A farming sim in the vein of Harvest Moon. Move to a small town and grow your farm while growing your relationships with the people around you.
- Classic farming gameplay
- PC controls work great
- Tons of things to do and secrets to find
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Loads of character and atmosphere
- Slow beginning as you build speed
- Repetitive sound effects
- A few occasional glitches and bugs
Growing up on a farm I learned at a young age two very important facts that have stuck with me my entire life: farming in real life is a lot of work and everything smells terrible all the time. Thankfully, the Harvest Moon series let people experience the fantasy part of farming without all the manure and drunken neighbors of reality. After four years of development PC gamers finally get a proper taste of console style farming simulation with Stardew Valley, half Terraria and half Harvest Moon. Is this a crop worth picking, or should you leave it on the vine?
The setup to Stardew is a familiar one: your Grandpa has willed you his piece of land in the small country town of Pelican Town located in the titular rural valley. After what seems like far too long a time, you take him up on his offer and move in to the dilapidated and overrun farm. From there it’s up to you to clear the land, plant crops, and integrate yourself into the local populace by getting friendly with the people and attending various local festivals and events.
There’s no plot other than the one you create, rather progression is doled out by way of a quest log full of jobs to do, and the ever present desire to expand your farm. There are two separate town expansion paths you can go down, be it restoring the Community Center by donating various items, or giving increasing amounts of cash to the evil corporate entity muscling in on the small town. There’s also a vague threat of something happening at the start of the third year, but the game doesn’t actually end until you decide that you’ve accomplished your goals.
Not that the game needs to give you things to do as you’ll quickly find yourself very busy with day-to-day life. There are constantly things to work on, be it increasing the size of your crop fields, fishing for fun and profit, fighting monsters and mining for minerals, or wooing one of the local singles. Each day brings with it a laundry list of things to do and occasionally you’ll find yourself fighting against the clock and your own body as the energy slowly seeps out with every swing of the pick or drop of water from the watering can. There’s ways to restore energy and health but eventually, regardless of what you were working on you’ll need sleep to be ready for another day.
Graphically the game looks great, with loads of color and some very nice pixel artwork. It’s more reminiscent of the original SNES Harvest Moon than most of the actual Harvest Moon franchise, although it does distinguish itself quite a bit. Characters are all distinct and each location and minor detail feels hand-crafted and unique. There’s some nice lighting effects that help to sell the mood, especially when the sun goes down. The animations are great, and very smooth, although they can occasionally get stuck for a few seconds. Considering all the work was done by one guy, it’s all the more impressive, and with it’s low-fi graphics you should be able to run Stardew on virtually any machine.
Audio-wise Stardew is somewhat mixed. First and foremost the soundtrack is nothing short of amazing, and this is easily one of the best indie-game soundtracks in some time. There’s plenty of tracks for each season and location, and they’re all catchy as hell, with a great retro feel to them. However sound effects are repetitive and quickly grow annoying as each footfall or axe swing burrows into your brain. There’s no voice-acting to speak of, not totally surprising, but the characters are expressive enough through the writing and character portraits.
Stardew Valley‘s writing is fine enough, but there is something uniquely… American about it. Most of the Harvest Moon games we’ve seen here in the West have been translations, meaning there’s usually an error or two, with the older titles being downright confusing at times. Stardew makes sense, but there’s an almost disturbing realism to the writing, like an air of dread hanging over the town. It’s a bit hard to explain, but understand that when the local animal seller almost begs you for business or the smith laments over his life choices it hits a lot harder than most farming games should. Still, there’s a good bit of humor and light-heartedness in the writing, and every character it seems has their own unique cut-scenes as your friendship with them grows.
Stardew isn’t an overly original game, but it is an incredibly enjoyable one. Everything just works, and there’s almost nothing to complain about. It’s not just the farming game PC gamers have always secretly hoped for, it’s the one that they’ve always deserved, with a great and easy to use UI and modding capabilities galore. It’d be easy to just end this review by saying Stardew Valley is the next Terraria, or hell I’ll say it one last time, the next Harvest Moon, but the real truth is that there’s a decent chance Stardew Valley will just become your next obsession.