process includes a butt-load of trial and error, but at the end of the day it’s worth it, as it is these little details that make the community such a joy to interact with.

Conclusion

Despite looking extremely simple, this game has proved to be an excellent time drainer, with countless hours lost every time I booted up the game. Not only does it scratch my RPG itch and makes things that might seem mundane fun, it managed to engage me emotionally and got me to care for almost every one of the in-game characters, even those that didn’t seem friendly to me in the first place. At the end of the day, I truly felt at home in the game, and even wanted to live there for a bit.

Christopher Yee

Author

Christopher Yee

Chris is a frequent traveller of worlds beyond the screen, and has been to places like Skyrim and Ferelden more times than he can count. When not indulging in escapism, he enjoys annoying the neighbours with his guitar and pondering the answers to life's great questions; like the meaning of life, and what to have for lunch.

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