Stardew Valley is one of the most well received games in recent time with an overall review score of Overwhelmingly positive and well beloved by fans alike. It is also known as one of the most synonymous to farming simulators alongside Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. That begs the question: what makes Stardew Valley so special? For the most part, Stardew just focuses on farming and managing your resources so it’s valid to think how it can even compete with other video game titles with more action or drama in it. To understand why this game, and other games like it, have a following, we need to know what it is at its core.
More than a farming simulator
If you aren’t familiar with the game, here is a rundown. Stardew Valley is a single farming simulator (with co-op as an option) where you take control of an unattended piece of farmland with crop seeds to start with. From there, you’re basically free to do anything and explore the world. Setting goals like maximizing your farmland, catching every fish, or gaining a million in Stardew currency are fair game.
While Stardew is a mainly a farming simulator, it offers more things to do compared to Harvest Moon. One of important aspects of the game is upgrading your farm tools for them as the maximize their efficiency. In this dilemma, the game brings you up to the mines filled with dangerous monsters and ores that are needed to upgrade said tools. This arguably gives the game more flavor as it breaks the possible monotonous tone of the game while adding more urgency and danger. Players also have the option to collect furniture from different shops and design their own home to their liking. Romancing villagers or just befriending them are also mechanics in the game with cutscenes you unlock when you hang out with or going to the theaters to keep players occupied.
Different Run, Different Playthrough
One of the things that makes Stardew Valley so appealing is its replayability. With no ending or linear story, the game has that added benefit of being so open-ended. While it is possible to just play the same playstyle over one save file or multiple, there are so many different ways to approach the game. Different crops can be grown, whether just one or all of them are valid choices. With the possibility of rearranging the farm or even changing the type of farm one plays, there are various ways in how a player would want to customize their farm to their liking. There are so many things to do in Stardew Valley and with its replayability and customizable farm, it gives solid reasons for players to keep coming back to the game.
Master of (Your Own) Time
Time is an important aspect in gaming and Stardew Valley arguably handles it very well. Time in video games usually dictate the pace of the game, serving as a time limit and possibly gives special opportunities on a certain time period. Notable examples are The Legend of Zelda where the player is given a time limit to find the mask and Animal Crossing where time in the real world is reflected in the game’s time which have time periods that yield certain items and events.
How Stardew handles that is having a time system with a day and night cycle tied only to the passing of time. Basically, the sun rises and sets as the player play the game as opposed to Animal Crossing where time is slower and players would need to wait a considerable amount of time to get to a certain time period. What this means for the game is that players are only limited by what they can do in a day. Since there is no definite end in Stardew Valley, players can freely do anything as most events are usually annual and all a player must do is wait if they miss it. The game does have in-game trackers that players could follow like the Community Center where specific crops and other resources are needed to complete. However, there are no penalties if a player doesn’t complete it early or at all. The open-ended nature of Stardew and the optional challenges make it so that player agency is really valued, and it arguably makes the game however the player wants it to be. That in itself contributes to the widespread appeal of Stardew Valley.
At its core, Stardew Valley is just a farming simulator. The basic premise is to just collect resources and build a farm to one’s liking. It is a simple premise but the way a player can go about it and how much player agency one has is why it has a following. It nevertheless has endless activities that can keep players occupied from fighting monsters, decorating the interior of one’s house, and interacting with the villagers. The game arguably has everything for everyone, aside from PG-13 aspects, but for the people who want to relax in the countryside and to manage a farm to their liking, Stardew Valley can provide you with that experience and more.