Game: Stardew Valley
Developer: Concerned Ape
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code/copy provided)
Where to start with Stardew Valley? It’s a game that amassed a cult following on PC, and after only a couple of hours with it, it was so easy to see why. What started off as a simple “plant seed X, harvest crop Y” task-management sim ended up being an enormous time sink, and tens of hours later, a year and a half into the game, I was still finding things that were new.
So, to those uninitiated, you start off receiving a letter from your grandfather, disclosing that he’s left you his farm in the titular town. Shortly, you’re whisked away to tidy up what remains of the old place. One trip to the shop later and you’re already tilling, planting and watering your crops, and before you know it you’re looking after patches of parsnips, potatoes and every hipster’s favourite Kale. It’s a simple gameplay loop that keeps you invested, and will have you keeping an eye on your stamina gauge as you manually soak the ground to reap the rewards from the seeds that you’ve sown. By the time Summer started to come around, I learned my first major lesson of Stardew Valley. Make sure you time your crop rotation perfectly, otherwise you’re going to end up with a whole bunch of dead leaves on the first day of the next season. Lessons learned, money wasted, I dusted myself off and wandered over to Pierre’s place to pick up yet more small batches of seeds before re-growing your agricultural empire once again.
Once you’ve got the hang of managing your vegetation, it dawns on you that there is a much larger world than just your farm and Pierre’s store. In fact, Stardew Valley is deceptively large, spread over a number of different screens in true 16-bit style. In addition to your homestead, there is a river running through the town, a beach, some mysterious mines, another farm filled with livestock, a blacksmith’s… I could go on. The condensed nature of the town of Stardew Valley is as beautiful as it is impressive, with not one single part of it feeling superfluous. You can interact with ever inhabitant, building up friendships (and maybe even more) as you get further into the game. Bespoke annual events occur throughout the year, requiring you to occasionally bring things along, or generally get involved with the storied history of this odd little place.
Of course, there are plenty of secrets hidden among the town, and the further you delve into them, the more intriguing they become. I shan’t go into spoilers here, but after hitting a certain level in the mines to the north of the town, I was getting more and more excited about heading back into them the following day. You start to get to a point where you’re uncovering more and more valuable items deep down, which you can either sell or donate to the local museum. The simple volume of things you can do in this game is staggering, and it completely belies its wonderfully simple art style. Bringing back nuggets of gold and smelting them into bars to enable more advanced automatic irrigation systems for your farm, provided you didn’t forget about it in all the other crazy stuff going on!
Of course, you don’t need to limit yourself to crops. You’ve got the ability to expand your farm to cater for livestock as the year goes on, including chickens and cows. This might be advisable to invest in throughout the Fall, as the second major lesson Stardew Valley threw at me is that there are no crops that you can harvest in the Winter. Sadly, I realised this a bit too late, and had to use the savings I’d stockpiled to frantically build a chicken coop to ensure I’d make it through to the second year without running out of money!
It is genuinely difficult to try and cram everything Stardew Valley has to offer into a single review. The game has the potential to devour your free time, and that’s before you’ve even gotten to the social interaction/dating side of the game, which can see you bringing a spouse to your home and living out the full ‘2 point 4 children’ scenario that many people strive for in their day-to-days as well.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is a particularly nasty bug in the game when it comes to the PS4 Pro. Similar to Doom, if you play the game on Sony’s souped-up machine, it will prevent it from going into rest mode once your session has ended, meaning that you have to hard-reboot the system each time you forget to power it off completely. It’s only affecting those using the Pro, but as someone who does precisely that on a daily basis, it’s frustrating to have to contend with.
I’m amazed I made it to the end of this review without mentioning Harvest Moon, to be honest. A game that wears its influences firmly on its sleeves, Stardew Valley offers something that’s a genuine rarity in the gaming landscape these days, and that’s a game that’s quite simply “nice”. It’s nice to play, it’s nice to look at, it’s nice to listen to, and if you’re not careful, it’s nice to lose weeks at a time in. A game with roots deeper than your average tree, Stardew Valley will sink its hooks into your skin and refuse to let go if you give it half a chance to. A wonderful game that is only let down by a technical issue that is somehow still a thing even a while after its launch.