Review: Stardew Valley

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: E10 - Everyone (Ages 10 and up)
My Rating: Ages 10 and up
Genre: Adventure / Life simulator
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2016
Reviewed Version: 1.3.27
Review Published On: August 3rd, 2018
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

Your progress is saved when you go to sleep at night. This means that if you quit the game prior to going to bed, all of your progress for that day to be lost.

You can pause the game in single player mode by viewing the game menu (press ESC) or, if the "Pause when window is inactive" option is checked, switching to another program.

Summary of
Major Issues:

There is some combat in this game, though it's very tame and to a degree, optional. The main concern with this title is how it depicts everyday life fairly realistically; bad things happen to everyone, and some characters make their lives worse by drinking heavily.

On a different note, the player has the option to marry one of twelve characters. The issue with this is that you're allowed to marry someone of the same gender if you want to do so.


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Tending the livestock

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You may now kiss the bride!

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Exploring the dangerous mines

Game Overview

It's not uncommon for people living in today's busy cities to view living in the country as this blissful ideal and carefree lifestyle. To a point, life in Stardew Valley does seem to work like that. However, the more you become familiar with farm life, the more you'll find that things aren't as carefree as it once appeared. For the most part, moving to the country doesn't free you from the daily grind or the realities of life; it just trades one set of problems for another.

To have a successful farm, you'll need to take care of various chores every day. For example, crops need harvesting or watered, weeds need managed, and animals need fed. Once you get into a good rhythm, this can be done within the first few hours of each day, freeing the rest of the time for other activities. And there are a lot of options to choose from: there are places to fish, festivals to celebrate, mines to explore, and relationships to build. The only restaurant in town, the Sundrop Saloon, also has some arcade games you can play during your free time.

One of the key features of this title is its dynamic relationship system. Normally, towns in video games have just enough NPCs to make it appear like the place isn't just a group of buildings, and even then, the majority of the time the NPCs have only a line or two. This game sharply deviates from the norm, as there are more than thirty residents who are busy living their own, active lives. As you get to know people, you'll begin to feel like a part of their individual stories. Twelve of the people living in town are single, and if you play your cards right, your friendships with them can also blossom into something greater.

This focus on life away from the farm is what makes Stardew Valley stand out from other games where you run a farm. It's about as close as you can get to a fully fledged life simulator. Unfortunately, since it does take a fairly realistic view of everyday life, some of the things people in town are dealing with might be a little too real for some players or parents. But if you can accept being part of a story where things aren't sugarcoated, it's worth giving this title a spin if you have the time to spare.

Points of Interest

Plenty of customization options
As you might expect, you have your choice of playing as a man or woman. Beyond this, you can choose from a huge selection of hairstyles, shirts, and accessories to create your own unique character. To customize things further, you can earn or purchase hats.

You will need armor to protect you from the monsters, but unlike a lot of games, armor is limited to different types of boots, and thus it doesn't cover up your character's normal outfit. If you want to change how you look later on, it's a simple matter of visiting a hidden location called the Shrine of Illusion. Paying a small fee of 500 gold re-launches the character creation menu, allowing you to change everything into something new.
Many things to do
Unsurprisingly, you can spend your time on your farm tending to the needs of a number of animals and growing a variety of crops and trees. But, this game wouldn't be as popular as it is if that was all you can do. There are five different skills -- farming, mining, foraging, fishing, and combat -- and each one has several activities that relate to it. The more you do these activities, the more skilled your character becomes at that task. In turn, the better your character is at something, the more effective they'll be at doing it.
Build relationships with the townsfolk
A core part of this game is integrating your character with the town and the people who live there. You can build relationships with just about everyone; simply talking to people regularly helps build a relationship, but giving people gifts and hanging out with them at festivals are also great ways to bring people together. Eventually, you can settle down with someone and start a family together. Keep in mind that, just like in real life, a happy marriage is a two-way street. Neglecting your spouse will damage your relationship, and they'll even become jealous if you continue giving gifts to an unmarried person in town.
Evolving story
The game's story doesn't really start to unfold until you've taken the time to get to know the townsfolk. When your relationships become strong enough, you can trigger special cutscenes where you see more of their lives. This slow introduction to everyone is a fun way to build some investment in the characters; rather than being stuck as an observer, you're actively involved in their lives. Additionally, there is an economic battle being waged in Stardew Valley, and your presence is what will tip the scales. Peirre's, a local grocery store, is being challenged by the Joja corporation's big supermarket. Whether or not JojaMart stays in business is determined by what you do.
Play as long as you want
After two years have gone by, the spirit of your grandfather makes a surprise appearance and evaluates your progress. It's important to him that you live a good life, and from his perspective, this includes making the most out of the farm he left you as well as settling down with a happy family. However, this evaluation doesn't end the game; you can even trigger it again later on for a better "ending". In the meantime, you're free to continue living in Stardew Valley, proceeding at your own pace.
Manage your farm with friends
A new feature added in recent versions of the game is the ability to have friends join you on the farm. You can either start the game in a co-op mode, or have Robin, the local carpenter, build a cabin for your friends once you're ready to team up. There's a lot to be done on a farm, so the teamwork will pay off. If you want, you can even have your characters get married!
Steam community features
The more things there are to do in a game, the more possibilities there are for some bragging rights, and this game is no exception. There are forty achievements to earn by being the best at your favorite in-game activities. Can you sell one of every possible crop? Cook every recipe? Become the town's most beloved citizen? There's an achievement for all of this and more.

