Genre: Farming simulation, RPG.
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC, Mac
Age rating: PEGI 7, ESRB 10+
Developer: Concerned Ape.
Stardew Valley is, at face value a farming simulation game that is often compared to other games in the genre such as Harvest Moon. It features a minimalist yet compelling narrative, open ended play style and gorgeous visuals that trigger nostalgia in the older player who grew up playing the classic retro rpg games such as Chrono Trigger and Pokemon.
Developed by lone developer Eric ‘concernedape’ Barone and published by Chucklefish, this rich and vibrant adventure is rated PEGI 7/ESRB 10+ so makes for an excellent addition to any family friendly game collection. Older players should not be put off by the low age rating on the game however, Stardew Valley considers a number of deep issues that can resonate with an adult audience while at the same time still provide an enjoyable experience for all.
The game starts with the character creation and farm selection screen. Here the character can decide how their character will look, name their farm and answer that age-old question, “are you a dog person or a cat person?” I had trouble with this one!
There is also the opportunity to choose the basic layout of your farm. There are 5 options to choose from, each with their own buffs and difficulties that have an effect on various elements of your farming life. Some of these allow for better fishing, monsters after dark, woodland elements or if you’d rather, a standard farm selection. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of ways to access all of the resources no matter which farm you start out with.
The premise of the story is familiar; feeling unsatisfied by your life in the city and the news that you have inherited your grandfather's farm, you decide to shut up shop in the city and play farmer.
Though the plot may not initially come across as groundbreaking storytelling, Stardew Valley has a unique delivery that the player establishes an emotional connection to the farm right off the bat.
The farm is run-down, messy and unkempt and it’s up to you to rebuild it.
This is just the face value of the game though, Stardew Valley really comes to life once you begin to explore the valley and meet its inhabitants.
Stardew Valley blends elements of the RPG and Simulation genre flawlessly. Character development is not as complex as other RPG games in terms of character creation and skill progression which in my opinion, is a good thing as the game is aimed at a varied audience. That being said, seasoned RPG players will be pleased to know that levelling your skillset requires a grind and you are rewarded for your efforts when you reach new levels in each of the 5 skillsets.
Before playing the game, I bought Stardew for its farming sim elements as a game to introduce my wife to the PS4. Aside from Pokemon, she is not much of a gamer but enjoys the country lifestyle. I knew I would enjoy it too, but I didn’t feel like it would be able to quench my thirst for deep storytelling, crafting and character development as much as other games I enjoy, how wrong I was.
Once we began our separate experiences, it became clear how much more depth to the game there actually was. The game is aimed at a wide audience and can be enjoyed by all but I feel that older players may have a better understanding of the narratives of some of the characters in Stardew Valley.
Many of the residents are perplexed with a variety of issues ranging from alcoholism, homelessness and mental health issues.
One of the characters, naming no names, faces multiple issues with alcoholism and depression.
You as the player can witness their challenges first hand and play a part in the development of the character. There are cutscenes scattered throughout that allow the user to choose from a number of responses that have an overall effect on your relationship with that person.
There are a number of other issues laced through Stardew Valley that are presented in a raw yet delicate manner. The game promotes inclusion better than many other games, and I as a consumer really respect that.
The developer really has thought about each inclusive aspect of the game, an example that stands out to me is the ability to wed same sex characters. This is handled with so much taste and consideration to the LGBTQ+ community. The fact that the developer has gone as far as to allow same sex couples to adopt children in-game as a way of expanding your family resonated with me. Stardew Valley wears it’s inclusive heart on it’s sleeve, and in my opinion, few games handle equality and diversity better than this.
I have heard and read a few peoples opinions on the social aspect of the game and how its too basic and simple a system. The idea of talking to an NPC, giving them a gift or fulfilling a quest for them in order to further develop your relationship between them may come across as shallow, but I disagree. It can be limited, however the audience for the game is vast and I feel the simplistic elements of the socialising aspects are better for the younger audience in the way that they pick a friend or potential love interest and be kind to them. It’s a basic, bare bones way of teaching an audience to be kind to others.
