Stardew Valley Review: Simple Chill Farming

Since I’ve been playing less and less Halo 5, I picked up Stardew Valley. It’s a more casual farming simulator game with an homage to the Harvest Moon series. It’s part Farmville and part Sims with some dungeon crawler aspects. Above is the current state of my beautiful farm! Isn’t is lovely?

I enjoy it and think everyone else should too! Hence, this review will detail the basic features of the game that make it great.

As always, to be fair, there are also some significant flaws that I’ll also highlight.

The Premise of Stardew Valley

Imagine: Your grandfather sends you a letter about some amazing, life-changing experience.

You brush it off and never open it because it’s just from kooky old gramps.

Years later, grandpa has passed away, and you’re stuck in a dead end career at a corporate office. The cramped cubicle and menial, repetitive cycle of tasks drive you mad.

One day, you take a deep breath, relax, and finally remember the letter.

Curious, you open it up and discover grandpa knew this desperate day would come. To relieve your monotony, he’s gifting you his farm outside the remote village of Stardew Valley. You pack your things and buy a one-way bus ticket to your country home.

You arrive, and the town mayor and local carpenter happily greet you. Grandpa left you his old set of tools: a watering can, pickaxe, hoe, and an ax.

What you do next is up to you.

The farmland is overgrown with trees, grass, and weeds. You could jump right into taming the land to plant crops.

But then there’s the mysterious abandoned Community Center north of town. You should investigate.

There’s also a cave just beside the Adventurer’s Guild. How far down does it go? What strange creatures await you inside the dark abyss?

Then you should spend time becoming friends with all the villagers and learning their stories.

That’s Stardew Valley in a nutshell.

It’s a top-down farming based role-playing game with a day-night and seasonal cycle. Each day lasts about 13.5 real-time minutes. The four seasons are divided up into 28 days. Doing the math, that’s about 6.3 hours per seasons.

To really play the game seriously, you should plan out activities to optimize time.

As you perform actions, like chopping trees or harvesting crops, your energy meter decreases. Eventually, your character will collapse and pass out if you don’t eat food again or sleep. Passing out wastes the rest of the day and sometimes robbers will steal your stuff.

Certain crops, fish, and events are only available under certain conditions. If you missed collecting a rare item in one season, you’d have to wait until the next year to try again.

Without spoiling any more of the story, the main objective is to complete “bundle collections” by gathering specific items to restore the Community Center.

The Good

Stardew Valley is a game with a lot of enjoyable moments and traits. Here’s just a few:

(1) – Diverse Objectives

You have many different things to do in Stardew Valley. There’s never a point where you’re stuck wondering what’s next.

Farming

Naturally, you should farm. Growing and selling crops will be your primary means of making money. Then, if you want to grow crop faster and/or with a high-quality harvest, you should invest in crafting fertilizers. Better crops = more money.

You’ll also need to water crops, except for days when it’s raining. You start the game with a simple watering can. You can visit the town blacksmith, Clint, and upgrade all your tools. That way they use less energy and their effects cover more squares when you hold the action button.

The catch to upgrading is it takes two days for Clint to work on the tool and he cannot do anything else during that time. That’s two days you cannot water your crops. You should time upgrading the watering can for when the TV says it will rain the next day (I know it’s ironic you have to watch TV in a game about escaping the modern world).

However, if you’re not in a rush, I would wait until winter. No crops grow at all in winter. So, there’s no potential downside to upgrading your watering can that season.

Crops won’t die if you don’t water them, but they do stop growing and it wastes precious time. Most crops only grow for a particular season. Before you buy seeds (from Pierre’s or Jojo’s Mart), make a note of how many days it states it needs to grow. Some crops just take 3 days, others 15 or more. Remember: you only have 28 days in a season!

The goal is making your farm self-sufficient! To save the most time and energy, you need to invest a logical layout of sprinklers, which you unlock after reaching level 2 of your farming skill. These automatically water four adjacent tiles each morning. They cost just an iron and copper bar to craft. As you progress in your farming skill, you’ll unlock the “quality sprinkler” that waters 8 tiles and eventually the super awesome “iridium sprinkler” that covers 24 tiles.

At first, you probably are just going to place sprinklers haphazardly where you happen to be growing crops. Then, you’ll slowly replace them with higher tier level ones as you progress the game. During winter you have more freedom to reorganize sprinklers into nice rows.

Oh! And, don’t forget to place a few scarecrows throughout your farm! If you don’t, nasty crows will swoop down and destroy one or two crops a day.

