"You Should Try" is a series of articles where I'll showcase you a game I really enjoy while explaining what exactly makes it fun. This can be any game, new or old, indie or AAA, the only requirement is that it has to be something I've found myself greatly enjoying and in need of sharing with the world.
Today I think you should try Stardew Valley - a Harvest Moon inspired country life simulator that will have you create a paradise out of broken sticks and piles of rubble. It features some lovely visuals, a calm and relaxing gameplay pace, a unique cast of characters, plenty of activities for any type of player, and perhaps most importantly, enough content to keep you busy for dozens of hours.
Welcome to Stardew Valley!
But before you start mining for gold and enslaving forest spirits to run your futuristic mega-factory, you will need to rebuild your family's long-abandoned farm. When you first arrive this task might seem next to impossible given that the 'farm' is basically a bunch of weeds, rocks, and decaying trees strewn about in what I can only describe as a "bloody mess". However, with enough work and dedication even this nightmarish hodgepodge of garbage can be transformed into something beautiful. And it is this process of watching something amazing grow out of absolute nothingness, purely due to your own efforts, that is perhaps the most appealing part of Stardew Valley.
Unfortunately, trying to rebuild an entire farm is a costly business, and when you first arrive to Pelican Town you will be as poor as a church mouse, so don't get any grand ideas just yet. In order to get some actual money you will need to pick up and master one of the oldest professions out there - farming! Given that Stardew Valley is designed to be as simple and relaxing as possible the farming system isn't very complex, but there is a surprising degree of planning required in order to make it work in your favor.
Unless you plan on growing rocks, you're going to need to get this place into shape
You have to ensure you clear out enough land for all your plants to grow, you have to take time out of your busy in-game day to water them so that they may thrive, you have to protect them against weeds and crows or else you might lose your entire field, and so forth. Naturally, each plant is also slightly different, so some will take ages to grow but give you a massive payoff, while other will grow constantly but only give meager returns on your investment. Choosing the right type of plant to grow, as well as the amount you are willing to take care of, is an important part of Stardew Valley. If you plan things out perfectly you will be able to achieve a nice and consistent growth, eventually reaching a point where you can automate most of the previously 'annoying' tasks. On the other hand, if you rush things too much and decide to grow way more than you are capable of supporting, you are going to be spending the majority of your in-game days as a high-functioning zombie, completely stuck in an endless cycle of work-sleep-work.
If all of this sounds complicated, worry not as you can easily get a grip on everything within an hour or two of starting up Stardew Valley. The important thing is to not worry about your profit margins and future prospects, but to instead grow as much as you're happy to support. It might take you slightly longer to get to the "end game" this way, but Stardew Valley has quite literally no time-limited events, so feel free to go as slow and steady as you wish - just make sure you are having fun!
My very first farm was a complete mess, but learning the ropes is half the fun!
The reason overworking yourself is a bad idea is because Stardew Valley uses an energy system in order to regulate how much stuff you can do in a single day. So watering your crops, chopping down trees, crushing boulders, or even fishing - all of this requires a certain amount of energy. While this might sound like a limiting factor that's only here to annoy you, its purpose is to slow down the pace of the game so that you can spend less time milling around your farm, and more time out in the world talking to the friendly locals.
Much like Harvest Moon from which Stardew Valley draws most of its inspiration, all of the people you meet have their own personalities and an interesting tale to tell. And much like the real world, everyone will be slightly weary of the crazy guy that smells like poo and carries around 50 cabbages. In order to learn more about these people you will need to invest some time into building up your relationship, either by chatting with them, or just by giving them a small gift. Getting to know someone will probably take you a couple of in-game years, but along the way you will be rewarded with numerous unique interactions and plenty of ever-changing dialogue. As such, the whole process never feels like a grind, but more of a interesting journey.
I can't say I expected to see Stardew Valley tackle these sort of serious issues
And speaking of relationships, there are also plenty of characters you can romance and eventually marry, both male and female. The process is pretty much the same as befriending them, but with a couple of unique twists and turns thrown in to spice things up. Marriage in Stardew Valley is nothing special, however, so if you don't feel like bonding with anyone there's no need to worry about ignoring it as you're not missing out on any extra content. But if you decide to tie the knot, be prepared to spend a whole lot of time getting to know your beloved, their wishes, thoughts, likes and dislikes, and so forth.
While I have very few complaints with Stardew Valley, there is one very big problem related to both friendships and marriage that I simply must mention - the guys are boring, grumpy twats! On the female side of the cast you have a quirky scientist that's positively adorable, a struggling artist trying to make a name for herself while living in complete poverty, a teacher doing her very best to make a positive impact on the world, and my favorite gal Abigail who likes eating rocks!
