Game Info:

Stardew Valley
Developed by: ConcernedApe
Published by: Chucklefish
Released: February 26, 2016
Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, PS4, Xbox One
Genre: Simulation
Number of players: 1
Price: $14.99
(Humble Store Link)

Every once in a while, a game will appear that has a truly groundbreaking innovation. It has an approach or style that can even launch an entire genre. These games often are regarded as a beloved classic, even if future games take the same approach and do it better.

Stardew Valley is not one of these innovative, original games. However, what it does is take elements of prior successful games and polish them into something truly great. In other words, it takes the best parts of other games and merges them to create a fantastic package. Stardew Valley is a delightful blend of an action game, a farming simulator, and a dating simulator in one memorable, addictive package.

The story starts with a simple premise: you've inherited a farm property in a rural location known as Stardew Valley, and after working for several years as a corporate grunt, you're eager to take up a new life as a farmer. The property has been abandoned for some time though, so it falls on your shoulders to clear the land and plant some crops. You also are encouraged to get to know the residents of nearby Pelican Town and become part of the community. Shortly after you start the game, you also are given a fishing pole, and a rusty sword if you choose to plunge into the depths of a nearby abandoned mine. 

The farm is the central part of the game. Clearly inspired by games such as Harvest Moon and Farmville, the player can design the land in whatever fashion they want, dedicating portions of it to certain crops, constructing buildings such as barns and sheds, or planting trees for fruit or syrup. There are a few areas which can't be changed – namely water spaces, the initial farmhouse, and the locations of egress from the property. At the start, the player can choose from six different layouts, each one providing different opportunities to improve different skills, including combat.

Once the mines open, an opportunity to explore mining and combat is available. The mines consist of several randomly-generated levels, with an elevator allowing access to every five levels, once the player descends that far manually. The creatures get more difficult to fight as you descend, but the treasures become much greater, too. The mines contain several rocks, many of which need to be cleared out in order to navigate the tunnels. Occasionally, the ladder down will be concealed beneath one of these rocks as well. 

Stardew Valley

Strong Points: Huge amount of customization; large variety of activities; addictive gameplay; great music; cute graphics; lengthy gameplay
Weak Points: Fishing minigame can be a bit difficult
Moral Warnings: Gay marriage is possible; divorce is an option; alcohol references; occult references, including undead monsters to fight; minor language issues (taking the Lord's name in vain); worship of a deity known as "Yoba"; gambling options

The third major aspect of the game consists of the relationships between you and the residents of Pelican Town. There are more than 40 different NPCs in the game, most of which will communicate with you and accept gifts in order to improve their relationship, which is measured by hearts. Each character has different items that they love or hate, and a birth date. Give the right present on their birthday, and they can quickly become your friend. There are many quests that can improve your relationship with the different villagers. Each of the villagers have different personalities and stories, and Pelican Town has a lively atmosphere which really makes the place feel realistic. Twelve of the villagers – six women and six men – have the status of "single," and by building up enough of a relationship, can lead to marriage. Children can even follow soon afterwards. Interestingly enough, there also is the option to file for divorce, if you want to change your mind later. 

If that weren't enough, a fishing minigame also is available. You can try and catch fish with the fishing pole you are given early in the game. The minigame is quite challenging at first, though – when a fish bites the line, a vertical gauge appears. You will have to keep the fish within the green bar for a set amount of time in order to catch the fish. At the earliest levels, this is a lot harder than it sounds, since the fish tends to move erratically, and the green bar hard to control. Better rods and more points in the fishing skill make this easier, but practice is essential. 

This simply scratches the surface of what the game has to offer. There also is a casino for gambling, items to forage in the woods near the farm, recipes for cooking or crafting items, and more. The game provides a ton of different things to do, and it's easy to lose yourself for hours trying to accomplish different tasks or quests. 

The pixillated style adds to the game's charm, giving it a feel of a game from the '90s. The music also is delightful and catchy, and personally I wouldn't mind purchasing the soundtrack. There is no voice acting in the game, but you can choose to have the text appear in a variety of different languages.

Stardew Valley
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 90%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 77%
Violence - 7.5/10
Language - 8/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Despite its appeal to all ages, there are a few things that parents should know about. For starters, there are some occult elements in the game, with the presence of a wizard and, later in the game, a witch's hut that contains dark shrines. If a player doesn't want to have a child any more, it is possible to "sacrifice" a child to one of these shrines, where it turns into a dove and leaves the household. 

In addition, there are certain aspects to marriage to consider. The game does allow for same-sex marriages, if so desired. With the ability to divorce, it may even be possible for a player to try and pursue – and marry – all twelve available candidates through one rather long playthrough. However, these concerns can easily be avoided, simply by choosing not to entertain them. 

Gambling is an option at the casino, once it's unlocked. There is some violence in the combat portion, and the player can end up fighting undead creatures. Fortunately, enemies merely disappear in a puff of smoke or bouncing parts, and immediately vanish afterwards. Some of the villagers also take the Lord's name in vain – which is especially odd considering how the chief deity in the game is an entity called "Yoba." There isn't much about the deity in the game, other than a shrine in the general store and a few mentions by some of the characters or in decorations here and there. 

Drinking alcohol is a possibility, as is brewing and selling it. A couple of the characters seem to be alcoholics; in the game's defense, one of the friendship/romance paths does involve helping one of the characters kick his addiction. Finally, there tends to be a bit of an anti-corporate vibe – if there is anything resembling a true major enemy in the game, it would be the presence of the local Joja Mart, which seems to be a strawman for a certain chain store based out of Arkansas. Interestingly enough, the player can choose to join Joja Mart, which opens up a variety of different challenges, but makes some of the achievements impossible.

When it comes to finding perfect games, Stardew Valley comes as close as possible to filling that niche. The praise that the game has received is well-deserved, and serves as a fine example of how fun and popular games don't need to come from a large developer with million dollar budgets. As long as you don't mind the presence of some of the moral aspects – which are, for the most part, easily avoidable – you will discover some real treasure in Stardew Valley, and lose yourself for hours in the adventure.

About the Author

J. Todd Cumming

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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