Stardew Valley started out as a fun little side project for creator Eric Barone, something to wile away the hours in between working as an usher in a movie theatre. 9 years later, it has sold over 10 million copies, made many critics top ten lists, gotten a 10/10 rating on Steam, and gathered a dedicated fanbase. Here’s why it should be the next game for you to pick up.
It all began back in 2011, with Eric ‘ConcernedApe’ Barone fresh out of college, armed with a computer science degree. After finding it hard to get work, he turned to part time work to pay the bills, and started working on the game in the meantime as a way of honing his skills to attract potential employers. Over the course of 4 years, Barone lovingly created what would become Stardew Valley, using only his old laptop on a tiny desk in his living room. It was an entirely solo effort, from the story to the characters to the music to the aesthetic. Initially created as a fan-made alternative to Nintendo’s Harvest Moon, the RPG soon grew into a brilliant game in its own right, with Barone frequently asking people for help online on suggestions of what to put into it, generating a following in the process. When it was finally released in 2016, after much anticipation, it flew off the shelves, jumping to the very top of Steam’s best seller list in a matter of weeks.
The game follows an RPG form, wherein you are placed in the shoes of a young hopeful who has recently been left their late grandfather’s farm in his will. You escape city life to ‘Pelican Town’, a thriving community full of characters, and are tasked with fixing up the old farm and establishing yourself as a good member of this new tiny society. It’s simple, it’s light-hearted, and it’s fun.
The best thing about the game is that it feels real. Yes, it’s a farming game, with little mythical creatures and witches and wizards hanging around, and the occasional dinosaur. But the characters deal with real-life problems, and are oddly relatable, drawing it closer to reality than one may ever expect. They’re not the focus point of the game, but the inclusion of their intricate, intense backstories and personalities, makes the game feel so much more hard-hitting emotionally than it should be. It is basically a farming simulator after all. From Shane’s drinking problem to Alex dealing with the loss of his parents, to Leah’s shyness surrounding her art, the game offers up well fleshed out, well-written characters for your farmer to engage with, enlightening the experience beyond the actual gameplay itself.
There’s also sweet freedom to the game. You can befriend and romance whomever you want, or ignore them all completely and be a mysterious solo farmer in this new tiny town. You can turn your farm into a money-making industrial machine, or keep it simple and rustic with a few animals and vegetables here and there. Build all the buildings you want, or build none at all. Unlock the secrets of Pelican Town, or keep to yourself and your land. The world is quite literally your oyster.
Stardew Valley definitely lives up the hype, in my opinion. I myself have funnelled hundreds of hours into it; it’s massively addictive, and one of those games that you can pick up and spend hours on without even realising that any time has passed. It offers escapism, wherein you can bury yourself in this little world full of hidden secrets and lore, a gift that is especially relevant in times such as these. If you’re looking for a good and simple game, that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy whenever you pick it up, Stardew Valley is the game for you.
Stardew Valley is available to download now on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and more.