The Wonders of Stardew Valley

Jack Thistlewood, Writer

Aside from my recent reading addiction (The Expanse is a great series that I highly recommend), video games are another common occurrence. Particularly, the latest title occupying my gaming addiction is Stardew Valley, a game made over the course of four years by ConcernedApe (the alias of Eric Barone) and published by Chucklefish. 

Stardew Valley is a farming simulator in the same vein of the Harvest Moon series – primarily, the player owns a farm that they can do just about anything on. Of course, this isn’t the only gameplay available; there’s also fishing, foraging, mining, and combat, not including the myriad of other gameplay options there are. However, before diving into what I love about each and every one of those aspects, I’d like to discuss the graphic and audio choices, both of which heavily impact every other part of the game.

When it comes to graphics, Stardew Valley is a game that can be astonishingly complex. With graphics, the pixel aesthetic appears quite simple. This is before you realize that the player can freely customize a huge amount of aspects of their in-game counterpart. Then there’s the fact that the enormous variety of other mechanics also have entirely personalized sprites. Putting aside the amount of beautiful appearances though, the pixelated graphics do wonders for the game’s atmosphere. The country aesthetic in much of the game helps to give off the air that the player can do what they want, when they want. Along with the game’s story (or what constitutes for one), this helps in contributing to the aspect of freedom. Both the player and the character are here to get away from the stresses of life elsewhere.

What compounds on this air of freedom is the music and sounds. Whether the tune is bright and cheery with spring or quiet and composed with winter, the ambient music allows for a calming atmosphere with no end of appreciation. In fact, I would easily say that the soundtrack for the game, about two-and-a-half hours with ninety-one songs, is entirely worth purchasing. With the gorgeous groundwork laid out, we can move onto the meat of Stardew Valley: gameplay.

The first thing that Stardew Valley brings to mind is farming. Bearing the brunt of gameplay, the player must clear their farm, till the ground, plant the seeds, and dutifully water them until they’re ripe for harvest. This isn’t to mention that the player can also build coops and barns for a variety of animals, all of whom also produce items capable of profit. Farming is probably the aspect of gameplay most affected by the change of seasons – seed selection changes according to season, and crops can’t survive out of their respective season. Once the player gets to endgame levels, though, they can also ferment their cream of the crop to get even more profit.

Before players can hit that level of min-max profiteering (see also: maximizing output of high-reward items and minimizing chances for error), they most likely will dip their toes into fishing. Fishing is a decisive topic in gaming; it shows up all over the place, and you either love it or hate it. Fishing in Stardew Valley is no exception. At first, catching fish is a daunting task. The margin for error is quite small, and the difficulty of some fish species is not something that can be tackled anywhere near immediately.  Once players become accustomed to the mini game and start increasing their skills, though, the immediate profit of fishing can be a lifesaver for earlier months in-game. Not to mention that reeling in catfish is one of my favorite experiences… for some odd reason.

The other activity Stardew Valley performs in the main areas of the map is foraging. Chopping trees and harvesting the wild items throughout the area serves as a simple way to pass time and find ingredients that would be difficult to come by otherwise. On the flip side of this, players can enter the mines, where mining and combat come into play.

Jack Thistlewood
A player has found a leek, which they’ll later complete a quest with in Stardew Valley.

The procedurally-generated terrain of the mines exists as a way to get items that can’t be found elsewhere. Ores and minerals are instrumental in expanding the farm and the efficiency of the player, and combat helps to make this process dramatically more proactive. This also isn’t to mention an unlockable infinite version of the mines, which increases dangers tenfold in return for some of the best items in the game.

Jack Thistlewood
A player is in ferocious combat with a green slime down in the Mines in Stardew Valley.

While being a hermit who only walks into town to buy seeds is a lucrative business practice, Stardew Valley also boasts a slew of townsfolk to interact with. Many of these characters have interesting traits, ranging from a person who casually eats diamonds to strange shadow people to the regular fisherman. All of these characters have individual events and story-lines, though a normal game will require time to get through them all. On the plus side, a good chunk of the characters are potential spouses, and Stardew Valley allows for same-sex marriage.

Speaking of story-lines, Stardew Valley has one – even if it is a background set piece. The story itself is lackluster, mostly due to the lack of restraints given to the player, but what little there is makes itself a story based around the Community Center. Early on, players are given the option of inputting various items (many of which can only be acquired at certain times) into ‘bundles’ in the Community Center. Upon completing these bundles, various rewards (several of which are absolutely necessary for end-game prospects) are given, and, once all of the bundles have been completed, the demonic corporate entity known as Joja is kicked out of town for good. However, players can also choose to purchase a Joja membership, which causes the Community Center to be demolished and a Joja warehouse to be established in its place. In this case, players can pay for the large rewards that bundles give, but smaller rewards are lost altogether. 

While the sheer volume of the original Stardew Valley is astonishing, the community surrounding the game has taken it upon themselves to add even more content. In a process known as ‘modding’, a person can modify (and even add) parts of the game, completely reworking mechanics or creating aesthetic changes. In an attempt to remain unbiased on the subject, I will refrain from mentioning any specific creators, but it should be known that these additional layers can custom-tailor the game to one’s experience.

Stardew Valley was released all the way back in February of 2016. Originally, it was only available on services catering to PCs. Recently, though, Stardew Valley has broadened its demographic and has been made available on nearly all of the modern day’s consoles, including the app store. At this point in time, my addiction to this game has gone rampant. Approximately 250 hours worth of it, in fact. Even now, starting a new farm and re-exploring all of the features this game has to offer is a blissful experience that I can wholeheartedly recommend.