I really shouldn’t be allowed to play this game. I just clocked under sixty hours and I’ve only had it a fortnight. It’s why I stopped buying the Harvest Moon games; the amount of time I’d spend fussing over the layout of my farm, taking care of my plants and animals, finding the best crops to grow in the different seasons, it all adds up and eats away at my free time whilst I sit there and let it happen.
In Stardew Valley you take the role of an everyday Joe who abandons their 9-to-5 in order to spend the rest of their life working their grandfather’s farm, situated next to the sea-side town of Pelican. As is the theme with these games, you arrive to find the farmhouse is falling apart and the farm is choking on weeds and stones. Once you’ve cleared a sizeable chunk of land you can begin planting, watering, and selling some vegetables to try and create a stable income. Thankfully, the game picks up this slow, monotonous grind and adds its own unique twists to keep you hooked. There is a good chance you might not need anything new, and could simply be sucked into the day-by-day cycle of: water plants, feed animals, forage for berries, and slay some skeletons.
The game is broken down into the four season, with each season being only 28 days. The crops you can plant vary entirely on what season it is, so finding out what the best-selling crop is for each season is the only way to make it and afford to buy the bigger bag that’s taunting you from the shop window. With each day being different than the last, you can choose to occupy yourself however you wish: You can spend the entire day fishing, foraging for berries, fighting monsters, or simply expanding your farm and building very phallic structures out of wood. No matter what you choose, each action will consume some of your energy bar, and if you run out of energy you will faint and end up loosing a majority of your inventory and some money.
One of the most overlooked systems in the game is the crafting. Most of my friends that play this game say they hardly ever touch crafting as they don’t see the point of it, but if you have the materials you can craft yourself some scarecrows to stop birds eating your produce, and even some decorative lamps to spruce up the place. Granted, I spend far too long fawning over every little detail of my farm and the idea of several types of pathways makes me exceptionally giddy, whilst they just let their materials gather dust in their storage. There are some characters from Pelican whom use materials to build certain things for you, such as chicken coops or hay silos, so don’t do as they do.
Though you can drift day to day and do as you wish, there are some over-arching goals to try and achieve. There’s a neglected community centre that needs repairing, artefacts that can be uncovered through all types of menial tasks need to be returned to the museum, and there are different events held throughout each season which allow you to mingle with the townsfolk. As also seen in the Harvest Moon games, you can spend a large chunk of time befriending every villager of Pelican Town. Eventually, once you’ve bothered one of them enough with gifts of emeralds and whatever you pulled from the rubbish bins that day, they succumb to the Stockholm syndrome and agree to marry your crazy ass.
The townsfolk feel unique in their own way, none of them are just rehashes of the stereotypical villagers you find in most games. There are some characteristics given to each person that add that extra layer of personality, with tones of rampant alcoholism, loneliness, and alienation, but there are some light-hearted stories and even goals certain people want to achieve. Each person has their own unique life and it all blends together to create a fleshed-out town full of characters that actually make you feel something.
In my honest opinion, Stardew Valley makes an absolutely great Harvest Moon game. Don’t be fooled by the different name and the different developer, it is, at heart, a cutesy, addictive, farming simulator. Not that that’s a bad thing, what it does it has done to such a degree that I’m taking hours out of my day to structure my farm and ensuring that I’ll be more productive in a video game than I’ll ever be in real life, and neglecting my real-life duties just so my virtual blueberries grow to be the best at the fair. Now, speaking of blueberries, its been a few hours since I last checked on my farm and I’m starting to get the shakes.