I don’t have the longest or most memory-filled history with the Harvest Moon series, only entering the franchise a few years back with titles like Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon and Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar. I wasn’t very impressed, though I wished to be. On paper, these sound fantastic and easy to lose hours of time to, but they both began so slow and challenging that they turned into non-starters. I even came back to the well for a third time with Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, but that didn’t last long as I quickly realized making progress was still going to be a painstakingly lengthy task. Sure, you could make the comparison to real life, that managing and seeing an actual farm profit is no cake walk, but I’m not interested in a one-to-one simulator. It really shouldn’t take months to acquire a single cow, and then more months for the cow to like me enough to provide milk.
Still, being a massive fan of Animal Crossing and a few farming simulators that will remain nameless, I continued to scan the gaming horizon almost daily for something of this farming/dating sim ilk that will satisfy my curiosity. Which brings us to Stardew Valley, the talk of the Internet town over the last week. Amazingly, it’s developed by one person, Eric Barone under the handle ConcernedApe, and published by Chucklefish, and is receiving a lot of praise and press. I asked Greg Noe to sell me on the game as I know he’s a big fan of Harvest Moon, and he straight up gifted me a copy. Bless you, Internet neighbor. But if your farm is to be a raging success, you can’t give away the goods all time.
The story is one we’ve heard before: you’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in the titular Stardew Valley. After slumming around in a corporate workspace and feeling a severe disconnect with the world, you grab a few essential tools, a handful of coins, and make your way to the farm, which I named Perdido Farm after China Miéville‘s New Weird novel just because, to begin your new life. However, it’s not going to be easy, especially under the shadow of the Joja Corporation. Plus, a large part of the nearby Pelican Town is in disrepair, so not only do you have to make this plot of land of yours a success, but also rebuild the town from the ground up.
Graphically, it’s pixel art, but it’s sweet, delicious pixel art. Really colorful and fun, and more detailed than you might assume, especially once you get inside some of the shops and homes. It’s a sharper SNES title, with a slicker interface. I got to make my avatar in my own likeness (see above), and the menus are easy to navigate through. Call me silly and maybe this has more to do with me playing a lot of open-world games as of late, but I wish there was a way to mark a location on the map and follow directions to it. Like I said, silly.
Well, I’ve put about two hours in Stardew Valley so far, which is equivalent to five or six days in-game, and I can safely say that this gets things going much faster than other Harvest Moon titles. Again, there’s a lot one can do during the day, and a part of me wishes time moved slower or the character had a faster walking speed, because it can take a decent chunk of his day simply going from place to place. You’ll want to clean up debris on your farm, plant crops, sell materials, meet people, take on quests, and so on. When I say there’s a lot to do, there’s a lot to do, and I don’t have the space here to list everything out.
Instead, I’ll focus on a couple of big aspects. First, I really like the there’s a quest log. That might seem like a small detail or even just the norm these days, but previous Harvest Moon games didn’t have it, which often lead to me not knowing what to do next or give me a goal to focus on while waiting for those parsnips to grow. Items and tools and everything else contain detailed information, which is handy, and the map is intimidatingly large. I’ve not yet met all the citizens of Pelican Town–how do you greet the wizard?–so I’m not ready to pick a potential love interest or discuss how the dating sim elements work. Lastly, the idea of rebuilding this town and doing side quests from the bullet board by Pierre’s shop is hitting the nail on two different heads: my fondness for quest boards, as well as watching castle headquarters grow in Suikoden and Suikoden II.
I don’t understand the fishing minigame. Wait. Let me rephrase that. I understand the mechanics behind it, but I don’t understand it as a whole. It seems both challenging and random, and at the same time I’m not desiring an easy button press like in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and everyone should already know my feelings on really bad fishing minigames. I just worry that fishing can be too much of a risk or time waster despite obviously containing some great rewards.
Anyway, I’m eager to get back to Stardew Valley tonight and continue making progress, especially with those parsnips. It’s definitely one of those “one more day” kind of games, where one more day actually results in you playing for several more hours. If you don’t hear from me after a bit, check the farm.