Despite staring at me ominously from its constant top-ten position in the Nintendo Switch Eshop for the past six months, I’ve never been tempted to taste the fruits of Stardew Valley; despite numerous blog articles telling me how fantastic it is and a general buzz of hype whenever its name is mentioned. Don’t ask me why, but I guess it’s just down to its presentation not really appealing to me. Although originally released on the PC two years ago, this Harvest Moon-inspired farming sim has seen other releases on various consoles since that time; with the Switch version arguably being the most popular version. Now, it’s bearing its fruits upon the PS Vita and as for me, well, I have succumbed to the hype train to see for myself whether this is a crop worth harvesting.
Developed by ConcernedApe, with publishing through Chucklefish, this game revolves around the story of a custom-created character who is presented with an envelope from his, or her, grandfather as he lay upon his death bed; with the instruction not to open it until a day arrives when they feel that there is more to life than they currently hold. After another frustrating day at work, you decide to reveal the contents of the envelope, discovering the deeds to your late grandfather’s farmhouse within the peace and tranquil settings of Stardew Valley.
Deciding to escape the mundaneness of your life, you duly board a bus and make your way to the family farmhouse. Upon arrival, you are greeted by one of the townsfolk and local mayor and shown to your derelict destination. It’s from here that your new life begins and that’s it in a nutshell really, Stardew Valley is a life sim essentially; however, the more life you put into the game, the wider its world opens up to you. This is where the magic of this title lies. Everything gets off to a slow start when you first arrive; tidying up the land around your farmhouse ready to harvest a variety of seasonal crops and exploring the town, where you interact with a variety of townspeople.
I have to admit that these first few hours spent within the game just reinforced my decision to have not fallen for the hype before. I found myself asking questions about why it was so popular and what the appeal of this title was? Not a lot seemed to be happening, until I kept plugging away, harvesting my crops and interacting with the, around thirty or so, NPC’s that live their virtual lives alongside yours. Bit by bit, through conversation, deeds and exploration, the valley of Stardew began to ripen as the community developed. There’s a clever mechanic at play here, as you begin to form relationships with the other characters by helping them out, presenting gifts and interacting with them as often as possible; you can even develop friendships that can blossom into romance, even marriage and children.
Although you work and live day-to-day, there is a massive amount of hidden depth to living your life in Stardew Valley. The more you play, you more you discover and learn, creating a huge amount of branches that stretch a lot further than the maintenance of your farmland. You’ll soon venture upon inaccessible doors or areas that need investigating further to open them up, explore huge mines to excavate, go fishing, collect museum artefacts, take on a pet and even join an adventurer’s guild where you combat the various monsters that dwell within the chambers that lie under the tranquillity of the valley. The more you open up, the more the mind boggles at the selection of what you can do with each passing day.
The mechanics of the game work on a calendar and time system, which sees the passing of time that develops into days, weeks, months and years. In fact, after two years, your skills are assessed with an achievement based score. However, this isn’t the end of your life in Stardew Valley, as you are free to carry on with your life and develop further everything you have begun to build. It’s essentially like living a second-life, or looking after your character in his, or her life in the same way you would care for a pet.
The game has been constructed in such a way, that it is perfect for casual play, although be warned, it’s also just as easy to lose yourself for a few hours in its charming world too. It’s a game that sits nicely on the Vita, as it does on the switch and, in comparison, my personal view is that this title looks sublimely better on Sony’s console too. There’s a certain charm to this game, one that grows ever more addictive the more you play it. Time management, as well as energy conservation soon become important, as you try to plan your days in order to fit in everything you need to do, before turning in for a good night’s sleep.
The beauty of Stardew Valley is in its ability to gently ease you in and reveal itself to you over time. It does start slowly, but stick with it and you will be greatly rewarded. It’s even got to a point with me where I feel the need to look in on my character at least once a day, just to ensure all is well within his life. The pace of the game allows you to put in as little, or as much as you can afford each day, however, when something new happens or when you make a new discovery, it contains such a pull that it can easily take over your time; even your life.
Overall, I, for one, am glad that I took the decision to see for myself the current buzz that revolves around this title. Despite some reservations and a feeling of trepidation with my first few hours of the game, it soon bloomed into more of an adventure, rather than just a farming sim. It contains a certain pull with its relationship developments, life building and exploration mechanics to create a game that charms and draws you in with its subtle, yet addictive qualities. If this is a title that you’ve yet to experience, then you’re really missing out and I strongly recommend trying it. However, if you’ve tried to play Stardew Valley and found its pacing, or content, not to your liking, then try again and stick with it, for it will reward you for doing so. As an example of video gaming at its finest, then Stardew Valley shines very brightly indeed, as this is a crop-growing game that will undoubtedly grow on you.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation Vita code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.