Stardew Valley is a universally acclaimed farming simulator that was initially released on PC in February 2016, before eventually arriving on other consoles later that year. The last few months have seen little other than pure hype and excitement from Switch players, however, as they finally get to see this Harvest Moon-inspired fan-favourite for themselves (or double-dip to enjoy the experience all over again for a second time). Despite having a good amount of time with the game, it is clear that we are still yet to scratch the surface of what Stardew Valley has to offer its players, and we’ve already had a bit of a rollercoaster ride with the title.
The game might well be a farming simulator on the surface (you inherit a farm, start restoring it, plant crops, collect materials to build with etc.), but there is actually so much more to it than initially meets the eye. In a recent soapbox video we referred to the game as a “life sim”, and that is a perfect description; your activities go far beyond just farming thanks to a great sense of community that finds itself sitting at the heart of the adventure. In fact, there doesn’t appear to be any end to the amount of things available to see and do.
For starters, by wandering over to the main town you’ll start to interact with a host of non-playable characters in what turns out to be a rather tight-knit community. Each character you meet has their own personality, their own relationships with other characters, their own interests, and so on. You can offer to help out various town members in what are essentially side quests, you can build up your own relationship with individual people by giving them presents and visiting them often and, eventually, you might even grow so close to someone that you’ll end up getting married should you fancy it. You don’t move to Stardew Valley to work - you move there to live.
As we previously mentioned it is clear that, in the grand scheme of things, we haven’t seen anywhere near all of the things on offer here. One example of this is the fact that it took us 15 in-game days just to realise that there was a huge mine to explore just north of the town – fully exploring and excavating within it will likely take a scarily large amount of time to manage. Strolling around the valley will give you a quick insight into the currently unknown too; often we’d see areas that we can’t access yet or doors that remain locked, and an in-game calendar shows events that will be occurring in the town in the coming days.
It doesn’t end here, either – on top of the farming, side quests, and everything else mentioned so far you can try to earn as much money as you can, build various animal coops to look after livestock, have a pet, go fishing and try to collect every fish available, complete an entire museum collection, build up your combat level in the RPG-like Adventurer’s Guild, and more – it just goes on and on.
There is a point to all of this, though. After two in-game years you will be assessed on your achievements, receiving a score based on numerous factors. Pleasingly, your game doesn’t end there, however; you are free to continuing living this life away from the real world as much as you like, ever expanding on what eventually starts to feel like a second home. The portable nature of the Switch makes this version easily one of, if not the, strongest of them all – the structure of the game sees you play through ‘days’ at a time with a clear break in between each one, making it perfect for just having that quick escape. Luckily, the oddly addictive nature of watching your farm grow and grow will make you want to do just that.
There is one technical flaw at launch that needs to be mentioned, however. At the end of each in-game day it saves, and at present it takes a surprising amount of time - perhaps up to 20 seconds. It's a tad frustrating when it first happens, but the days are long enough that we've generally looked past it; the rest of the game - pleasingly - is snappy enough.
Beyond that relatively minor complaint, playing Stardew Valley has been an enlightening experience. For complete transparency it is important to state that, for this writer, games of this genre and style aren’t often particularly appealing. Indeed, after the first couple of hours a mixture of boredom from the repetitive nature of farming, and confusion from not really understanding why nothing seemed to be happening, prevented initial enjoyment.
Somewhere down the line, though, everything just ‘clicked’. This isn’t a game designed to throw everything it has at you from the off, and it isn’t one to hold your hand either; everything in Stardew Valley wants to be discovered, but only if you put in the time and effort to find it. To experience this game fully you must be prepared to spend a huge number of hours living in its world – the more you put in, the more you’ll get out, and it can be so rewarding if you do.
Stardew Valley offers its players a chance to live a second life – one where you can forget the troubles of the real world and get excited over finding a particularly rare carrot. It is a truly magical experience; games can often be enjoyable but they don’t all manage to be as captivating as this. This is the sort of game that ideally requires a significant amount of time to be invested; the enjoyment doesn’t necessarily come from the day-to-day actions you perform, but rather from the general growth of pride, satisfaction, and sense of security as the days go by. Fans of games such as Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing will be right at home here and, for those who aren’t, there is a decent chance this game might just surprise you. For the asking price the risk couldn’t be more worth it.