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  • Chad Myers

Game Review #300: Stardew Valley (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Chad M.

Developer: ConcernedApe

Publisher: Chucklefish LTD

Category: Role-Playing, Simulation

Release Date: 10.05.2017

Price (at time of review): $14.99

Buy Stardew Valley from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

If You Build It They Will Come

When I first bought my Switch, I was so happy to try out this hybrid system that so many had told me was the “IT” system to have moving forward. So, once I got it in my hands, the next question I started asking everyone was what games were the must own games that I just had to have. Of course, I heard the big guns like Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but one game that kept coming up over and over again was a small indie title that was digital only, and also not exclusive to the Switch. That game is Stardew Valley, which was solely developed by Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone, and published by Chucklefish.

What made this such a hot item on the Switch were two things, with the first being that this was a mobile console and it seemed to pair very well with the mobile play-style on the go. Yes, this eventually saw a release on the PS Vita as well, and don’t stone me to death, but that system is dead in the water, and the Nintendo Switch is the hottest-selling console in the world. Now, this normally wouldn’t be my go-to game, but after the hype, I requested to give it a go, and this is my take on Stardew Valley.

Oh Yeah, A Harvest Is Coming Now

So, I mentioned before that there were two reasons that made this game such a hot ticket, and now I’ll jump into number two: Nintendo is known for having a tight knit following for certain titles—and not a small-in-numbers following at all—and two of those titles are Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon. Now, only Animal Crossing is a Nintendo-owned property, but that doesn’t mean that most people don’t think of Nintendo directly when they think of Harvest Moon. Sure, it’s seen life on other consoles, like PlayStation, but it’s a mainstay on the Nintendo consoles; so, when that space isn’t filled, someone will fill it, and boy oh boy, Stardew Valley fills that Harvest Moon farming void, and even more so with the Animal Crossing community intertwining—but more on that later.

This isn’t the first time that Chucklefish has made this move, as their latest title, Wargroove, filled the void left by not having any presence for the fans of Advance Wars, with not only having the cutting-edge fortitude to jump into this vacant space and grow new IPs, but to also pour in so much love and dedication that it makes their titles overflow with a hundred hours—or usually more—of gaming bliss.

Who Needs “The Man”? Time To Get Away!

Our story starts off simple, and it is one we’ve heard before that rings true to many in different ways. Your grandfather is lying on his death bed, and as you’re spending your last moments with your loved one, he tells you to take this letter and to open it when the world’s got you down and you need a change, as was the case for him at one point.

The game fast-forwards a little to you sitting in an office, in a tiny cubicle at a huge corporation, and as work is piling up and life is starting to really get you down, you remember the letter that your grandfather gave you. Once you open the letter, you find out that he left you his farm in Stardew Valley, the place he himself retreated to years ago when the rat race of the world got him down and he chose a simpler life. Now you have chosen the same, as you leave your 9 to 5 to live a more content life in Stardew Valley.

Get It Together & Start Working

So, I have to preface something before jumping into this part: once I started, I played for about 6 to 8 days in game days before I decided I was going all about this game all wrong and decided to scrap things and start over all the way from the beginning and take a different approach. I say that because I went in thinking it would be open in some respects, but very linear in gameplay or objectives, and oh was I so wrong!

So, at the start, you choose your name, gender, and what you look like, down to eye color, facial features, and what you will wear—I even gave my guy a beer belly, and he looked pretty spot on—and I was surprised by how I felt I was in the game getting things done. Before long, you arrive by bus in Pelican Town, which is located in Stardew Valley where your farm is located.

You are greeted by the local carpenter and the mayor, where you then see your farm—I named mine Red Rooster—and it is in utter disarray, as it has been neglected since grandpa passed and hasn’t been around to take care of things. Right in front of your farm house there is over grown grass, out of control shrubs, tree limbs scattered around, full-grown trees, rocks, and boulders.

The Long & Short of a Working Day

Now, as I stood outside, I immediately realized no one had given me direction and told me what to do, and this never changes, as there is no hand-holding here. You are left to your own devices and made to go at it how you see fit. You wake up every day at 6 a.m., and the day ends at 2 a.m.; and you have to be in bed at that time, or your character will just pass out wherever they are, and you will be penalized.

Each in game day lasts roughly 20 minutes, but even with that, you have to keep an eye on your energy meter, as doing tasks will chip away at it, and if it runs out, you will pass out. So, as you look out at the land, you can use the tools you have to begin clearing the land, using your backpack to carry items you receive. I personally cleared away everything directly in front of my farm house, and then tilled some land so I could plant seeds and farm.

As I awoke each day, I’d find letters in my mailbox welcoming me to town and letting me know when something was going to happen, and this is what peaked my interest. I was perfectly content with being a hermit and staying close to home, just farming and relaxing, but the moment I got these letters and I finally stepped off the farm and into town, I found that this is far more than just a farming simulator, this is a life simulator, with what felt limitless in the way of content.

