Stardew Valley Review | Gamer to Farmer

For as many games as I play, there are even more that I haven't heard of, and occasionally, for a change of pace, I jump on a game blindly, going purely off of word of mouth and internet hearsay. The last time I did this was for Retro City Rampage DX, a game which is currently a review-in-progress because I haven't been compelled enough to go back. This time around, I knew even less about the game I was going into. I knew it had something to do with farming and that people really liked it. So on one particularly cold day, I booted up Stardew Valley on the Nintendo Switch. And nothing could have prepared me for what it had in store.

In Stardew Valley I played as a bearded man called 'SDSK' who hates his job in the city and decides to move to Stardew Valley, where his grandfather left him a sizable amount of land called the 'Lanka Farm'. Next to the farm is Pelican Town, a small place where everyone knows everyone else and life is simple. SDSK has to water and grow crops to make money, but he can also help out the local townsfolk with chores, go on a small adventure into the nearby abandoned mines, help rebuild the Community Center or find the love of his life and get married. There's a lot more to do in Stardew Valley and after hours of playtime, I still find new things to do around every corner.

It's been a while since I've been hooked on a game like this. After starting the game for the first time, I didn't put it down for 14 in-game days (that's nearly 4 hours in real life), and the next day I picked it right back up. In fact, after only a few days, I'm over 10 hours into the game and showing no signs of fatigue. Typically, I would wait until I finish the main campaign before I write the review. But I don't want to rush my way through the 50 hour campaign. After all, I still don't know if Emily likes me or not.

The gameplay of Stardew Valley is simple but has a lot of moving parts that require your attention. It's up to you to clear the land, till and plant seeds, and ensure that they're watered every day. However, manual labor like watering plants or chopping down trees takes a toll on your energy meter and if the meter gets too low, you pass out from exhaustion. So if you have other plans that day, you need to spread out your work accordingly. All this isn't explained in a long tutorial sequence either. The game places you in its world and lets you figure it out. This may lead to some confusion at times, but the NPCs do nudge you in the right direction if you talk to them frequently enough. Ultimately, I think learning is part of the fun, so I won't give you any advice or "15 TIPS YOU HAVE TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START.” In fact, I even recommend you not watch those videos until you're a few in-game weeks into the game.

The good things don't end there. Along with its solid gameplay, the game also has visuals that are easy to look at and a beautiful soundtrack. Sometimes, when I would come out of the mines, exhausted and my health in the red, I would be caught off guard by how good the game looks. It may not be the same as standing on a ledge and seeing the mountains in the distance in Horizon: Zero Dawn, but the dark, barely visible path accented by the torch you carry as you make your way home is a painting in its own right. The soundtrack and sound design are on par with everything else, and the game has its small moments as the music takes center stage as you're fishing off the edge of the docks or walking through a seemingly abandoned bathhouse. For a full sampling of all the music in the game just go to the jukebox in the bar and shuffle through the tracks. They all do a great job at setting the tone and somehow manage to play at just the right time.

On top of all of this, there's a tangible sense of nostalgia in Stardew Valley. I half-expected for a wild Rattata to appear as I made my way through waist-high grass. When I tried to step back and think about why I kept getting this feeling, I realized that along with the similar movement and look, Stardew Valley reminded me of the experiences I had when I was young and playing Pokemon: Pearl on the DS Lite. Stardew Valley recaptured that same feeling that allowed me to just forget about time and do tasks that, in that small virtual world, were important. The game also has it’s fair share of nods and references to nerd culture of the past. It’s not as extreme as something like Retro City Rampage DX, but you can still find a poster for Chrono Trigger here and an SNES there. Nothing crucial to the experience, but subtle touches that add that much more character to the world and it’s characters.

In the end, Stardew Valley is an amazing game. It tells a story that is as much about the NPC townsfolk as the player and its frequent human moments help ground the characters in the virtual reality of the game. The game may have a few bugs, but they are so few and far between that I forgot about them immediately. My only wish at this point is to have more professions, something that the developer has shown interest in adding, but until the "YouTuber Simulator DLC" comes out I'll continue being a farmer in Stardew Valley.

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