Stardew Valley
Developed by ConcernedApe
Published by Chucklefish
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: “Harvest Moon” all grown up.

“Stardew Valley” is a retro-style farming life simulator made by indie developer ConcernedApe, the one-man studio of Eric Barone, in tribute to “Harvest Moon.” As in the original, they player is tasked with rebuilding their grandfather’s dilapidated old farm in an isolated rural community. Like in “Harvest Moon,” there are a lot of different activities you can do throughout the game, from growing crops and raising livestock to fishing, gathering, mining, and developing relationships with the town citizens. But the game builds on these mechanics and interrogates them in unexpected modern ways.
The player is given their farm in a letter in a cut scene at the beginning of the game, prompting them to quit their job at soulless mega-corporation Joja to pursue a new life in Stardew Valley. But the company has already gotten in a foothold in your new town, in the form of Jojamart, a supermarket that is already squeezing out the local general store. It is up to the player to decide if they want to help Joja take over and turn Stardew Valley into a Joja distribution center, or to drive them off by rebuilding the town’s dilapidated Community Center. Like most of the choices in the game, there is a decision that feels better, but it isn’t quite so black and white. Rebuilding the Center requires delivering a mountain of specific items, while siding with Joja is easier and allows the player the freedom to play however they want.
Rather than just settling in to the fantasy of small-town life, Barone has very thoughtfully examined the issues impacting rural life today and incorporated them into the game. Most NPCs are friendly, but some are hostile and distrustful of outsiders. Depression, substance abuse, and financial hardship and broken homes all play into their stories. Also, the player can choose their farmer’s appearance and gender, and can date and marry NPC’s of either gender, which feels to me like a huge step over “Harvest Moon’s” marriage options, and a natural way to include LGBTQ players.
“Stardew Valley” is one of those games that you will either hate, or will entirely absorb you as you try and delve into all the town’s secrets, find every hidden relationship cutscene, and work to raise the best crops. There are only a few things that bother me about it. One is that trees, rocks and other liter are constantly regenerating on my farm. I feel like I’m spending as much time chopping down the multiplying pine trees as I am watering and planting. The other is that the games doesn’t have a way to buy multiple items at once, a real oversight when I’m buy seeds for huge fields, or trying to buy enough hay to see my cows through the winter. This might not have been a big problem on PC, but on console, having to rapid-fire hit a button is a needless irritation.
“Stardew Valley” is available on Steam and for most major consoles. I played on the Nintendo Switch and I could hardly put it down. It is a perfect chill game for these long autumn nights.

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