My Little Life in Stardew Valley: A Review

Seeing Stardew Valley pop up in my suggested games lists over the years, I wasn’t ever sure if I would take the leap and buy it. I found myself regretting one of my last purchases (see my last review about Hello Neighbor) while one of my friends’ comments about this game played through my mind. (In response to someone’s Facebook comment, she stated, “IT’S SUCH A GOOD, SOOTHING GAME!” which I would say is true 99% of the time. Some of the battles can get a little hairy at higher levels, but that’s getting me off track.) It was on sale on the Nintendo Switch eShop at the time, so I decided to go for it. Now, I find myself over 100 hours and three in-game years into my adventure, and I can’t seem to put it down.

The game starts out with you—at least your created game character—working a soul sucking job for a major corporation. You need a change in your life, and you remember that your grandfather had given you something on his death bed, something that you were to open “when you needed it.” See, grandpa had a farm out in the country. It’s fallen into disrepair over the years, but it’s just the kind of change you were looking for. The rest… Well, the rest is your new life in Stardew Valley.

In the vein of games like Harvest Moon—which, full disclosure, I have yet to play—this game is a farming simulator with a charming, top-down, pixel-graphics presentation though I have heard this iteration of the genre brings a lot of innovative twists to the tried and true. For instance, it sounds like there’s a great deal more diversity in your social choices in this game, so you can live whichever life you care to explore. And, unlike Harvest Moon, combat is on the table—or, more accurately, in the mines.

I will say the enemies walk the line between referential and derivative. While the bugs present some form of nuance, RPGs tend to be lousy with the likes of slimes, skeletons, and bats. There are some more unique enemies later on in the game, but it takes a while to get there. And that’s not to say this is necessarily a bad thing; it is a point, however, where the innovative formula feels absent.

Since we’re speaking of bad, though, I will mention a couple of frustrations I have had along the way. These will get fairly specific because, on the whole, this game is pretty damn solid, so I’m nitpicking a bit here:

There should be an “Are you sure?” prompt when giving gifts to other villagers because I cannot tell you how many times I accidentally gave someone fish bait or a piece of garbage when attempting to talk to them. (You need to make sure you have a tool and not an item active when talking to someone; otherwise you just hand them whatever item you have highlighted, for better or worse.) The game has this prompt for food items you can consume yourself, so why not for items you can give to others?

While we’re on the subject of gift giving, I would like to address how easy it can be to give a gift to someone other than your intended target. If you wanted to give a pizza to, say, Sam because it’s one of his favorites (yes, the townsfolk have unique likes and dislikes), but he was standing too close to Abigail—honestly, I don’t know her opinion of pizza, but let’s say she hates it for argument’s sake—there’s nothing in the game to stop you from simply wasting the pizza on someone who will not appreciate it in the slightest. Thankfully there doesn’t seem to be any truly negative consequences in the long run; the disappointed character will simply turn their nose up at your gift and say something snooty or crestfallen. That pizza still cost 600 gold, so I would like it to get in the right hands, thank you very much!

The exhaustion mechanic sneaks up on you, especially since there’s not much warning the first time it happens. If you stay awake into the wee hours of the morning, your character will automatically pass out where they stand at 2 a.m. The first time, though, is a little forgiving in that you probably don’t have much to lose at that point (you always lose some gold and sometimes gold and various items). My main problem is that it will happen to you even on your own property or inside your own home! It appears that you won’t lose anything when inside your own home, but it can still be very frustrating when you’re booking it to your bed only to topple to the floor mere feet away. And there doesn’t seem to be a way around this mechanic,
no energy drink or espresso beverage to keep you going on fumes through an all nighter. I guess that’s the point, to set up an obstacle to keep players wary, but the execution could be ever so slightly better.

