Thursday, December 22, 2016

Stardew Valley Review (XONE)

In my younger days the Harvest Moon series never really appealed to me.  It seemed tedious and boring so I couldn’t get into it.  In my adult years, on the other hand, I’m happy and willing to spend hundreds of hours playing Farming Simulator, so boredom and tedium don’t appear to be an issue anymore, which is probably why Stardew Valley has completely taken over my life since it was released on Xbox One.  This oldschool 16-bit Harvest Moon-style farming RPG offers great presentation, a wealth of things to do in addition to raising crops, and an undeniable charm that most modern games just can’t match.  I’m totally in love with Stardew Valley.  See all of the details here in our full Xbox One review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Chucklefish
  • Developer: Concerned Ape
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Farming RPG
  • Pros: Great oldschool visuals; fantastic soundtrack; solid gameplay with lots of things to do; yearly events
  • Cons: Occasionally awkward controls
  • MSRP: $15

Stardew Valley begins with your created character wanting to escape the hustle and bustle and annoyances of the city in favor of some good ol’ country living at a small farm you inherited from your Grandfather.  Once you arrive in the small town of Stardew Valley, what you do next is totally up to you. 

Farming is an obvious first step, and a good way to make money, but you have to clear away all of the overgrown trees and grass and break apart rocks in order to have a big enough space to farm.  Then you till the soil with a hoe, plant seeds, water them with a watering can, and in a few in-game days you have produce to sell.  Then rinse and repeat until you go crazy.  Each season of the year has different crops to grow as well as different wild plants to collect, different fish to catch, and much more so there is always something new to do.  You can also upgrade your house, build new farm buildings, and even get crazy into landscaping and turn your property into a beautifully manicured garden full of trees and flowers.  It is totally up to you.

Stardew Valley has more to do than just farming, though, as it also offers river, lake, and ocean fishing with multiple fish species to catch, mining where you go deep into monster-infested mines to collect various ores to upgrade your tools with, and there is also an extensive social aspect in the game as well.  You can make friends with the 28+ characters living in the town and even romance and marry someone.  There is a museum to fill with minerals and artifacts you dig up.  Town social events that happen at set times every season.  Merchants that only appear on certain days.  Special missions given by townsfolk to help them out.  The most interesting side quest is rebuilding the community center in town by collecting specific crops and items and fish.  By completing these specific collections you open up new things like minecarts that help you travel around town faster and even a bus that takes you to a brand new area full of stuff to do.

That really is the genius of Stardew Valley – it doesn’t force you to do anything you don’t want to.  If farming is boring, don’t do it.  Make your money mining or fishing instead.  Your best bet to make the most money is, obviously, to do a little bit of everything as you have plenty of time during each gameplay day to get a lot accomplished, but you don’t have to.  The thing is, though, that pretty much everything you do in Stardew Valley is pretty darn fun so you’ll want to experience everything the game has to offer.

Stardew Valley does have some quirks you have to get used to, but nothing that will stop you from having fun.  The game was built for the PC first and the console versions still have a weird hybrid control scheme where gameplay things are mapped to the controller like you’d expect but you still use a mouse-style cursor to navigate menus.  It isn’t optimal, but you get used to it.  Also a little wonky is that the farming tools don’t always hit where you expect them to so it is advised to turn on the option for a tool cursor in the menu so you know exactly what square of land you’re going to hit.  The fishing mini-game is also kind of crazy frustrating at first as you have to keep the fish you’re catching in a small green bar as you reel it in by tapping or holding the “X” button.  Honestly, fishing sucks at first because it is hard.  As you play and level up your fishing skill and get better poles, however, it becomes a lot easier and more enjoyable.

Once you get into the rhythm of daily life in Stardew Valley, it becomes an extremely addictive game where real-time hours fly by as you’re farming and fishing and mining.  Aspects of it can certainly be considered tedious and boring, but pretty much everything you do is accomplishing something.  You’re making money or fixing up the community center or filling the museum with artifacts so there is a great sense of satisfaction with almost everything you do.  You always have a goal so you’re compelled to keep playing and playing and playing.

It is worth noting that Stardew Valley launched on Xbox One with some issues, namely a glitch that caused the game to freeze when you tried to proceed to Year 2, but that and the other performance issues have been patched out and the game is perfectly fine and playable now.  The major glitches are gone and you can buy with confidence.

The presentation in Stardew Valley is very, very appealing with a 16-bit graphical style and the sprites for everything look fantastic.  Everything is clear and easy to identify even though it’s all really just a few little pixels.  The sound effects and music are also absolutely pitch perfect for the game.

All in all, Stardew Valley is an easy game to fall in love with that offers compelling and satisfying gameplay across a wide variety of tasks that are all fun and worthwhile.  The presentation is awesome and the sheer amount of gameplay hours you can get out of it for the $15 price make it pretty much a no-brainer.  If you loved oldschool Harvest Moon games, or if you love modern day Farming Simulator, there is a lot to like in Stardew Valley.  It is simply awesome and I highly, highly recommend it for a purchase.