Dear Eric Barone,
How dare you make me enjoy farming. Stardew Valley has no right being as amazing as it is.
This is the letter I would send to Eric Barone if I had his address. It more or less sums up perfectly how I feel about Stardew Valley, the indie smash that came right out of left field and took everyone by surprise. It really is an amazing game. It’s a love letter to the lowly. It’s a masterpiece penned in the ink of the mundane. It’s so superbly simple that I just fucking love it!
But why?! Why do I love a game based on an activity that I hate so much?! I don’t want to farm! EVER! So why on earth have I spent 40+ hours doing exactly that, in the wonderfully realised village of Pelican Town?!
Stardew Valley begins with the lead character inheriting a plot of land from his recently dead grandfather. From here, you more or less create your own story. Do you want to get married and settle down with a farm full of animals? Go for it trooper. Perhaps you are more of a loner, and would prefer to farm some parsnips and navigate the treacherous caves in search of rare and valuable minerals and artefacts. Or maybe you want to be a big gay lumberjack! Whose only wish is to grow the best crops you can, and give them to the local townspeople, while fixing up the run-down community centre with your husband.
Or maybe, you want to do all of that, because you are a farming GOD.
Graphics are inspired by the 16 bit retro era and looks good. Nothing to get too excited about as it seems like every second indie game being released these days is inspired by the same era of gaming. So whilst Stardew Valley is colourful, vibrant and full of heart, it’s not reinventing the wheel in any areas. Meaning I would place it in the higher-middle end of the graphics pack within the current retro revival craze. In saying that, each season is beautifully realised, especially Fall Autumn. The rich reds and earthy browns really make Pelican Town feel like a warm and friendly place. You can imagine the hint of charcoal in the air as everyone’s wood fires leak out their chimney tops. In quite stark contrast to this is winter, In which everything is dead, bleak and lifeless. The crispness of the white is clean, yet destructive. I’m honestly struggling to remember the last time that I saw seasons within a game, that felt like real seasons and I am at a loss, Stardew Valley actually may have the best example of seasonal weather that I have experienced.
The soundtrack, just like the rest of the game, has a great deal of love put into it. You can really tell that Eric Barone spent a great deal of time perfecting each and every note, making sure that the tone fits with the season and that each ambient sound fits with the overall feeling of the game. I guess I should probably mention at this point that the entirety of Stardew Valley, was designed and programmed by a single man; Eric Barone. And it shows, the entire game reads like a love letter to the 16 bit rpg genre and the music is no exception. My only gripe with the game’s music, is that the custom volume level you have set, only comes into effect once you have actually loaded into your saved game. Meaning if you are like me and have the overall PC volume turned up very loud and manage volume levels based on individual applications, you might walk away with a few perforated eardrums during the games opening sequence. As it will blast out your speakers/headphones at 100% volume until you load into your game where you have appropriately set the master volume at a much more tolerable 10%.
It appears to take roughly 40 hours of gameplay to complete a single year within Stardew Valley, meaning the games theoretical 2 year ending in which you are evaluated and obtain a rank, should take around 80 hours. The farming fun doesn’t stop there though! Players are able to continue playing after the game’s ‘ending’ with the apparent inclusion of an endless mode at a later date, according to a Q&A statement by Eric Barone himself.
Currently there is an evaluation event after 2 years to determine whether you’ve earned the title of “Stardew Hero”. It’s not really that important, though… you get to keep playing as long as you want afterward. I would love to keep adding more and more content with time. It’s definitely my plan if SV ends up being a success! I am already moving the game towards an “endless” system (e.g. dynamic personalities/schedules for the townspeople), and it will only become more like that in the future. There are so many possibilities!
Filling those 80 hours may seem like a tall order when you consider that the game is more or less a farming simulator but I promise you, those 80 hours will slip by incredibly quickly. Pelican Town offers a lot more than just pulling up parsnips. There are festivals to prepare for, townspeople to befriend and get romantically involved with. There’s fishing to be done, upgrades to purchase for your player, your house and your farm. There are animals to purchase and breed, there are mines to explore. There is so much to do that the atmosphere can get downright frenetic sometimes, and that is a very good thing.
I could probably talk about Stardew Valley for another few hours. But I don’t want to, I want you to go download the game and play it for yourself. I want you to fall in love with Pelican Town the same way I did, by witnessing the charm, the heart and all the warmth that has gone into creating this amazing, seemingly little yet startlingly large game. Plus, I have a parsnip crop that I need to harvest.
Go play Stardew Valley.