But... I just gave you an amethyst...
As for the guys, I couldn't give less of a damn about any of them besides Fabio Elliott, who moved to Pelican Town in order to reignite his passion for writing. I'm not even talking from a romantic point of view here, I'm talking from a purely "this guy is cool, I want to be buddies with him" perspective. You have a whiny guy that never leaves the house (as if this town needed two of us!), a whiny guy that spends most of his time drinking, a generic jock character that only ever exercises and plays with his football, a doctor that spends most of his day working and whinging about not having enough money, and one guy whose personality is so bland I can't even remember what he does outside of play in a band.
Stardew Valley was entirely written and designed by one guy, so to see nearly all of the male cast this insufferable is quite a surprise to me. You would think that Concerned_Ape (the developer) would have trouble writing women, but they are some of the best characters out there! As for the younger male cast... well, they exist! I mean, they do eventually open up to you after you spend hours getting to know them, but even then they aren't someone I would see my self hanging around with. The only guy I ended up visiting frequently was Elliott, who at the very least was able to talk about more than himself and how hard it is to live in an idyllic village with magical forest spirits. So if you were hoping to marry some of the male cast, I'm afraid you're out of luck unless you don't mind constant winging, in which case you at least have plenty of choice!
No whining and an interesting backstory? Elliott is the man!
But if you don't feel like talking to people, you'll be glad to hear that don't have to! You can instead take up fishing, forage through the woods in search of wild fruit and flowers to supplement your income, or don your adventuring gear and head into the ooze-filled mines. All three of these activities play second fiddle to the farming and social aspects of Stardew Valley, but they are rather effective at staving away that feeling of repetition you get after growing the same type of crop on the same patch of land for the umpteenth time.
Outside of being the place you go to when you're tired of watching turnips grow, the mines are also the only way for you to acquire the resources you need for some of the more advanced technology. So if you want fully automated sprinklers that allow you to be as lazy as possible, you're going to need to carve your way through hordes of monsters in order to get to the precious ore. But if you're hoping the combat is going to be as strategic and action-packed as in the Zelda series, I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you once more.
Stardew Valley, as I've said numerous times now, is designed to be as relaxing as possible, which means that the combat revolves around one single button you constantly mash. You are still limited by your health and available energy, so the combat is not as easy as you would think, but its fairly brainless and with very little in terms of weapon variety. If these sort of battles were the entirety of Stardew Valley I would be rightfully angry, but given that they are purely a side-attraction you undertake every couple of days I much more willing to accept their simplicity. Its still not great, but at least its a nice diversion every now and then.
Stardew Valley is the premier slime-murdering simulator
And for those among you that are as obsessed with efficiency as I am, there is one area of Stardew Valley designed with this sort of playstyle in mind - the Community Center. Early on the Community Center will be a run-down eyesore of a building, but as you pour in expensive and exclusive materials it will slowly take on a much grander visage, and eventually even end up being fully restored.
Completely upgrading the Community Center is not something you can do within a single day, or even a single in-game year, but it is an excellent goal for us 'tryhards' given that it requires materials from every single element of Stardew Valley. So if you wish to upgrade the Community Center to the very end, and also collect all of the rewards you get for doing so, you're going to need to carefully plan your entire year in order to not miss some of the season-exclusive requirements. Obviously you can just take multiple years in order to finish it, nothing will stop you from doing so, but completing it in the first couple of years is a nice little challenge for those players that naturally gravitate towards being as efficient as humanly possible.
This place needs a lot of work, but its incredibly satisfying to watch it get repaired
Even though the Harvest Moon series has had a decade to perfect this type of gameplay, as well as entire development studio working on it, I can comfortably say that Stardew Valley is the better example of the genre. Many of the annoying features from Harvest Moon have been replaced with player-friendly ones, there is a lot more variety in gameplay and farm styles, and most importantly, the end-game is much more intricate and ridiculous. But even if you disagree with Stardew Valley being the better of the two 'series', I think its still important to celebrate its achievements given that it was developed in its entirety by one guy - Eric Barone!
Personally, I had a great deal of fun with Stardew Valley so far, especially since its one of the rare few games where its almost impossible to miss out on interesting events by either being too curious, or too lazy. So if you're up for a relaxing romp through the countryside and don't feel like stressing out about being the very best, then you might just want to consider grabbing Stardew Valley.
And if you're looking for more interesting games to play, may I suggest trying Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. It is a combat orientated RPG that is so well designed it practically ended up creating a genre of its own! It features an expansive and interconnected world, plenty of viable playstyles and weapon choices, a difficulty curve that will always keep you on your toes, as well as just the right amount of frustration to make each victory feel all the more glorious!