Harvest Moon 64 was one of my favorite games on the Nintendo 64; like with Ocarina of Time and Metroid Prime, Harvest Moon 64 is a game that I go back to annually. I haven’t latched onto any of the recent Harvest Moon games the same way I did with 64, though, and Harvest Moon-like games such as Rune Factory and Story of Seasons didn’t do it for me, either. I figured I’d try one more game that was reminiscent of Harvest Moon 64 in Stardew Valley for PlayStation 4. I put in a good five or six hours over the course of several days before it was officially announced for Nintendo Switch. That’s when I decided to hold off until it finally came out for Switch, and that decision has paid off because I can’t imagine any other way to play Stardew Valley.
Stardew Valley is a farming and life simulation similar to Harvest Moon. At its very basic core, Stardew Valley is a game about farming, fishing, mining and interacting with townsfolk. You’ll get hooked on the gameplay loop after a couple in-game days because there’s just so much to do in Stardew Valley, even after you’ve accomplished a good number of personal goals. Adding the Nintendo Switch’s portability into the mix makes for a game that’s perfect to play in bed with headphones on, listening to the game’s wonderful soundtrack, or while you watch a light comedy on TV.
Stardew Valley runs on an in-game time system that spans four months, one for each of the seasons, that make up a year. You can stay out until 2 AM before your character falls asleep and wakes up back at home the next day — minus a few gold pieces. Aside from time of day, an energy meter on the bottom-right of the screen will dictate how long you’re able to do physically-intensive tasks; things like chopping down trees, casting a fishing line, and breaking a rock all consume different amounts of energy. Eating food like cookies or fish will replenish some of that energy meter, but they’re generally better left to sell.
Certain crops will only grow during specific months of the year, and some crops are more valuable than others. For example, melons can only be grown during the summer and yield a whopping 250 gold, whereas corn only sells for 50 gold pieces. The two take 12 and 14 days to grow respectively, and while corn continues to re-grow and melons don’t, I find that it’s better to go with a big-boom farming strategy while supplementing those waiting days by selling fish.
I usually hit the mine when I’m not fishing — it’s an underground cave system filled with monsters, ores, rocks, and more rocks. The mine is where you really need to take some time preparing for, because breaking rocks takes a lot of energy off your meter and the only way to find the ladder down to the next level of the mine is to break more rocks. An elevator back to the top, or to that level, is available every five levels. A lot of valuable minerals are found in the mine, like copper and iron ores, quartz, and topaz.
Stardew Valley is also a crafting and building game. In the beginning you can craft some simple structures like fences from wood and a cobblestone path from stone. As you progress through the game and do things like fishing, farming, and mining, you’ll gain experience that levels up your proficiency in these tasks, and each new level gives you new tools and structures to craft. Eventually, you’ll be able to craft sprinklers from iron and copper ore found in the mine, which take out the need to manually water your vegetables if you set them up right. You can even craft a keg after a certain point, and that allows you to turn your farm — or part of your farm — into a lucrative winery.
There are also larger structures, like barns and silos, that you can order to be built from a character in town. These larger structures, along with the smaller ones you can craft, can all be placed anywhere in your farm. This aspect of Stardew Valley kind of reminds me of Sim City. Fishing, mining, and chatting up the townsfolk is already fun enough, but the process of planning out a new area for your farm, putting it all together, removing it all because you’ve thought of a better idea, and then putting it all back together again is incredibly fun.
Right now I’m working on a city for chickens filled with a bunch of coops, grassy areas for the chickens to hang out, and as many chickens as I can hold (one coop can hold eight chickens, so there are going to be a lot of chickens).
What really sets Stardew Valley apart from other farm-life simulators is the storytelling. A small town called Pelican Town sits to the east of your farm, and every single character that resides there feels like a real person. Everyone has their routines based on the time of day, weather, and season, which is standard for games in this genre; however, Stardew Valley goes above and beyond what’s standard by giving each character their own backstory, their own wants, and their own needs.
There are a lot of bright, happy-go-lucky characters in Pelican Town. There are also a lot of characters whose stories will pull at your heartstrings. Pam is a single mother struggling to make ends meet, and has more or less accepted that her dreams didn’t quite work out. Her daughter, Penny, helps her mother as best she can, but longs for a better life. Linus lives in a tent in the mountains, and rummages through peoples’ trash bins for food at night.
In one seemingly random instance, I left the Stardrop Saloon after midnight and came across Linus rummaging through George’s trash. George, who is a crotchety old man, came outside thinking it was a raccoon and asked me to shoo it away for him. Linus overheard George’s hurtful words, and the game presented me with a few dialogue options: I could criticize Linus’s actions, I could tell him I understand but suggest he not rummage through the trash anymore, or I could empathize with Linus’s struggles. I chose the latter-most option. Linus thanked me and said he wouldn’t go through George’s trash anymore so he wouldn’t bother him, and went down to look through the Stardrop Saloon’s trash instead. This prompted the Saloon’s owner, Gus, to come outside and offer Linus a meal — he didn’t want to see anyone in Pelican Town go hungry.
I feel like the way I reacted to Linus led to Gus giving him food. Linus may have run away and never encountered Gus that night if I had reacted negatively to his plight. You’ll be missing a huge part of what makes Stardew Valley great if you lack empathy for the game’s characters. Stardew Valley doesn’t make it hard to connect with its characters, either. Unlike another recent indie release on Switch, Golf Story, none of the characters in Stardew Valley are caricatures or negative stereotypes.
You can also grow your relationships with the residents of Pelican Town by talking to them, engaging in dialogue options when they come up, and by giving them stuff they like. You can give people two gifts per week, and you’ll unlock bonding events for characters every so often. Get a bond up with a character that’s single and you can marry them.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of the game for this review.