It’s hard to think of an experience in gaming that resonates a more wholesome aura than Stardew Valley. Every single facet of its absorbing mechanics and beautiful presentation ooze an infectious charm that’s proved absorbing for hundreds of hours across multiple platforms. ConcernedApe’s debut has enraptured millions since its original 2016 release and made such an achievement look trivial, crafting a success story that’s fascinating to look back on.
You play as a young person who finds themself awash in the daily grind of a mindless corporate drone. This lifestyle proves too much as people are literally dying in your office. So, it’s time to finally make a change. Luckily, your late grandfather has left you the deed to an abandoned plot of land in Pelican Town. Located among the luscious hills of Stardew Valley, this is where your fascinating journey begins.
Things start off simple as you’re thrust into lively conversations with townsfolk on a whistle-stop tour of pubs, shops and doctor’s offices that you’ll frequent during your many hours in Pelican Town. After that, you’re more or less left to your own devices to build a farmstead that feels right for you. I’m not the most organised person in the world, so I began by planting a random assortment of vegetables, hoping for the best.
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My curiosity paid off – a juicy pallette of vegetables sprouted, which I could sell for thousands. This led to me finally laying the foundations of my farming empire. By that, I mean that I bought a chicken coop and had them lay a few eggs. While this sounds inconsequential, every little thing in Stardew Valley is accompanied by a staggering sense of reward. You’re always progressing, whether through a bountiful harvest or a cutesy relationship blooming with your village sweetheart, a love affair built on the back of the jars of mayonnaise you give them each and every day until their heart is yours.
A year in Stardew Valley is split into four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Each has corresponding crops, fish and fruit you can discover or grow yourself, opening up new cooking recipes and packages for the Community Centre. This building has long been abandoned due to the infiltration of JoJo Mart, a capitalist mega-corporation that piles on extremely unsubtle environmental messaging to the admittedly light overarching narrative.
The Community Centre itself is a driving force in collecting everything Stardew Valley has to offer. Unique selections split into individual seasons can be collected to earn rewards and progress the story, eventually resulting in a genuinely adorable conclusion. Of course, you could ignore this path completely, but I found each new season an opportunity to procure certain items. The rewards are generous, and almost game-altering in some regards.
For example, you’ll eventually unlock a series of minecarts to quickly traverse around town, or a bus that takes you to the scorching sands of Calico Desert. The latter is an entirely new area with new items, shops and a dungeon that’s far more challenging than the vanilla offering in Pelican Town. Once again, it takes dozens upon dozens of hours to chip away at all the offerings in Stardew Valley. So much so, that after 150 hours, I’m still finding new things.
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Greatness from small beginnings is very much the moniker of Stardew Valley. Things feel almost fruitless as you’re tending to a minute selection of crops. However, following a few hours things will grow exponentially, and profits rise with them. Having to wake up in the morning and tend to crops, animals and every other little thing might sound like a bore, but this semblance of routine is what makes the entire experience so compelling.
Similar layers are found in the relationships you build across Pelican Town. Upon arriving it’s encouraged to befriend everyone you see, even if it’s the mysterious homeless man upon the cliffs outside of town. Generic conversations slowly transform into deeply personal stories, spurred on by the exchange of gifts. You can even prepare a special something for birthdays, with each villager possessing a distinct list of likes and dislikes.
Acquaintances evolve into friends and, if you’re so inclined, a life-long partner. Stardew Valley is lovingly inclusive, having no issues even with same-sex relationships. I ended up falling head over heels for Penny, confessing my love and moving her into my bustling homestead. Before this we embarked on dates, each with their own curated story beats, which is the same for all characters across Stardew Valley.
Seasonal events are spread across the year to celebrate Christmas, Halloween and a few bespoke occasions. The Night of the Moonlit Jellies is an obvious highlight: the entire town gathers by the seaside to watch a sea of fascinating creatures soar beneath the blue water.
That a game so invested in its myriad mechanics is also capable of tugging at your heartstrings without fail is an achievement, and this brilliance is propelled further by a positively divine soundtrack. Each season has its own selection of tracks, all of which fit perfectly with the evolving atmosphere around you. My personal favourites are the Summer songs, which turn waking up to water my crops into an infectious dance as my green fingers move across everything in sight.
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ConcernedApe has confirmed that Stardew Valley is due to receive major updates in 2018. This will include seamless online multiplayer – which should be playable by the time you’re reading this – where real people can visit neighbouring farms and even marry one another. Currently in beta on PC, it remains unclear how this will unfold on consoles. That aside, making an already magnificent solo experience into one that works equally as well in multiplayer sounds like something really special.
The pixelated visual approach should make it easy to distinguish you and fellow farmers, as avatars can be customised with new clothes and facial features at the beginning of Stardew Valley, and whenever you like once you progress past a certain point.
It isn’t an aesthetic that will work for all, but when come to realise that each area in Stardew Valley has clearly been made with such passion, it’s difficult not to come away with some appreciation for the title.
Stardew Valley is the best of its kind, surpassing the classic titles it shamelessly imitates to create one of the most delightful games of the past decade.
The act of managing your own farm is likely a little dull in reality, but ConcernedApe has injected such a splendorous mixture of rewarding gameplay and impeccable narrative warmth that it’s impossible not to recommend.