I spent the whole weekend in a small town working on a farm. At least, that’s what I like to tell people before I reveal the actuality of the situation. Really I was just playing a recent Steam purchase: Stardew Valley.
As you probably know, it’s a modern take on the original Harvest Moon with something the SNES game didn’t have: fun. It borrows just enough from other (mainly newer Harvest Moon) games to elevate it to a level above what Marvelous Entertainment or Natsume have been able to achieve.
I recall playing the original game and thinking, “this feels more like work than a game” (just like Farmville, but without teasing you with greatness that never materializes unless you harass your friends). I filled out the entire field with crops and it took most of every game day (with the help of the hot spring and endless midnight) to take care of things. That didn’t change when I purchased the Game Boy Color version. In fact it felt like it was less of a game because you couldn’t interact with NPCs/love interests as you could previously. Thankfully it turned out things were improving when I tried out Harvest Moon: Animal Parade on the Wii. There was more of a story and I felt myself getting into it a little.
Stardew Valley actually fixes the linearity at the beginning in some of (if not all) the Harvest Moon games. You are often forced to talk to everyone in town before certain things start to happen. Stardew Valley incorporates a quest log feature that allows multiple things to be happening at once. I didn’t finish talking to everyone until halfway through the first month. I didn’t even care!
It has all the standard fare you would expect from a clone of Harvest Moon. You can get married, spelunk in the mine, fish, raise crops and animals, decorate your house, etc etc. I never found myself bored or feeling braindead from repetitive tasks. It even has a crafting element akin to Terraria and Starbound except you don’t make a workbench first (blasphemy??).
No its not all sunshine and rainbows. The game was a 4-year-long love letter to Harvest Moon fans created by a one-person-team, which in itself is an impressive feat. However I found two glaring issues in the execution. One was the inability to push NPCs out of the way. I got stuck once because a character walked up behind me at a shop checkout. I couldn’t move until they moved away as part of their scripted routine. Another time I couldn’t smelt some ore because my cat was sleeping in front of the furnace (you find out, and get used to, early on you have to be humping distance from most things to interact with them). The other issue was the summer “ambience”. It sounded like someone set up professional recording equipment around a rotting animal carcass that attracted all the neighborhood flys. Then as you’re hearing this a familiar Window’s ‘ba-dunk!’ sound comes through as though someone plugged in a usb drive. It made me think something was wrong with my computer at first, but it kept happening at about the same interval.
In between family things, like taking care of my daughter and figuring out what to make for dinner, I somehow managed to get over 20 hours, 90 mine-levels, and 2 1/2 seasons into the game. I even have two of the bundle quest books (extra tasks from their version of the obligatory magical creatures) nearly complete. All in all it felt like a pretty good weekend, and I’m looking forward to more.
For the sake of disclosure: I paid full price out of pocket for the game.
Edit: I had intended to add pictures, but really, the internet is full of them. My farm is nothing special or unique.
I have officially “finished” the main story as of a couple weeks ago and only have achievement-like things to accomplish. I still feel glad to have entered Stardew Valley after 160+ hours of playtime, but won’t visit often until I’m curious enough as to what an update holds.