The first game I had on the Gameboy Advance was Pokemon Ruby. For many months, it was also the only game I had on the Gameboy Advance. After I had thrown about 300 hours of my life into it I started to think, “Wow. Maybe I should look into getting another game or 2 for this.” Lucky for me, my best friend at the time had been playing this “Cool new game!” called Harvest Moon: More Friends in Mineral Town. Being only 11-years-old at the time, I thought it sounded stupid and I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around how she was having so much fun with it. That is, until I played it myself. It had a very addictive quality to it—there was so much to do and you wanted to do it all. I couldn’t put it down and at the time I never quite pieced together what about it made it so charming. That is, until I played Stardew Valley.
Stardew Valley is a country-life RPG/farming simulator game made by ConcernedApe (Eric Barone) back in February of this year. More than being simply Harvest Moon inspired, Barone has said in multiple interviews that the original idea for Stardew Valley was to be something like his perfect Harvest Moon game.
The inspiration taken from Harvest Moon is clear right from the start of the game, as it shares a similar premise to most in the franchise: You’re growing bored of modern life and you’ve suddenly inherited a farm. Now go be a farmer. The originality this game has it also clear from the beginning of the game, however, as it does something that no other Harvest Moon game does despite many fans wishing it: It allows you to customize your character entirely, which is a very nice touch and only deepens the feeling of this game being so personal.
Perhaps the best thing about Stardew Valley is the freedom this game allows you. Although the game encourages you to be a farmer (by, well, giving you a farm) there are plenty of other options available to the player: Mining, fishing, forging, and adventuring, for instance. Right off the bat, this game sets you loose in a world with dozens of new things to try and in any order and for however long you please. This freedom ensures that no two players will play this game exactly in the same way and adds a layer of interest to this game and discussions on it. There’s no linearity in this game whatsoever: You do what you want when you want. As for gameplay for these different activities, it’s kept very simple and minimal—as it should be in a relaxing game like this.
If the sense of freedom in Stardew Valley isn’t the best part of the game, then the characters are. The idea of Stardew Valley is, “You’ve moved into a farm in a small town. Make a living.” so naturally, making friends comes with that—you can even get married in this game. (And for bonus points, all the marriage candidates—both men and women—are available to you regardless of your gender) All the characters are written to be both incredibly unique and incredibly realistic. The more you talk to them and give them gifts, the friendlier they’ll be toward you (as measured by the hearts in the game’s menu) and their dialogue reflects that. All the characters have different events that can be triggered when they like you enough, as well.
The events are easily the next biggest highlight of this game—every character has very unique events, all which help you learn a lot more about the character. At the same time, all of the events seem pretty realistic, and like something you’d do with a friend in real life. Non-marriage candidates don’t have as many events as the potential marriage candidates, in fact some characters only have one event, leaving much to be desired in their character development. As characters grow to like you their dialogue will change to reflect this much more friendly atmosphere you now share with them, but that still only leaves the player starving for more time with them and to know more about them.
The only major problem in the character writing in this game comes from after you get married. After you get married, you can no longer get the other marriage candidates any farther than 8 (out of a possible 10) hearts full in the menu. (If it’s not already obvious, 10 meaning that you maxed them out.) Not only this, but if you want to give any of them gifts for any reason, including their birthday, your spouse—regardless of who it is, what day it is, of anything—will get angry.
Most of this games problems lie around the same area. As mentioned before, there’s a lot to do in Stardew Valley and you’re free to do it in any time and order you so please. That said, most of it can be completed within ~50-60 hours. It’s around that time, around the ~30-40 hour mark, that you’ll start feeling bored of the game since you’ve likely discovered all the surprises and events by the time. By this time, you probably know exactly what your favorite townspeople are gonna’ say on certain occasions. You’ve probably done most, if not all, of the achievements you wanted. You’ve probably tried everything this game has to offer by this time, and the game starts to lose its freshness very quickly.
Barone realizes that this is a common complaint with the game, though: Earlier this month, he announced that he’ll be working on patch 1.1 which will give you more dialogue with your spouse, create more events with non-marriage candidates (and even add 2 marriage candidates), add more secrets and surprises to the game, and even add a multiplayer version of which we still know nothing of. Arguably the most notable thing he said he was in the process of doing was getting a console release of Stardew Valley.
In the spirit of (most) Harvest Moon games and Animal Crossing (from which it also takes a lot of inspiration) Stardew Valley should absolutely be on a handheld console—more specifically the 3DS because the layout could be transferred easily (I imagine you can just put the menu and the backpack on the bottom screen). Being such a personal game, playing it on a hi-def TV with a PS4 would feel too grandiose for the modest and charming world of Stardew Valley.
With having so much to do and total freedom in when and how you’ll do it, it’s no wonder that Stardew Valley is such an immersive and addictive game. It’s a game that you can play entirely how you want, and beyond being incredibly fun, is also incredibly relaxing. It’s major flaws come in its little late-game content and the occasional bug—usually nothing major, however, there has been multiple cases of people (including me) losing their save data on more than one occasion toward the game’s beginning. As long as you back up your saves though, this isn’t an issue.
As it was intended to be, this game truly feels like an improved Harvest Moon game–so much so that it shouldn’t be called a Harvest Moon game since they have many major things that set it apart. (EX: The lack of linearity and customization options Stardew Valley has) An incredibly solid, well-crafted game, and downright charming game, I’d give Stardew Valley an 8/10: Something I’d absolutely recommend to anyone who needs to relax for a bit or enjoys Harvest Moon/Animal Crossing-esque rpgs.