Available on: PC (Windows)
Farming games have existed since the 90s with the likes of Sim Farm and Harvest Moon. In recent years many mobile and social games like Farmville have used the rewarding feedback of growing your own crops to great success. Stardew Valley puts them all to shame, and elevates the genre into something truly unique and special.
After creating your pixelated character you re-discover a letter from your dying grandfather inviting you to take over some farmland in a rural village. You leave your mundane office job and set out to Pelican Town to start a new life.
Pelican Town has all the adorable charm from your favorite 90s 16-bit RPG. Buy seeds from the general store. Upgrade tools at the blacksmith. Sell fish to the local fisherman. Beyond the town is a mine full of monsters that you battle Legend of Zelda-style. You can fish at the beach, river, or lakes. The neighboring forest holds a wizard tower. Even more hidden secrets and areas await as you explore.
The amount of things to do and people to meet is astonishing. Even more impressive is that each townsfolk is a fully-realized character with hopes, dreams, and for some – potential marriage options. Every character has a schedule and their own life, not unlike giant big-budget RPGs like Skyrim and Fallout.
It would be easy to get lost in the simple pleasure of farming and exploring, but Stardew Valley’s focus on characters, events, and steady progression keeps you fully immersed in its world.
If you’ve played any pixelated Minecraft-style builders or crafters (such as Starbound, another Chucklefish alum) you’re already familiar with how Stardew Valley controls. Your dilapidated, overgrown farm is full of potential resources just waiting to be chopped down and harvested. You start with all the necessary tools for creating your dream farm, but money and time are constant limiters you have to work around.
You have only a set amount of time each day to get your work done, whether that’s battling monsters, socializing with townsfolk, or watering your plants. Each task drains your energy reserves, which are replenished every night, or after eating. Managing your energy while maximizing your time each day is an incredibly rewarding and addicting gameplay loop.
Stardew Valley succeeds on its breadth of content. Spend all day fishing with the fun and tense mini-game. Go deeper and deeper into the monster-filled mines searching for treasure and minerals. Create a steady cash flow with the right crops. Raise chickens, ride horses, and prepare for each new Season with all new crops, daily tasks, and town events.
Stardew Valley is an indie, currently PC-only game that has not yet been rated. The pixel art and lack of blood or gore make it an easy sell for younger gamers. There’s no voice acting and talking to NPCs requires some light reading. My 4-year-old daughter delights in playing the “farm game” right beside me.
I had never played a farming game prior to Stardew Valley, and I may never need try a different one. Stardew Valley is like a love letter to 90s RPGs. I could easily see myself playing Stardew Valley for months to come as I rotate my seasonal crops, upgrade my gigantic farm, and start a family. Even if you’re not a fan of the farming genre, Stardew Valley will make you one.