A fruitful farming life experience.
Every so often an indie game will arrive and captivate the audience, become a successful hit and build – and sustain – its own fan base generated by the hype surrounding it. This is exactly what happened with farming life simulator Stardew Valley when it was first released last year on PC and now, Switch owners can experience the calm life of the countryside by themselves, figuring out the many ingredients which make this game an unforgettable experience.
A lot of what makes Stardew Valley special comes from the fact that it resurrects a very nostalgic and beloved style of game. Instead of going for a more realistic take on the farm genre like the annual Farming Simulator, or a more casual take like so many simplistic mobile games, Stardew Valley takes direct influence from the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory franchises. If you’ve played any of those games, you have a certain idea of what to expect. However, Stardew Valley doesn’t only mimic these farming life simulator games; it improves on the formula, adding an astonishing amount of content and amazing things do to and to discover.
It all begins with a simple, but heartwarming premise. Your grandfather gave you a letter as his last gift in life and said that you should only open it when you are tired of the burden of the modern life. Years after his departure, after becoming over-stressed with your current corporate job, you opened the letter to discover that you inherited your grandpa’s farm. Upon moving to the Stardew Valley, you start your new countryside life, in which you must engage with all the farming activities, whilst befriending the many members of the community.
Stardew Valley could be seen as an overwhelming game at first. There are many things to do on your farm, and in the beginning it is in a very poor state. The game does a good job of introducing you to the many activities gradually and features some RPG-style elements, such as a quest log and this helps to guide the player through the main controls and requirements. Therefore, you learn how to make use of your basic tools – hoe, axe, pickaxe, and watering can – in order to start cleansing your farm and planting your first seeds. Using them will also add to a hidden experience meter, and you get better using them with time, spending less energy and unlocking new items to craft.
From there, Stardew Valley gives players the freedom to explore and try things out for themselves in order to discover all the range of activities available. You can play the game at your own leisure, choosing which will be your main focus – or even trying to be the jack-of-all-trades, if you’re up to the challenge. Following this idea, you then can get into farming, foraging, raising animals, finishing, cooking, mining, and even get into combat against some monsters (while you explore some random-generated caves), among many other possibilities.
Stardew Valley certainly isn’t lacking when it comes to content. There’s a ton of stuff to do, and each one of those activities has its own subtle systems and tricks to learn. Part of the fun resides in discovering how to improve your skills and get the best results. Everything seems worthwhile because each one of these activities is interconnected somehow. Due to this, there’s precious little downtime; every little thing you do has a meaning and can be converted into improvements for your farm or your relationships.
Here lies another important aspect of Stardew Valley: it’s so charming and full of charisma. Your farm is settled near Pelican Town, a small village inhabited by many interesting and diverse characters. Each person has their own unique personality and behaviours. As you make friends with them and take on the different events that happen in the town, new possibilities open up to you. You can even choose one of them as your boyfriend or girlfriend, ultimately getting into marriage, and forming a loving family. Every single character has its own mini-story, though, so it is always rewarding to try to be in good terms with everybody.
Being a farming life simulator, the passing of the year – with its very distinct seasons – is also one of the most definitive factors for how to engage with the game. The range of activities vary drastically from season to season, and Stardew Valley portraits each of them in a beautiful way. During spring, you may encounter flowers blossoming on the camp; in autumn, all the threes will get beautiful unique colourations, and you will see leaves falling on windy days. Sunny and rainy days will also help (or hinder) you in different ways, so the passing of the game is constantly changing. It is all portrayed with a beautiful pixel art style, and each season has its own distinct music, which blends perfectly with the desired mood.
Stardew Valley doesn’t have a proper main storyline, as progress is more about the sum of everything you’re able to do. That said, after two in-game years you’ll get evaluated by your achievements – which is a close to an “endgame” as there is. Still, you’re allowed to continue with your farm if you desire and if you’re not satisfied with the 60+ hours it’ll take for you to reach this point and still crave more, you can even restart the game choosing a different farm layout. Besides the standard farm, you also have the riverland, forest, hill-top and wilderness variants, each with its specific focus: fishing, foraging, mining and combat, respectively.
Not to say it is all flowers, Stardew Valley has some minor thorns: combat is very simplistic, and sometimes resumes into you smashing the attack button; the crafting menu has some minor issues, where it becomes difficult to access some items, depending on its disposition; and the games takes a long time to save on the Switch. Nevertheless, I don’t think any of these detract from the pleasure enjoyment you’ll have while playing.
All said, Stardew Valley is everything I would want from a farming life simulator game – and more! It is a beautiful and charming game, which is the perfect marriage for the Switch’s portability. With tons of content, it’ll keep you hooked for a very long time. Being a game that’ll never leave my Switch, I won’t be surprised if it becomes my most played game on the platform. Even though the game is already more than worth it as it is, it’s also worth mentioning that a free patch is in the works that will add a co-op mode to the game too!