There are multiple story arcs for the NPCs, a number of which are touching and emotional; there is just so much to uncover here.
Stardew Valley is one of those games that you can just pour all of your time into, and it’s easily done. On the other hand though, it’s a game that you can just pick up and play for half an hour. A day in the game takes anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes in our time and each day is another opportunity to forage, farm and mine for resources. I love that my day-to-day tasks are always different. One day I’ll focus on fishing, another day I’ll be sure to give a birthday gift to one of the many residents. No two days are the same!
I am currently around 18 hours in and I haven’t even scratched the surface of all there is to do. My wife on the other hand, she is currently halfway through her third year and approaching approximately 70 hours gameplay. She hasn’t yet explored and discovered everything that is available.
The fact that there is no main quest per se doesn’t detract from the game’s playability. There are multiple mini stories, quests, secrets and tasks to keep you busy.
Alongside of this, there have been patches that have added content such as the ability to divorce your spouse, remove your children and additional characters have been added into the fray.
The controls for the PS4 edition of Stardew Valley are good for the most part and are easy to pick up.
My only gripe was with the controls for fishing, which is challenging at first. The idea here is too make sure the fish stays within the boundary of a green bar which you control. To move the bar, you tap, hold and release a button in order to respond to the direction the fish is moving in. This is fine in principle, but took a little while to get to grips with. It’s nothing that can’t be solved by sucking it up and spending some time practicing, but both my wife and I became reluctant and frustrated with it for a while and neglected this skill line initially.
The better you get at fishing, the easier it gets and when you do actually start to level up this skill, you are given better facilities in which to catch fish with, therefore removing the frustrating aspect of the challenge. Now I actually enjoy the fishing aspect of the game and it often becomes a vital part of my day-to-day duties in Stardew Valley.
Stardew Valley is visually stunning, making use of a wide and vibrant colour palette which compliments uniquely designed and recognisable 16-bit character sprites and environments and changes throughout the seasons. Fall is sombre, winter feels cold thanks to the use of a cooler colour palette rich with blues, whites, greys and dotted with seasonal imagery in the shape of candy canes and fairy lights. Each season accurately represents the ever changing environment we live in.
Stardew Valley features a rich and gorgeous soundtrack which showcases different themes for each of the seasons, environments and situations you are presented with. The tones that have been used resound with the player and provoke emotions; summer uses an upbeat and bright soundtrack which mirrors the season and it’s vibrancy and warmth. Exploring the mines offers an empty and dissonant soundtrack; again, mirroring the environment and creating a feeling suspense for the player. The developer has clearly put a lot of thought into the sound design here and it compliments the visuals flawlessly.
The collector's edition comes complete with soundtrack on CD as well as a map of the valley.
The replayability here is fantastic, there are many different experiences a player could have as well as a huge variety of things to keep you busy in-game, it’s no difficult task to sink 100+ hours into Stardew Valley. Each playthrough will be different, maybe you want to be a lone wolf, focus all of your efforts into your farm and not integrate with the many inhabitants. On the other hand, you could sell-out to a corporate company, what effect will that have on the valley? Maybe you decide you want to be a socialite and live in the pockets of all of your neighbours, what happens to your farm?
I’ll leave that to you to decide.
You can pick up Stardew Valley at many retailers, I’ve listed some below:
- PS4: $19.99
- Xbox One: $19.99
- PS4: £14.85
- Xbox One: £20.00
- PC/Mac/Steam: £10.99
Playstation Store UK:
- PS Store: £11.99
To wrap up, Stardew Valley offers a rich and diverse experience to the player which is easy on the eyes and the ears. The game provides an experience that can be as deep as is desired and really can be enjoyed by anyone. Don’t just take my word for it though, pick it up and set out on an adventure of your own!