Later on in the game, you can purchase additional farm buildings from the Carpenter’s Shop to allow you to raise animals, like chickens, cows, and ducks. To keep them happy and producing products, you need to feed them hay each day. You can either buy hay from Marnie’s Ranch or collect it from wild grass using your scythe. Hay is automatically stored in your silo once you’ve built one. Each animal building has a hay dispenser that is filled with your supply (weird. I guess the silo has an underground funnel network). Then, to feed your animals, just grab what you need out of the chute and place it in the trough.

Keep in mind, grass does not naturally grow in winter! So, you should start stockpiling hay in your silo early in Stardew Valley to have enough to last through the season.

Fishing

Next, you can fish in the different waters of Stardew Valley.

On the second day of the game, the town fisherman, Willy, gifts you a bamboo rod. You then have the option of catching fish and other sea critters in the ocean, lakes, and rivers of the game. Different waters spawn different catches. Some fish only appear when its raining or nighttime.

Fishing in Stardew Valley is really straightforward. You simply throw your rod with the action button, wait until something bites, then click to keep the fish within the green bar on the meter that appears. Just be sure to spam the action button too much. Some fish quickly move up and down. You’ll want a anticipate the patterns.

As you probably guessed, you can upgrade your fishing rod. Unlike the other tools, you don’t craft the upgrades. Instead, you buy them off Willy as they become available when you level your fishing skill. The Fiberglass Rod allows you to attach bait that increases the likelihood of catches. Then, the Iridium Rod further lets you connect tackles that have various effects (like widening the green bar in the meter, high chance of treasure, etc…).

You can either eat fish to restore health and energy, sell them for extra money, or submit towards to a Community Center bundle.

The Mine

After the 5th day in Stardew Valley, you’ll receive a letter informing you the Jojo corporation has cleared a boulder blocking the mines near the Mountain area. Upon entering, Marlon, the leader of the Adventurer’s Guild, gifts you an old sword. He tasks you with keeping the villagers safe by clearing the infestation of monsters deep in the caverns. From that point on, Marlon rewards you for killing a certain number of each mob creature.

Combat isn’t very difficult. You press one button to swing and another to block with your sword. Later, you can find axes and hammers that swing at different speeds and have other secondary effects.

Exploring below, you’ll find the classic slime derps, crabs, dust spirits, ghosts, and more. Each minion drops specific items you need for crafting. For example, the coal from dust spirits is necessary for refining ores. The bugs and larva drop “bug meat” (gross I know!) that you use to make fishing bait.

You’ll use your pickaxe to mine rocks for copper, iron, and gold ores. Use these to turn into metal bars in a furnace.

If you’re lucky (and random “luck” does play a huge factor in the game), you’ll find rubies, emeralds, and even diamonds!

You never know what collectibles you’ll find… speaking of which:

Collectibles

The game revolves around completing sets of collections to progress the story. Pretty much every time you find a new item, don’t sell it! Keep at least one in a storage chest at all times. You might find you need it.

The Community Center’s bundle collections unlock different portions of the map, leading to more items and quests. These bundles are each themed around a certain room of the building. The Fish Tank bundle requires you to submit specific fish to remove a “glittering rock”, the Boiler Room asks for monster loot to unlock mine cart fast travels, and so on…

You can donate most treasures to Gunther’s Museum collection. Any gems, artifacts, and fossils will say it’s a Museum item in the description. There’s a total of 95 items possible to donate. Each set of specific items you gives results in a special reward.

There’s also the challenge of collecting every item and recipe in the game to unlock achievements. From the navigation of your main menus, you can see your collection progress.

Cooking requires you to upgrade your house at least once to acquire a kitchen. It costs 450 wood and 10,000 gold from the Carpenter’s Shop. Start saving up from the beginning of the game. In the meantime, watch the cooking channel of the TV every day (again ironic) to possibly learn new recipes.

Then, you can collect forage items, like nuts and berries randomly spawned as you enter areas.

Keep an eye out for wiggly worm things sticking out of the ground! Use your hoe to unearth the treasure hidden under them.

Finally, you need to collect all of the legendary Stardrops. You only find as rewards for very specific quests or actions. Likely, the first one you’ll encounter by reaching the last level of the mines.

Relationships

Every one of the villagers has a unique personality and backstory. You learn more about them by increasing your friendship “heart” meter with them through completing quests or gifting them items.