Life Is Happening To Us All

So, saying this is more of a life simulator tells the tale, as you get out of Stardew Valley what you put into it, just like life itself. It didn’t take long to find out the game’s depth of content and gameplay just kept giving back more and more, and that was a staggering feat coming from such a small developer. So, with in my first two weeks (in-game), I’d already started moving around town, meeting the town folk and finding that everyone is like people you’d meet in real life. Not all NPCs are kind and helpful, some are just normal people having a bad day, so maybe they’re grumpy. But, by interacting and giving gifts, you can build relationships that last, and bonds of friendship that pay off just like in real life.

So, in no time at all, I was purchasing seed at the local store, where there is also a calendar telling you of the local town events and when the store might be closed for certain events or holidays. In no time after that, I was introduced to the old man at the pier who gave me my fishing pole—with which, by the way, you can catch and log each type of fish, which will take quite a while—which is just another example of the depth of the game, as I was just scratching the surface and I’d already gained the ability to farm, scavenge, fish, and socialize with the NPCs.

Speaking of life, you can build up more than just your farm. As your relationships grow, you can date and even get married. The game lasts 3 years in game years, and takes around 100 hours to complete, from what I’ve gathered. Though I haven’t reached this feat yet, I look forward to doing so, as I knew only a few weeks in, when I had been invited to the town’s Easter festival where I got to hunt for eggs, that this was so different than what I expected, and I couldn’t wait to find out more.

I came across some ore on accident, and before I knew it, I had a man telling me he could help me use it to make things. This skill will help, as you can strengthen your tools, and it left me wondering how to find more ore. I then found the caves where you can mine for ore, and again, no one tells you anything. Even the story has to be finessed out, and it’s done so organically and naturally. As for the story—which splinters into many directions, but mainly is outside of your day-to-day life—you have to help rebuild the recreational center in town, and also help fight back against the mega-corp threatening to take over the town. Now, none of this is required, but why wouldn’t you fight against “The Man” to save this beautiful little town?

The rec center gave me a lot to do, as that was where I first found out you can be given tasks and missions on top of everything else; and here at the rec center is where I was introduced to the fantasy element of the game—which I didn’t know it had—and at this point, what little of me wasn’t sold was now 100% officially on board. I was ready to help the spirits of the town and battle monsters in the caves, all while coming back to water the crops and build my chicken coop. In short, there is almost no limit to the things you can and will do. The game works to never grow stale and is always adding layers and truly deep interactions to keep you invested.

Audio & Visuals - Updates & Longevity

The soundtrack for Stardew Valley is quaint and extremely charming, with music that really draws you in and makes you feel at ease as you tend to your farm or take on one of the other tasks. There is no voiceover work, as all dialogue is done by text, but the sound effects and music still do such a great job making you feel at home while playing.

The art style is appealing, with its adorable characters and colorful environments paying tribute to 16-bit and 32-bit games, especially JRPGs of past. I was blown away to find out that Barone Ailey not only developed the game by himself over four years in what started out as a fan-made alternative to Harvest Moon—he’d felt the series had taken a nosedive over the years and lost its way—but he also created all the pixel art seen in the game and composed all of the music himself. As you can see, that this was a labor of love for him, and it truly shows in the final product.

Now I say final product, as Barone had gotten to a place where he was comfortable releasing the game back in 2016. He didn’t want to release it early access, and wanted it to be a complete game, but also wanted it to be open-ended so players didn’t feel rushed and could work at their own pace. Since its release on the Nintendo Switch in 2017, the game has seen multiple updates, with the most recent being update 1.3, which enabled multiplayer, amongst other things, like new festivals and more.

Barone is said to have hired a select group of developers to help him keep working on the game, and update 1.4, stated by the developers to be another massive update, is looming. With such attention given to this title, it shows you it will have legs for years to come, and it won’t leave you bored or looking for things to do. With the updates, Barone brings things like certain items and art that are only found on the Nintendo Switch.

Even Fun With Friends

First off, the game supports four-player co-op, and it is a blast to jump in with 1 to 3 friends on a new or existing farm. Each player has their own cabin on the farm, but works cooperatively, whether it’s farming, mining, or the storyline. All the money you accumulate during playing in co-op is shared throughout all the players, though storing things in your own private safes is secure, as you don’t have to worry about someone “borrowing” a rare item and not returning it.

Your individual relationships are your own as well, and they won’t intertwine, leading into some weird awkward situations. As has been established, you can get married in the game, but you can also marry an online player as well, where, if you propose and they say yes, you become engaged. With the multiplayer update, you can now also voice and text chat with one another using color text and tons of Stardew Valley emojis; but if you have friends or family that want to jump in with you and play, you can also choose to play local co-op.

It’s A Wrap!!!

What Eric Barone has been able to do by taking something near and dear to himself, and by expounding upon it to make a deep and enthralling experience that gamers will love, is truly a masterpiece. At its core, it’s a game made with a lot of love, and one I can see myself pouring many more hours into in the years to come, because this one has so much to do; and at the price point of $14.99 (U.S.), this is a full-fledged deep game at an indie price, and one every Switch owner should have in their collection!

Score: 9.5/10

Buy Stardew Valley from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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*Review Code Provided by Chucklefish

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