It isn’t often that a game gets its hooks in me quite the way Stardew Valley has. I’ve always been the kind of person who’ll play a game for an hour or two, take a break for an hour, come back, chip away some more, rest, etc. I can’t completely recall the last time I spent eight-to-ten hours straight with a single game – although it was probably Persona 4 Golden, the day I got my Vita – but with Stardew Valley, even a play-session of that length feels like it only allows me to scratch the surface.
I’m not a Harvest Moon fan; I didn’t grow up playing the series on my Super Nintendo, so hearing that a brand new Harvest Moon-like was causing such a stir didn’t exactly leave me knowing what to expect, asides from a farming simulation of some sort – one that possibly also had elements of dating sims. That’s not to say I never had any interest, of course, it’s just that Harvest Moon seemed to be one of those series which passed me by. There was always something that interested me just a little bit more, something that would’ve made me put down that copy of Friends of Mineral Town I was holding at my local game store, and opt for Metroid: Zero Mission or Golden Sun instead. Having put roughly 35 hours into Stardew Valley thus far, and being nowhere near done, I can’t help but feel like I was missing out all along.
I buy a lot of games, but I rarely get the chance to devote the time that I once could to the hobby – I work long hours on the graveyard shift, commute roughly two hours a day, and have to dedicate time toward my duties here on Chooch, and to preparing to go to grad school this September. That leaves me, generally speaking, with no more than an hour a day during the work week, if I’m lucky, to play games. While my weekends are usually pretty free, I’m generally so drained that I can’t commit to much more than vegetating, watching a young man in a suit review energy drinks, or maybe a Japanese woman eating way too much food with way too much mayo on it, as opposed to playing games. As I mentioned earlier, though, Stardew Valley has changed all that; although at first, I was pretty skeptical of whether it would.
When I saw the game on the Steam New Releases page, I looked at it, though “that might be cool, maybe I’ll pick it up on sale sometime”, and went about my business. A few days later it was all anyone was talking about – Ryan, Michael and Kay were all raving about it in Chooch’s staff room, and I felt like I owed it to myself to try it. I’d missed out on much of the conversation with regards to last year’s big indie release, Undertale, and by the time I’d gotten around to playing it, discourse about the actual game had subsided in favour of an exhausting and over-eager fanbase. I didn’t want that to happen again, so I set the game to download, went to bed, and put in a couple hours after work the next morning, eschewing my commitment to practising my Japanese or Korean, figuring that, eh, my postgrad’s another six months away.
Truth be told, I didn’t feel it at first – Stardew doesn’t exactly do a wonderful job of introducing you to it’s world. It drops you onto your farm at the outskirts of Pelican Town, and lets you just go for it, with little to no explanation if it’s mechanics or systems. I wasn’t exactly enthralled as I scurried around, desperately trying to find Elliott and the Wizard, so that I could complete my introductions quest. At some point, the clock struck noon, and I figured, well, it’s Friday, and I’ve gotta be up early for work, so I should probably call it here.
And then, it all just clicked. It’s Saturday night, I fire up Steam, and suddenly, everything I’ve been hearing about Stardew Valley just starts to make sense. I realize that I don’t have to rush my introductions, that there’s no time limit, that I’ll still be getting quests and can just take things easy, go at my own pace, discover the things I want to discover, make my adventure in Pelican Town my own. The next thing I knew, I’d been playing for eight hours, the sun was up, and my dog was scratching at my door, wanting breakfast. Things were no different the next night, and have continued to be no different during any waking moment of free time since. I even chose to play Stardew Valley over going to see 10 Cloverfield Lane when the opportunity came up last night, and if you know how much I love John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, that should speak volumes.
Right now, I’m looking at my TV screen, as I type this out on my laptop, Stardew Valley paused, the gentle hum of it’s soundtrack layering underneath the clacking of my keyboard. It’s the 20th day of Winter in my first year, and my chickens, Cosimano and Micluckski, have laid a couple eggs, that I’ve begun to turn into mayonnaise. My kegs have distilled a couple bottles of wine for me to collect, likewise I’ve got some jelly about ready to be sold off to the local market. My dog Corky is running around between the cherry trees I planted in the fall, which should soon bear fruit in the Spring. My wife Leah, the town’s artist, celebrates her birthday in three days, and just yesterday, I found some diamonds down in the mines – one of which is for her, provided I don’t make some kind of mistake and accidentally feed it to Abigail, the local goth girl who eats rocks.
Once I’ve done my chores on the farm for the day, I’m off to do some fishing – grumpy old man George needs some seaweed, so I’m hoping to pull some up alongside some fish to sell. Come Spring, I’m planning to redesign my farm, now that I’ve got access to better sprinklers and don’t need to rely on having all my crops right outside the door in a horribly messy, scattershot pattern. Short-term goals have borne way to long-term progress, and that’s what makes Stardew Valley so engaging.
It’s all very serene, very idyllic, and in some ways, it makes me contemplate giving up on all my future plans, and instead settling down on a farm outside a tiny little village somewhere, and living off the land. Then I realize that I already live just outside a tiny village, I’m surrounded by farmland already, and that I don’t like it very much. And anyway, farming? Pretty hard in reality, I’m assuming, and probably not close to being as lucrative as it is in my virtual world. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if that pine tar I’ve been tapping is ready yet.