Occasionally, villagers will post requests outside Pierre’s such as killing 5 slimes, delivering a red mushroom, or fishing for 4 herrings. You usually have two days to complete these quests. Each time you successfully fulfill a request, you’ll increase your heart level with that certain villager.

You can gift villagers once a day and two times a week. However, each item affects each individual villager differently. They will either hate, dislike, like, or love a particular. To gain the most friendship points (or I guess whatever you call them), stick with only giving what they love. You’ll know they love an item that you gift them by the dialogue, exaggerated portrait expression, and a heart symbol that appears above them.

For even greater effectiveness, gift a villager what they love on their birthday! That means you’ll need to make note of important upcoming dates on the calendar outside Pierre’s.

Some of the item gifting is common sense. Nearly everyone loves diamonds and everyone hates bug meat (strangely even Vincent hates it, yet he has a dialogue where he says he enjoys playing with insects).

Other items are more tailored to the characters’ personality. Instead of going through random trial and error, I would just refer to the Stardew Valley Wiki.

Personally, I got tired of going back and forth between my Xbox 1 and my computer to check little things. So, I created this spreadsheet using Airtable to track specific items I keep forgetting. Now I can see everything I need from on the program’s app using my phone. I’ll add more to it as I continue to play the game. Hope it’s helpful to you!

Sometimes villages with high enough friendship will gift you items in your mailbox. As you progress further with them, you’ll trigger a backstory cutscene the next time you see them.

At 10 hearts you have the option of marrying the single villagers. The process involves first gifting them a flower bouquet when they are 8 hearts to initiate “dating status”. Apparently, they are all bi, so the gender doesn’t matter for dating (weirdly you can also date multiple people at once with no penalty).

Next, reach 10 hearts and find a strange, old mainerer on a rainy day on the beach. Buy a Mermaid’s Pendant from him and present it to your partner. The next day (unless it’s a festival) will trigger a wedding the town square.

Your spouse will do chores around the farmland like watering crops and feeding livestock.

Eventually, if you maintain your 10 heart level with your spouse, you can have up to two children. No sexy time. They just appear after 14 days. If you’re a same-sex couple, your spouse will instead ask if you want to adopt. In that case, the baby comes with a note from some adoption agency.

It’s strange to me that there’s no religious aspect to weddings or anything in the remote country village. You’d think since Stardew Valley is so removed from the world, it would be mostly conservative. In lieu of traditional life, it’s filled with magic, wizards, monsters, and bisexual villagers. There’s even one village, Emily, that meditates around huge colored crystals. Maybe that’s a projection of the developer’s worldview… ah well, it’s just a game, right? Or is it unnecessary propaganda? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

(2) – No Time Constraints

There’s never a mad rush to complete any part of the game. Yes, there are only 28 days to collect exclusive seasonal items or crops, but that’s over 6 hours of real game time. You have plenty of time for everything.

Similar to the Sims series, you can decorate your house, build relationships, and acquire money all at your own pace.

Plus, most things are optional. If you don’t care to explore the cave or fish on a certain day, try something else!

You do, of course, want to make the best of your time. Make generous use of the mine carts.

Is the horse worth it in Stardew Valley? Absolutely! It costs only 10,000 gold, 5 iron bars, and 100 hardwood to construct the stable. For that price, you can trot across town or the Cindersap Forest in about the half the time it would normally take to walk.

(3) – Kid-Friendly

Stardew Valley is an awesome game for younger kids and people new to gaming. It’s easy to learn, has little violence, and actually encourages some critical thinking.

Intense multiplayer based games can overwhelm and stress you out more than necessary. Stardew Valley is not a game about comparing stats and rankings against the world in high stake competitions. It’s just about living the farmer life.

The controls are straightforward. Most of the time, you just press one button to do everything. I’ve played on both PC and Xbox 1 and found that console controller is easier to navigate the menu and select items.

The most difficult part of the game is actually remembering who the villagers are, where they live, and their schedules throughout the week. Keep referring to the official wiki or make a table similar to mine above and you should do fine after the first season.

Despite being a kid’s game, it’s still fun for people of all ages to enjoy.

The Bad

Even though I feel Stardew Valley is a great game, it’s not perfect. However, the amount and type of content are just right for the more than reasonable retail price of $14.99. Many of today’s $70+ games don’t have nearly as much replay and fun factor as Stardew Valley.

