Indie Game Spotlight

Indie Game Spotlight: Stardew Valley

I admit it. At first glance, Stardew Valley didn’t really look like my “cup of tea”. After it was first released back in February, I noticed the beautiful pixel art and was a little intrigued but farming didn’t seem quite exciting enough to invest in. On October 3rd, ConcernedApe released patch 1.1 on which introduced some new maps and bug fixes so I figured now was the time to see what I’ve been missing. All of my expectations were wrong. Stardew Valley is an extremely charming and relaxing experience. Not only can the player farm, but also fish, mine, forage, make friends, get married, fight monsters and so much more. After a few days in Stardew Valley I was completely addicted. I kept telling myself, “I’ll just play one more day”, before quickly realizing a whole month in the game had passed.

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System:
PC, OS X, Linux, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One

Developer:
ConcernedApe
Publisher: Chucklefish Games

Released:
February 26, 2016
(Last updated October 3rd)

Price:
$14.99  (On Steam!)

The Gameplay:

After creating an avatar and choosing a farm type (new map types were added in version 1.1), the player begins their stay in Stardew Valley after receiving a letter from their recently deceased relative. The letter mentions that the player has inherited the family farm. After quitting a dead-end job, the player rushes to their newly acquired land and is greeted by a few locals. Upon first inspection, the farm is a complete wreck. Inside the cabin, which serves as the player’s home and base of operations, you are left with a few shoddy tools and just enough seeds to start planting the first round of crops for the season. At this point I would advise players to enter town and purchase as many seeds as they can afford to maximize profit by the end of the season. Before the player can plant anything, they must clear a part of their land from trees, logs, weeds, and any other junk that has piled up on their farmland. The player can chop the trees and logs to collect wood, sap, and sometimes acorns or pine cones. Once those things are cleared out, the player can finish off the remaining weeds and rocks with their scythe and pickaxe.

 

Once a suitable area of land has been cleared, it’s time to grab your hoe and start hoeing. I found that 3×3 plots of land yielded the best results. Now that the farmland is prepared, just plop some seeds down and make sure to water them. After that, you have the whole rest of the day to do whatever you wish. The player isn’t really given any other directions but you will receive a few quests to get you started. I would advise walking around town and getting to know the different shops and locations. Giving gifts to the townspeople is a great way to start making new friends. Early on, you acquire a fishing pole. Catching fish requires a fun little mini-game and there’s a chance you might also reel in some sunken treasure. After introducing yourself to your new neighbors and catch a fish or two, make sure to keep an eye on the clock. If it turns 2:00 AM, the player will pass out from exhaustion. Just make sure to get home and into bed before that happens or else the player will be carried home and charged a fee!

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Crafting is also an essential part of the Stardew Valley experience. After collecting enough materials and leveling the appropriate skills, the player will gain access to all sorts of gadgets to craft. Many of the are used to create artisan goods from the plants, fish, and animal products they collect. Mayonnaise machines, Bee hives for making honey, kegs for making alcoholic beverages, and dozens of other gadgets and decorations become available for to the player. The decorations, such as pathways and fences can be used to make the farm look organized and keep grass from growing onto the fields. Scarecrows can also be crafted to keep crows from feasting on the players crops. To gain access to more crafting recipes, the player must level up different skills such as farming and foraging. These will automatically level after gaining enough experience in each skill at the end of the day.

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Some features I didn’t expect at all in a farming game were mining and monster fighting. After a few days of farm management, I suggest that the player visit the far northeast of the map and look for the mine. Once inside, you will meet the leader of the nearby adventurers guild who will gift you a beginner sword. As you descend the mines you will encounter various monster types. The adventurers guild will offer contracts for slaying a certain amount of each monster type and give you rewards for each contract completed. The guildmaster also sells improved weapons to make monster killing more efficient. Slaying monsters won’t be the only thing happening in the mines, however. While delving deeper and deeper into the depths, the player will find precious ores, rare stones, and ancient artifacts. Ores can be smelting into bars for crafting new items and upgrading tools. The rare stones and artifacts can be donated to the local museum (which will also offer rewards) or sold for profit.

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Besides collecting items, farming, fishing, mining and foraging, the player will be invited to join 2 festivals per season. These events are a good opportunity to interact with the townsfolk and even give the player the chance to purchase rare items or compete for prizes. These festivals made me regret not spending time forging friendships early in the game. I was very sad when nobody wanted to dance with me during a festival when everyone else had partnered up. An interesting part of getting to know the various locals is that the player has the chance to get married to one of the suitable bachelors or bachelorettes if they choose to after making an NPC fall in love with them. This requires them to fall in love with the player and is accomplished by giving them gifts they love and remembering their birthday (which is displayed on a calendar in front of the main shop). Gaining enough friendship points with others will cause them to occasionally send you gifts or open up other interactions with those characters. If the player is lucky, they may even invite you into their bedroom!

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No farm can truly be complete with out some animals to tend to. After purchasing the appropriate buildings from the local carpenter, the player has the option to purchase some animals. You can raise and breed all kinds of animals, but until you upgrade your coops and barns you have chickens and cows to choose from. These animals start out as babies and eventually grow up to produce eggs and milk. later on you can purchase goats, ducks and other animals who produce other goods. The player can also purchase a horse to make traveling around Stardew Valley less of a chore since there is no sprint ability. Remember to check in on animals each day because their yield increases depending on how much the love their owner. The player also has the chance to adopt a dog or cat (depending on which one they picked during character creation) although I never really found a use for them other than to keep you company while tending to your land.

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There’s so much to do in Stardew Valley I could write a book on it, but one other important aspect I’d like to cover is the local community center. Long forgotten, the community center is in complete disrepair. After visiting the center and receiving some advice from a wizard, the player can begin to deliver bundles to the strange inhabitants to restore different rooms of the community center. These bundles are collections of various goods that you will collect or grow during your stay in Stardew Valley. After completing a bundle, the player will be rewarded with rare seeds, money, gadgets, and other cool items. If you lack a soul, there is another option that might interest you. Instead of helping the current inhabitants, the player has the option to instead sell the community center to a seemingly evil corporation called Jojo Mart and turn it into their warehouse. By doing this, you can skip collecting the bundles and instead unlock rooms with cash. This unfortunately may also have a negative affect for the town and townsfolk. Make sure to consider the long-term effects this decision might have.

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Final Judgment: 98/100

Stardew Valley is a work of art. You can tell right away that this game was skillfully handcrafted with a lot of care. My biggest problem with this game is that it was so hard to stop playing! There are so many things to do, new areas to explore, awesome gadgets to craft, and people to meet that Stardew Valley is sure to keep you entertained. The freedom you are given is amazing. You can literally design your farm exactly the way you envision. I’ve heard that there are plenty of mods around to add even more variety to the game. I didn’t expect to enjoy this experience nearly as much as I did and seriously almost rage deleted it from my computer because it had consumed so much of my time. Even if farming doesn’t sound like something you would enjoy in a video game, I encourage everyone to give this wonderful gem of a game a change. Stardew Valley is worth every penny!

Pros:

  • So many things to do!
  • Beautiful pixel art
  • Charming soundtrack
  • Cute characters and animals
  • Can marry NPCs
  • Fun mini games
  • Replayablility (even more with new maps added in version 1.1)
  • Day/Night cycle and calender
  • Multiple farm maps to choose from
  • Character creation
  • Realistic issues

Cons:

  • No sprint button
  • Limited NPC interaction
  • No skills or magic to use in battle

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