I’ve never played a Harvest Moon game before. I’ve eyed up the games on more than one occasion, but Nintendo typically doesn’t like to sell any of its big franchise titles below £20 and the very minimum. (Steam may have spoiled me in this regard.) I have, however, played my fair share on Animal Crossing games (Wild World, City Folk, New Leaf) and am a sucker for this genre of game.
It is easy, then, to see why Stardew Valley caught my eye. To this day, it remains as one of the only games I’ve bought upon its release without waiting for it go on sale in a year’s time. (Other games in this special category include Rocket League and Robot Roller Derby Disco Dodgeball.) After seeing approximately 5 seconds of a little pixellated guy planting some seeds of whatever, I leaned in intently for a closer look. 5 minutes later and it was downloading.
So here’s how my day begins: I get up, I water the crops. Preferably I’d like this to be automated eventually, as my ever-expanding farm takes longer and longer to water, but for this I need iron, and that’s a whole other enterprise. After watering the crops, I say a quick hello to Tocco the dog, before trotting into town. When I get there, I typically stop and realise that I’ve no idea what to do with my day. Should I go fishing? Foraging? Monster slaying and mining? Try to make friends and woo potential future wives? (Yes, marriage is another goal to work towards in-game.)
Currently, my main demand is making money. I need to buy a silo, and a chicken coop. I need to buy more crops to sell more crops. I need to buy a house upgrade to get a kitchen and delve into cooking. I need to buy tool upgrades, too, and I’m torn as to whether I should do that first or continue saving up. The game’s economy is a perfect balance of not having enough money to race through the game, and being able to make money fast enough to the point where you actually feel like you’re doing something.
Never before has a game simulated the whole “not enough hours in a day” problem as Stardew Valley. (Well, maybe Harvest Moon, but I’ve never played those games.) I mean, at least in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask you could play a handy little tune to send you back in time. In Stardew Valley, I’ll sometimes be in the middle of cave diving and monster slaying when my character suddenly yawns, and I realise it’s midnight and I need to get home before I collapse at 2AM. Then it’s a rushed 6 hours sleep in which I dream about how much money the stuff I’ve dumped in my box has sold for, before it’s time to get up and water the crops again, bleary eyed and wondering how to spend my day.
You may worry that Stardew Valley would get a bit routine, then, but the depth of the game counteracts this problem. Not only do you have plenty to do regarding skills, people and dungeon-running, but the game also has a good story, day-specific events and, of course, the changing of seasons to keep you occupied. Sometimes characters give you quests, asking you too find them a specific item and thereby rewarding you with gold and friendship. Sometimes you’ll walk into a room and a cutscene will start, cued by either storyline or level of friendship. There’s plenty to keep you busy, immersed, and out of a rut.
I have few criticisms, but I’ll express them anyway. Firstly, the controls. It’s difficult to explain, but sometimes when you click on a tile, you’ll instead interact with a different tile due to your character’s positioning. I feel that clicking on a tile that’s next to you should override the current position you’re facing and turn you, so that you don’t accidentally smash your potatoes with a pickaxe rather than that inviting looking stone behind you. My other small gripe as that, although the game’s soundtrack and ambiance is mostly perfect, the ambient noises they’ve included in forests for summer namely include flies buzzing loudly around the place. This might be realistic, but games like the Sims have conditioned me to believe that this noise is of negative origin, and I spent an embarrasingly long time trying to track down the source of the flies. It’s also just a, er, annoying noise.
That’s it, though. My two criticisms. Weighed against hundreds of points of positivity, I think it’s safe to say that Stardew Valley will be one of my longer-lasting companions in the gaming world.