I’ve tried playing Harvest Moon games or Rune Factory games in the past, but I’ve always had trouble getting into them. I don’t hate the concept, but there’s just something about them that’s made it difficult for me to really get invested. However, there’s something about Stardew Valley really had me hooked.
For those who have never heard of any of these games, Harvest Moon, Rune Factory and more specifically Stardew Valley are farming games. You grow crops, take care of animals, sometimes you fight monsters and if you want, you can flirt with people and get married. There is something very relaxing about these kind of games. They don’t sound inherently fun but when you give it a shot you can easily lose hours into them.
In Stardew Valley, you’re given the deed to your farm by your late Grandfather, you move to the Valley when you’re done with the mediocrity of everyday life. The game moves in real time, 10 seconds in real time is 10 minutes in game. You have to manage your day between watering your plants, taking care of your animals, going down into the mine, and fishing, and all of these tasks take up energy. If you run out of energy you won’t be able to work so you have to either make food and snacks to get your energy back up or you have to go to bed early.
It’s actually rather surprising just how much you’re offered to do for a game like this. Fishing, Mining, fighting, all of these extra non farming activities aren’t unknown to games like this but the fact that this is an indie Kickstarter game really shows all the love that went into it.
This game also has a fairly rich cast of characters to interact with (and a convenient guide to see who’s single!). While what the NPCs can say just by going up and talking to them is limited, they actually have a lot more personality than just walking around. Each character has their own routine of how they’ll spend their day, whether it’s walking through the park, standing outside the library in the rain or doing a unique action like skateboarding or jump-roping. There are also character cut-scenes that can appear when you satisfy certain conditions, like going into a specific area or raising their affection gauge to a certain rank.
These actually give a lot of detail to the characters and you grow more attached to them because of it. The only problem is you don’t always know where or how to find these events. Sometimes it’s as simple as to go into their house and sometimes it’s as random as walking into a giant field. I guess it’s rather realistic, but I don’t know how well it works as a game mechanic.
If I had one or two complaints about this game, they would be very small things for the most part. The controls are the first thing that come to mind. You have to control your character using WASD and use the mouse to interact with things. There were just a lot of times I placed something in the wrong place, or just generally had trouble clicking on what I wanted specifically through this system. I’d say a controller would work better (and there is support) but it’s not, your right stick just becomes the mouse and it’s even less intuitive.
The other aspect that I think hinders the game, is the lack of direction. There can be a lot of different things going on in the game and you kinda have to work for it if you want to see everything that’s going on. Okay, so an example: there is this abandoned town center that you’ll probably discover at one point or another. What you might not see is this golden tablet in the town center. After examining it, you get a letter from the local… wizard… and he gives you a potion to read the tablet. Now that you’ve done this, you can bring crops, fish, and general goods to the town center and these forest spirits will unlock new things around town for you. This isn’t a crucial aspect of the game, but because you can only grow certain crops each season, you have to focus on it every month, and the things you can gain from it are really helpful, like a greenhouse to grow things in the winter.
The town center seems like a really important thing but you have to discover for yourself how to use it. Beyond that, the game just lacks any central focus beyond improving your farm. There’s no real story, or anything to drive you other than the game itself.
But despite that I still love this game, in fact I don’t think it necessarily needs a story. Sure it would probably make the game a little more interesting but considering how much work you have to put in on your farm, I rarely found myself with many days where I was lost on what I could or should be doing.
For anyone who is a fan of “Harvest” games like this, Stardew Valley is a must play and even to those who have never played a game like this I highly recommend it. Not to mention the price extremely reasonable, I got it on steam for only $15 and I’m over 30 hours into it!