Don’t you want to just get away from it all? Drive out to the countryside, live an idyllic life as a farmer, and get away from the corporate pressures of an office job which views you as a drone in a line of drones? Stardew Valley by ConcernedApe, aka Eric Barone, is the perfect release for your cottagecore dreams, with charming characters, relaxing gameplay, regular updates, and a super caring community of modders and gamers at its disposal. But be ready to get your hands dirty!
1 - Visuals
Stardew Valley is the perfect pixel art palette for this gamer’s taste buds. The game is bright and colorful without being jarring or feeling out-of-place with itself. There are subtle color changes and design tweaks as your character changes seasons and areas in the game and your farm slowly changes over the course of an in-game year with advancements, improvements, and additions that you build yourself; all this combines to make the perfect farm for your playstyle. The visuals and UI are also highly-adjustable for personal preference and safety, with snow effects and other visual noise being able to be toggled on and off for anyone with concerns over epileptic triggers.
It’s not often you see this level of customizability and awareness in games, much less a single developer indie title, so for this blend of visuals and usability, it gets 5 stars.
2 - Audio
This game has a variety of tracks, which later can be played wherever a player may want with the utilization of jukeboxes throughout their farm. Fitting with the slightly magical feeling of the game as a whole, much of the music is very relaxing, loopable songs to play in the background as you go about doing your farm chores and exploring the map. With the occasional atmospheric sound, such as distant ‘blubs’ when it rains, or cave sounds like you might find in Minecraft, the music of Stardew Valley maintains player immersion quite well.
For soothing, if not overly remarkable, tunes, Audio gets 4 stars.
3 - Story/Progression
The premise may be straightforward, but it’s a comforting story nonetheless. You inherit a large farm after your Grandfather’s passing, an escape from the humdrum of corporate working life at Joja. You move out to see the land of Stardew Valley and the nearby Pelican Town, a charming place full of small town folk getting by. With 2 festivals each season and numerous unlockables via friendship events or heart events with the various villagers, there’s almost always something to pursue and work towards, a larger story to chip away at and explore. And with free updates to the game even 5 years later, there’s more and more story to work towards with each new farm you open.
For an expansive but low-stress story, Story gets 4 stars.
4 - Gameplay
Stardew Valley has seen several updates to its usability and performance over the years, with improvements made to the crafting system, relationship systems, and progression points throughout the game to better help balance and accommodate for all the different styles of play players use. For example, for many, the long and slow story arch was a little too long, so players focused on a custom challenge called the ‘One Year’ challenge where they would attempt to complete the entire Community Center in the first year of play rather than work towards it over several seasons and years. Rather than discourage this unusual mode of play, new features and customization options were added to allow players to adjust the starting parameters of a farm to make this more reliably achievable rather than purely luck-based, as was the case in the past. While the game encourages you to do a little of everything, there is no “wrong” way to play the game as long as you’re having fun.
For continuous steps towards improvement and fun replayability, Gameplay earns 4.5 stars.
5 - Context
One of the most outstanding aspects of Stardew Valley is its community and popularity. What started as a single developer, single player indie title on PC has since expanded to Switch, Xbox, and most Playstation platforms with multiplayer options and split screen modes for people to play together even more. With over 1k active discussions on Steam alone and hundreds upon hundreds of available mods ranging from UI and design tweaks to entire game rewrites and expansions, it’s fair to say that the Stardew Valley community is alive and active. Many mods are built to help accommodate players, with numerous mods enhancing the playability and fun of the game as a whole, especially for disabled communities.
For a wonderful community, and supportive fan/creator relationship, Context gets 5 stars.
Stardew Valley is a wonderful farming sim with charming NPCs, cute graphics, and hours upon hours of replayability. Farm, explore, and live how you want, nurturing your grandfather’s overgrown fields into a successful farm, and build relationships with the various townsfolk to learn their stories and dreams all of their own. As of writing this review, I have 1,509 hours invested in this game, and I only see that number going up in the future, so to say I enjoy the game may be putting it mildly. I love it. And to all you naysayers, I say: try a farmhand life of your own and just watch the time slip away.