Game: Stardew Valley
Made by: Concerned Ape
Published by: Chucklefish
Available for: PC, Mac, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Switch
Stardew Valley may be the most relaxing game I’ve ever played. A spiritual successor to the Harvest Moon series, Stardew Valley opens by taking you away from crowded and chaotic city life and carries you away to the coastal Pelican Town where your grandfather’s farm awaits. From here, your path is your own — you can dedicate yourself to farming and living off the land, travel deep into the town’s mines, try your hand at fishing, or make an attempt at bolstering your relationship with the local townsfolk.
What captivated me about Stardew Valley was the game’s invitation to players to explore a variety of things to do in Pelican Town, all of which are fun and engaging. Stardew Valley, in its entirety, is a one man project, a fact made all the more surprising by just how much content this game has. Perfecting your farm or mastering the fishing skill can take years (in 13-minute days and 112-day years) of in-game time, but each planted crop and each fish or ore feels like a real step in the right direction. Stardew Valley’s progress is finely-tuned, and every day offers opportunity for accomplishment.
Relaxing Gameplay: In Stardew Valley, everything is one day at a time, and every day has you building on yesterday’s progress. There’s always something to do and more than enough time to do it.
Progression: Stardew Valley offers visible progress in a variety of fields; clearing your farm of trees and debris will give you more room to plant and build, traveling deeper in the mines will give you more resources to upgrade your tools with, and giving gifts to villagers will increase your relationship with them and may offer new items and recipes later on.
Player Choice: Farm, mine, fish, or go out for a walk — the choice is yours. There’s no right or wrong way to play Stardew Valley, and what you do on any given day is up to you.
Farming: Farming is arguably the focus of Stardew Valley, and the game does it well. Choose what you want to grow and where to grow it, make sure you’ve got enough time (crops are seasonal and most will die between seasons), and do your best to maintain your crops so you can sell them (or use them to cook with) later on. Stardew Valley’s farming is simple and involves a fair amount of pattern management and repetition, but it’s part of what makes the game so enjoyable.
Minigames: Many games try and fail to make fishing a fun activity, which makes Stardew Valley’s fishing all the more impressive — a deceptively simple mini-game that’s as fun the hundredth time as it is the first. Through arcade cabinets and carnival tents, the game offers a small number of other available mini-games to take your mind off the farm for a moment or two.
Open World: Each day is a new day in Stardew Valley. Wake up, get out of bed, go anywhere, do anything. Farm, fish, mine, converse with the townspeople; the world is what you make of it.
Single Player: While a multiplayer mode is in the works, the current Stardew Valley experience is entirely single-player with no multiplayer component.
WHAT I LIKED
Relaxing Experience: I started playing Stardew Valley at the height of school-related stress and found the game to be incredibly helpful in providing an outlet for relaxation at night after class. The game allows you to move at your own pace and offers progress in frequent, bite-sized pieces, providing a perfect calming atmosphere.
Fulfilling: Each day in Stardew Valley feels well-spent, just about no matter how you spend it. You can choose to move faster or slower, but the game never really gives you the idea you’re missing out or doing something wrong.
Charming Aesthetic: Stardew Valley’s graphics, music, and gameplay together combine to create something beautiful. After a few days in Pelican Town, I felt this was a community I could really care about. I came to take interest in the changing of the seasons, and the music and effects of fishing, mining, and farming all provide a strong backbone to the overall experience of the game.
Limited Saving: Stardew Valley is played in 13-minute increments between waking up and retiring for the night. Sleeping is the only way to save the game, and while you can go to bed at any time, sometimes a noon bed time feels like a day wasted.
Inventory Management: Stardew Valley’s inventory management isn’t too cumbersome or difficult, but it’s a part of the game some players may find frustrating, particularly early in the game.
Potentially Grindy: Stardew Valley is set up to provide players with a sense of progress in a variety of areas; there’s always a harder fish to catch, another crop to plant, another level to mine. While this system of progression is well-crafted and, in my opinion, fun, min-max players may feel compelled to grind for every last crop, fish, and ore.
WHO’S IT FOR?
If you’re looking for a game you can play to relax and slowly build your perfect farm and community, Stardew Valley is for you.
From Steamspy unless otherwise noted.
Average Playtime*: 50 hours
Average Cost per Hour**: $0.30
Median Playtime*: 23.5 hours
Median Cost per Hour**: $0.64
* Playtime rounded to the nearest half-hour
**Costs calculated using a price of $14.99