The first time I tried Stardew Valley in 2016, I just couldn’t get into it. It felt like a grindfest, it felt like a timesink, and it felt like I never had enough time in the days. I futzed around for a while, ran out of inventory space from all my tools, and gave the game up.
But perhaps my life was just too hectic back then. In the new pandemic-ridden reality of 2021, I suddenly found a whole new appreciation for Stardew Valley.
Sow the land
Stardew Valley is a shameless Harvest Moon clone who nevertheless does such a good job you can’t help but love it. The player controls a factory worker who quits their job to take over their grandpa’s run-down farm. Along the way, you’ll make new friends with townsfolk, explore exciting locales, raise animals, and discover secrets.
One of the main complaints I see levied against Stardew is the day/night cycle. The in-game clock moves very fast, and you often won’t have enough time to do everything you wanted to do that day. The main thing to keep in mind is that Stardew is not a race; there’s no penalties for being slow and the game will happily wait for you to catch up. And there are always new things to unlock, so you shouldn’t rush.
And on the other hand, the lack of time in each day means you’ll never get bored. There are always multiple long-term objectives you’re working on, but they’re usually of the “did my bit today, time to wait till tomorrow” fashion. Which means paradoxically you still have plenty of time to go exploring.
One mechanic they added since I first tried the game was the ability to choose from 7 different farm types. Most specialize in a specific type of output, be it farming, fishing, mining, etc. I chose the Wilderness farm because I always prefer combat playstyles and enjoyed having to fend for myself whenever it got dark outside. In general, the game does an incredible job valuing all possible playstyles. Nothing is forcing you to be a jack-of-all-trades who masters every gameplay loop.
At many moments in the gameplay, you’ll be forced to choose between two options without a chance to go back. The biggest one involves choosing to either develop the local run-down community center, or help a Wal-Mart pastiche take over the town. At first, I couldn’t see why they even had the latter option. It goes against the message of the game, the player character’s backstory, and pigeonholes you into farming gold over experiencing everything the game has to offer. It was only on my second playthrough where I realized this was perfect for players who want to specialize. Since everything eventually turns into money, the Joja-Mart route is great for single-minded farmers (or speedruns). The game fully expects you to choose the community center for your first playthrough, and in fact the alternative’s presence adds value to that choice.
All in all, I didn’t expect to like Stardew Valley as much as I eventually did. It really is a remarkable achievement for a single developer to accomplish. And best of all, he recently announced that he’s releasing another game soon! We don’t have a ton on info on Haunted Chocolatier yet, beyond the premise and his promise that it will be more unique than a Harvest Moon clone. I’m intrigued by his claim that, “if Stardew Valley mostly channeled the energy of the sun, Haunted Chocolatier channels the energy of the moon.” Whatever it is, I’ll certainly be getting it when it comes out!