Additionally, if you want to show your dedication to the town, there's a series of Steam trading cards to collect and craft into a badge for your Steam profile.
Autism representation?
Now, this is more speculation than something that's confirmed by the developers, but there are rumors online about one of the characters in this game. To make a long story short, many people, including myself, noticed that a specific character behaves like he is a high functioning autistic. Even if this wasn't what the developers had planned, fans are viewing the character as a case of positive representation.
Limited free time
Farms don't run themselves. You'll need to create a routine and stick to it to ensure that your crops and animals get the attention they need. The problem with this is that you have a limited amount of time and energy in a day. Dealing with chores takes both, and if you run out of either, the day ends whether you want it to be over or not.

You need to be careful to keep your work and life balanced, otherwise the various responsibilities of running the farm can make you feel restricted and suck the fun out of the game. This is quite realistic, but most of us want to get away from the daily grind when we're playing games.

Concerns and Issues

Warts & all storytelling
Every character in this game is made to feel very human and alive. Unfortunately, this also means that bad things happen to good people, and that nobody is completely without problems. Thus, the initially blissful appearance of the town fades away as you learn what's going on in people's lives. For example, some of the younger characters have strained relationships with their parents, and some characters are hot headed enough to start fistfights when they lose their temper. In the most extreme (and disturbing) case, one of the adults is so incredibly depressed and miserable with the way their life has turned out that they consider suicide.
Bad habits on display
This is partly the result of the way the character's stories are realistically told, and partly the result of the game being more or less realistic about life in general. Alcohol, for example, is commonplace in Stardew Valley. You can brew various wines and beers on your farm, and there's also a saloon in town. On its own, alcoholic beverages aren't particularly bad, but there are people in town who drink to excess, and you can see the damage it's doing to their lives.

One of the men in town also has a hidden stash of pornography; during a cutscene, your character accidentally discovers it, much to his embarrassment. Note that the porn collection is only mentioned; you do not actually see it.
Same-sex marriage
There are six bachelors and six bachelorettes in town. When your relationship with one of them has become strong enough, you can chose to start "dating" the character, and eventually marry them. The problem here is that the game does not care about what gender your character is when making this option available; thus you can marry someone of the same gender if you want.

This also affects some of the cutscenes, as several of them have some romantic undertones. These play out the same way regardless of your character's gender, which might get awkward.
A lot of games these days allow you to marry an NPC, but this game takes things a step further. If you really want to, there is also a way to obtain a divorce. This has several lasting consequences, such as your ex no longer enjoying your company.

Things get a bit darker late in the game, as you gain access to shrines that can use black magic to remove those consequences.
Simple combat
Exploring is a dangerous task in this game, as there are monsters lurking in the dark, closed off places like the mines. However, fighting is generally optional; you can acquire most of the items you need from various merchants if you're making enough money through other means.

That said, most players will likely visit the mines sooner or later and engage the monsters that live there. Combat is depicted in a family-friendly way, as it generally amounts to just swinging a weapon at a monster until it goes poof and disappears. Every monster has their own death animation, and a while few of these do appear to depict a blood splatter, none of it remains once the animation is finished.

As for your character, being defeated by monsters does not kill you. Instead, you simply collapse and are rescued by someone from town. You'll lose some money and possibly some items, but that's the extent of the risk.
Although Stardew Valley is about living life on a farm, there is quite a bit of magic in its world. Nature spirits called Junimos help you reconstruct the community center or manage your farm, and several of the monsters found in the mines are magical in some way, such as ghosts, shadow creatures, and even dragons. Another place you'll encounter magic creatures is on your farm, as you might be visited by an evil witch or a nature sprite during the night.

Speaking of the witch, there are two other magical people you'll encounter over the course of the game. The first is a friendly Wizard who lives nearby, and the second is your grandfather. He'll make a return from beyond the grave to check in and ensure that you're getting the most out of your stay in the Valley.

There are some more problematic forms of magic to be found here though. For example, there are some hidden shrines that allow you to alter the game's world if you can offer them the right items. The most disturbing of these is a shrine that will transform your children into doves, effectively erasing them from the game and making you childless once again. Lastly, one of the batchlorettes experiments with a "spirit board" (ie, an Ouija board) during a cutscene.
Very late in the game, you can gain access to a hidden casino. Getting access requires a handful of strange and unexpected steps, but a determined player can probably figure them out (or just look up the solution online). The casino itself features slot machines and a type of card game that you can play if you have money to spare.