Here are the few negatives I’ve encountered:

(1) – Lots of Waiting and Repetition

Stardew Valley is a farming game. That means you do a lot of farming over and over again. Selling your crops will be the most basic way to earn a consistent income and progress the game. It’s not terribly exciting. You till the ground, plop down your fertilizer, and plant the seed. Then, it’s a waiting game with watering to just do all over again.

After the first year of the game, you’ve likely already unlocked most of the map and upgraded your tools to gold tier. Then, it’s just a matter of waiting tediously for certain conditions for rare items to spawn.

You will take a long time to collect every item, crop, fish, and mineral. To get the final achievements in Stardew Valley, you need to wait until the 3rd year or longer.

The most expensive items cost 2 to 10 million gold! I am struggling now to find a good strategy to reach 100,000 quickly.

To acquire the best equipment and materials, you’ll need to grind the mines on high luck days to get a ton of diamonds or have a massive farm constantly growing high-value crops.

(2) – Limited World to Explore

The world map of Stardew Valley is not terribly big.

There’s your farmland, the village, the beach, the railroad station, the Mountains, and Cindersap Forest. Besides those major areas, there are a few smaller connecting segments and secrets areas you’ll unlock as you progress. After the first year, there’s not much new to see or do.

Map of Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley isn’t so much “open world” since you never leave the initial setting of the game. It’s quite sad to me that the wider world outside of Stardew Valley is left ambiguous (though theories abound that are interesting). It seems like the larger context was more an afterthought than anything.

You rarely have moral or story options like in most RPGs. You’ll discover veiled references to a war between the dwarves and shadow people. It would have been nice if you had a more direct role in this conflict’s lingering effects. If there was a full blown fight again, maybe you could join either side and have a separate line of quests for each?

Instead, the story is rather linear. In the beginning, you can choose to unlock Community Center bundles by gifting the required items to fairies known as junimos or buying them by working for your former employer, the Jojo’s Corporation (wait… why would they want you back after you presumably resigned without notice? Beats me).

Either way, the story has the same outcome.

It is interesting how the game blends fantasy and reality. By the start of the game, the shadow people and dwarfs are mostly forgotten myths, much like the Jedi in New Hope.

Overall, I’d prefer a more expansive world and story in Stardew Valley and wouldn’t mind if the retail price increased slightly.

(3) – Not Very Challenging

Stardew Valley is super simple and not a challenge to veteran gamers. The mechanics are designed for younger kids and newcomers.

But that’s the point! After all, it’s a game meant to be chill and relaxing.

The challenge isn’t incredibly frustrating bosses or endless puzzles. Instead, it’s in making the most beautiful farm possible from your imagination. We need more games that encourage freedom and creativity.

To many people, the game’s true potential eludes them because they won’t care to do any research on the wiki and take notes. This is a game that you have meticulously study to understand spawn conditions and character “love” items. To really learn about the culture of the world you also need to read library books and remember certain dialogues.

In that sense, Stardew Valley reminds me of the classic Myst game of the 1990s.

 

My Final Verdict

In conclusion, I must say I’ve really enjoyed my experience playing Stardew Valley.

The game is very basic and relaxing. My only big complaint is the lacking depth to the story.

If it had more rpg elements with a larger map and story context… then I would be a near perfect game.

I give it a solid 4 of 5 stars!

4 of 5 star rating

 

Stardew Valley Multiplayer?

I almost marked the lack of Stardew Valley multiplayer as a negative. However, I cannot fault that against the game, since ConcernedApe officially announced March 13th via Twitter, that a free multiplayer update is rolling out for all platforms soon and is currently in a QA phase. It would work as a peer-to-peer server, meaning it only works if the host player is live.

For me, I feel a multiplayer experience would only be fun with the right people. I wouldn’t want a random player accidentally destroying my crops or selling the wrong items. Similar to as in Minecraft, you’d want to choose your partners wisely.

Another potential downside of cooperative play could be making the game way too easy to be enjoyable. The time in each day cycle fits with the intention of a single player. Two players would clear a forest or mine level very quickly and allow you to advance the game much faster than otherwise.

To compensate, I think a multiplayer Stardew Valley should increase the monster count and maybe throw in some unique ones that would prove an adequate challenge for two or more players.  The existing mobsters require some simple timing and only become difficult when they have overwhelming numbers. It would be awesome to have more intensive boss battles that would require teamwork and good communication.

Multiplayer could also work well as a local co-op mode. Since it’s a family fun game that’s great for kids, Stardew Valley would be perfect for siblings to enjoy together in a drop in, drop out style. Children would benefit from learning how to manage responsibilities and building healthy relationships.


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