Stardew Valley is a magical game. This indie game came out of nowhere, calling to mind Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, and has become one of the top selling titles on Steam. Not bad, considering it comes from a one-man operation; Eric Barone was completely responsible for the entire game. But, it doesn’t really hit you how good Stardew Valley is until you start experiencing some of your firsts within the game.
Making a character is a good start. While the Story of Seasons line has been getting better about customizing avatars and Animal Crossing generates a character based on quiz responses, Stardew Valley gives you a lot to choose from. You get many hairstyles, skin colors, shirts, and accessories, and can determine the color of your eyes, hair, and pants. Gender and preferred pet options are there too. You can spend quite a bit of time making sure your character looks right, and it’s even possible to go see the Wizard if he or she doesn’t look perfect in practice. It’s fitting for a game where you get to customize everything else.
Especially since the farm customization is far beyond what games like Harvest Moon: A New Beginning allowed. When I began Stardew Valley, I didn’t care about being pretty. I cleared a patch near the house, tilled some soil, and invested in quite a few kinds of seeds. It’s only after I started investigating chicken coop prices, clearing more of my property, and seeing what others had done that I realize I could do better. All of a sudden, I realized I didn’t have to wait until I was more invested to work toward creating a farm as gorgeous as the ones seen on Steam. I could take babysteps and make my place pretty too. Since I’m only in Spring, this hasn’t amounted to much, but has led to stone paths and scarecrows. The little things matter.
Just like the little things that can happen in town make a big difference. Getting to take a quest every now and then is nice, as it makes you feel like a member of the community. Even sometimes finding something like a flower or leek is a happy surprise. But the best part is sifting through people’s trash cans, perhaps to reclaim the gift you gave them earlier that day, is a surprisingly fun way to forage. Especially since people judge you, should they catch you doing it. (Are you yelling at me, Alex? I should yell at you! You threw out this potato I gave you!) It’s borrowing from JRPGs, only with more realistic reactions for going through someone else’s junk.
What really amazes me is that it’s possible to level up and have it really mean something. This was a thing that happened in Rune Factory, if you performed certain actions enough times, but it usually led to greater efficiency. With Stardew Valley, the rewards are tangible. When I went to bed one night, only to learn my Farming Skill was now at level one. I could make a Scarecrow or Basic Fertilizer. It was like the game was rewarding me for doing a good job. I put the effort in and, instead of only getting a reward that made my character a little better, I learned something too!
Speaking of which, that scarecrow was a godsend. I woke up on my second third day, in-game, to find one of my plants was gone. There was a bird nearby, but I didn’t put two and two together until the second day. It had rained the second day, so I thought it was a weather-related loss. But no! The crow was attacking my plant! It was a level of interaction I hadn’t seen in a farming simulation before. Wildlife mattered. It did something. And, once I had a scarecrow, it wasn’t an issue again.
It’s funny exactly how many “firsts” someone could have with Stardew Valley. There’s so much to do here, with much of it available right from the start. Getting to discover the Community Center’s secrets, meeting a Wizard, offering up 300 wood to get access to a new area by the beach, delving into the mines so you can become a full member of the Adventurer’s Club, and wondering how long it’ll take before people start allowing you into their rooms. I’ve been playing since last Friday, and I’m still discovering new things that make this game even more special to me. I’m sure anyone else who plays it will feel the same.
Stardew Valley is immediately available for Windows PCs.