The Lure of Stardew Valley

The Lure of Stardew Valley

If you had told me one year ago that I would have over 60 hours, and counting, in a farming game I might have laughed myself to death. If only I knew.

My journey with this gem of a game started a few months back when I bought my Nintendo Switch. I got a copy of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but was looking for something else to mix things up with. While browsing the eShop I came across Stardew Valley and having heard a couple of good opinions from friends, one friend actually warned me to stay far away from it "It's an amazing game, don't buy it" he said, and seeing as though it was rather inexpensive I decided to give it a try.

I didn't have to work the following day but thanks to my internal clock I woke up at around 7:00 anyway. After having a cup of coffee and some cereal I decided to give my new game a try. I sat down in front of the TV and started inattentively watching a random series on Netflix while launching the game in handheld mode. The next thing I knew it was 00:30 at night. I had sat and played the game for about 15 hours straight without realising what was happening. I don't think this has ever happened to me before. The whole day passed and I didn't even register it. The only thoughts going through my head at the time were what was the best crops to plant, should I build a barn and/or a coop, what order should I upgrade my tools in, how do relationships with the townsfolk work, where the hell is Sebastian, etc. I finally understood why my friend praised the game, but told me not to buy it. I shut the game down and swore to never touch it again, lest it consume my soul.

I was doing pretty good staying away from it for about 2 months or so, then my annual leave started. I started watching Breaking Bad (again) while playing Stardew one day and before I knew it I was through 4 seasons and over 60 hours in the game with no end in sight. It had consumed me. I was now a Stardew addict. There is just something about this game, it is so damn relaxing. There is no immediate goal, no objectives, no failure, no game over screens, just a plot of land in a charming little community that invites you to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Fancy just spending your days at the beach fishing? Go for it. Want to explore the mines and see what treasures you can find? Knock yourself out. And of course you can farm, with either livestock, crops or both, to your heart's content.

The gameplay loop on offer here is so simple yet so rewarding that you constantly find yourself saying just one more day before realising you've lost a couple of hours again. It only saves when you go to bed every night, which helps to enforce the "one more day" mindset; there is always one more thing you want to do before stopping. The game is broken up into 4 seasons each consisting of 28 days and how you spend these days are up to you. I usually start off the days by harvesting and then watering my crops. After that it's off to the coop and barn to check on my livestock, make sure they are all fed and receive some, much needed, attention. Then I head off to town to stock up on supplies such as grass for animals, seeds to plant, fertilizer etc. On rainy days I either go fishing or go explore the mines. You can't really grow much of anything during winter (without an upgrade) making it the perfect time to mine some materials and upgrade all your tools or you can spend the time fishing or planning the layout of your farm, the choice is yours.

The game includes a decent crafting system that never feels like you are just grinding out the same thing over and over to get better "stuff". You can make kegs which will turn any fruit or vegetable into a beverage, perfect for making products like pale ale or wine. You can turn milk into cheese, eggs into mayonnaise, fruit into jelly, trash into resources, etc. You can even craft stat boosting rings for your character to wear or snacks to eat while out exploring. It also has a pretty decent cooking system with lots of recipes to learn.

If you build up your relationship with specific NPC's enough you can also get married and eventually have kids. Some of these significant others will even help out around the farm, occasionally watering the crops or feeding the livestock which frees up some time for you to do other things.

There is something for everyone in this game and it's really easy to see why it has sold over 3.5 million copies. And to think it was developed by only one person. That's right, one guy made this masterpiece and he deserves all the praise and success it got him. I for one am really looking forward to his next game which is described as a "magic school game" drawing inspiration from Harry Potter and Studio Ghibli among others.