But as I said before, I haven’t been able to put this game down. As the seasons in Stardew Valley have turned into years and I’ve expanded my crops and livestock, made friends with my neighbors, and slowly explored the secrets hidden throughout, I’ve found my Switch glued to my hands. Even at 100+ hours of gameplay, I’m still probing the mysteries found in the mines and caves; I’m still finding new products to craft, new crops to grow, or new livestock to raise; I’m still finding out what gifts everyone in town loves or hates, still trying to reach the maximum friendship level with all of my neighbors. Most importantly, I’m still having fun. I haven’t continued this game out of a sense of completionism or a need to gather data for my review. With the few frustrating exceptions mentioned, I have loved every minute of this game, the scenery, the soundtrack, the story, the gameplay.

Just when you think you’ve settled into the pattern, the game will throw something new into the mix: A new neighbor comes home from an extended period away; a new path opens to an unexplored area; a strange note pops up challenging you to delve farther into the mines and caves. And game creator Eric Barone has done a fantastic job creating characters and a world you can latch on to. I’m slowly filling up the friendship hearts of everyone in town so I can see all of their stories unfold, but not out of a sense of necessity; I legitimately want to see how the story evolves and the social scenery changes amongst the folks of Pelican Town. Plus he’s given us some really great bits of filler that don’t feel like filler; they feel like the genuine fabric of world building.

For instance, there are two mini-games you can play at the tavern in town. The first is called Journey of the Prairie King, a SmashTV-style shooter with an Old West aesthetic. The gameplay is phenomenal, my only complaint being the random numbers generator (RNG) can make some of the enemy spawns a little overwhelming. The game itself is great, but there’s a particular piece of music in it that I find transcendent: Every level has a boss fight between your cowboy avatar and another miniature outlaw, and the music for the battle is so perfectly crafted. It’s like a Clint Eastwood movie played through a Super Nintendo. It’s referential while still being fantastically catchy.

The second mini-game isn’t quite as good but is still legitimately playable. Junimo Kart unlocks a little later in the game, so it is not immediately playable upon arrival in Pelican Town. You play as a Junimo, a little forest sprite, riding a mine cart through perilous, crumbling tracks littered with obstacles. There are two modes, a progress mode and an endless mode. The main difference between them is the presence of lives representing how many times you can fail. Progress mode starts with three lives with the ability to gain more throughout while endless mode starts you back at the beginning every time you crash your cart. Endless mode is more about generating points (you rack up points as you move farther along the track and pick up coins) while progress mode is set up more like a story-mode game with levels. My main complaint about this is, again, the RNG, which can create some punishing track formations that feel harsher than most of what JotPK throws at you.

A good chunk of the world building, though, is up to you. You arrange your crops and farm buildings however you would like—I’ve chosen a more haphazard approach, planting around sprinklers I already have set up and filling the holes left by already harvested crops; I’ve seen some very well organized plots with paths and rows of neatly kept produce, and I think to myself, How can anyone find the time for that? In classic Pokémon fashion, you can change the names of your livestock, and I’ve oscillated between clever—at least, I think they’re clever—puns and crudely teenage humor. I have a duck named Launchpad, a cow named Mooleficent, and a goat named Scrotes (ya know, because McGoats?). That is not an exhaustive list of all of them, but I wanted to give you an example of my lovingly, if sophomorically, named flock.

There is something zen about “waking up” every morning on your little country estate to run about harvesting crops, milking cows, collecting eggs, or mowing down long stands of grass with a scythe. Even the rain sounds are calming and meditative. As I said earlier, I 99% agreed with my friend who said this game was good and calming. I’ve needed emergency surgery due to fighting cave monsters one too many times to agree 100%. If you’re at all on the fence about this game, though, I highly recommend it, especially if you like farming/resource management simulators like Harvest Moon, Minecraft, or Terraria. As always, please subscribe at the bottom of the homepage if you want to keep up with all my articles! Thanks for stopping by.

Published by writingrobb

I’m a video gaming cat dad who likes to write.

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