Stardew Valley – The Adorable Way to Farm

So this has been a busy June/July for me – in the space of one month I went from working as a contractor, to being unemployed, to working as a fully permanent employee (take that old job! You jerks!). During my unemployment “holiday” (read: “being a no good jobless bum time”), I went to visit my friend and she showed me a game she was playing – Stardew Valley.

When she explained me to what Stardew Valley was about, the first thing that sprung to mind was Harvest Moon – and then immediately after that remembering how goddamn awful I was at playing it. I’m not talking about your fancy DS and what-have-you Harvest Moon, oh no! My memories are from my dusty Playstation, buying my copy and sitting in front of my tiny TV/VHS combo (if that doesn’t age me I don’t know what will) worrying about whether or not I will have enough decent crops to just scrape by and make any kind of profit. Seriously, I was the worst at that game and gave up pretty quickly.

Harvest Moon Back to Nature – Another historical gem in the list of “games I suck at”

My friend was quick to assure me that whilst the basic premise of Stardew Valley was pretty similar – you own a farm, you grow stuff on it and make it better, this game was way less pressure to actually be good at it. And she was right.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten older and therefore wiser (one would hope), or whether or not this game is actually designed to be easier, but I have played a full year (in-game *obviously*), and I’ve got to say I’m not actually doing that bad! I’ve managed to upgrade my farmhouse (I own my very own kitchen *smug*), got some farm animals that haven’t died or are even remotely close to death, and I even have completed a few quests (like going off to find the mayor’s underwear in the bedroom of one of his “friends”) So naturally my success has inspired me to stop being useless and finally get back into this writing malarky.

Stardew Valley is an indie farming simulation role-playing video game developed by ConcernedApe and published by Chucklefish Games. Released in February 2016, this labour of love by Eric Barone has taken the cute aesthetic of Harvest Moon, combined it with a soundtrack and adventure-feel/dungeon exploring similar to Terraria, and produced a game that is so relaxing and just pleasant to play. When I log on and see those pixel birds fly across the sky I get a warm fuzzy feeling.

I also know I will lose *hours* of my life, just playing through “one more day” or “just until the next season” – I’m not much of a gamer (as you all may remember), but I have found myself sitting in front of my computer screen at 4am forcing myself to log out and go to bed. I can’t help myself, it is that addictive (plus when I’m close to getting another heart with Abigail goddamn it I will stay awake to make it happen!)

stardew valley abigail love
My experience of Stardew Valley relationships (source:Tumbler lollibeepop)

There are so many different elements to this game, that it doesn’t matter if you suck at one – there *will* be something that you are good at to balance it out; farming, animals, fishing, foraging, dungeon crawling/adventuring – there is definitely something for everyone. I’ve been doing ok on pretty much everything (*humblebrag*), but if anything that shows you that this game is pretty playable on the scale of difficulty. There are plenty of people to wander round and befriend/woo (I’m looking at you Abigail, you beautiful purple-haired siren), and as long as you have the wiki open on a screen next to you it is so satisfyingly easy to see those hearts fill up. Before you know it you have the townsfolk saying hello to you in the town square, and you can feel a part of that happy little community.

The best way to sum up this game is to think about the goal/audience this game is aimed at. Is it aimed at full on players who play to win? Probably not. Is it aimed at providing an adorable, fuzzy, light-hearted experience for someone to dip into and escape the day-to-day? Absolutely. You play a person escaping the boredom of everyday life to look after a farm in this magical town, and I believe that this is true for the player in real life.

Buy this game, tend to your (surprisingly large) patch of farmland where you can make your own mayonnaise to tempt your future wife. I guarantee that like me you will find yourself coming back to reality at 4am wondering where the time went, but at the same time not regretting a single minute.

 

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January Gaming Postcard: Phantom Transistor Shovel Chronicles

Introducing a semi-regular roundup of what I’ve been playing for the past month, and any random impressions or thoughts that I can’t be bothered to write a full article for!

Shovel Knight – Yatch Club Games – WiiU

More than just a lazy Mega Man knock-off, a very worthy marriage of old school design sensibilities and fairer modern practices. Also, as finale where you work with the damsel you’re rescuing to bring down the final boss together? Fantastic stuff.

Valkyria Chronicles 3 – Sega – PSP

About 40% of the way through this one. Really should have played it sooner! I thought the reduction of scale and squad size for the move to portable would restrict the gameplay, when actually it makes it more challenging and strategic. No longer can I rely on my lazy ‘snake’ tactic of two side by side tanks with the entire squad following behind.

As a result, the first encounter with the giant dreadnought tank is one of the most intense and challenging I’ve encountered in the series so far, betting a lot on individual units to seize and hold dangerous positions.

Plus the option to hook up with the tsundere rocket launcher girl instead of the generic perky JRPG heroine? Most unexpected and welcome!

Transistor – Supergiant Games – PC

Finally got round to this one, although for some reason it wouldn’t run on my ok PC, so I had to play it windowed on my less-than-ok PC, which took away some of the magic. The usual potent Supergiant atmosphere, with a battle system that is mostly versatile and empowering, but occasionally repetitive.

Metal Gear Solid V – Kojima Productions – PS4

Decided to skip Peace Walker for the time being as I just didn’t see myself having the time or patience for both this year. Liking what little I’ve played so far. The open world isn’t too open, the mechanics are tight and the design encouraging. And the Kojima crazy is definitely still strong.

Plus, any game which features, and brings more notice to, one of my all time favourite guilty pleasures of emotional 80s music gets bonus points from me:

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Undertale: Two Reviews of the Same Game

As I walked into the next room I immediately saw it coming. It was so playfully obvious, and despite its uncanny ability to catch you off guard again and again with its offbeat sense of humour, sometimes this game just can’t resist a big obvious joke. Undertale was about to parody one of the most iconic gaming moments of all time and not a punch was pulled. It was at once meticulously dedicated to paying tribute and hilarious in its lampoonery. I actually stopped playing to physically applaud.

But I can’t tell you anything about that scene. Or about much at all when it comes to this game. This is a game where every signpost hides a gag and every rock may be lying in wait to subvert genre expectations.

Over the course of an initial ‘Normal’ play through I have experienced joy, sadness, dread and, most of all, gleeful stupid laughter. This game is so rich with tiny details and odd little characters that you can’t help but get wrapped up in the world. In almost 9 hours of total play time I was never once bored.

If Earthbound was the first post-modern video game, Undertale is what happens when you take it one step further by subverting that which is already subversive. At the core of this is the fact that every battle can be won through pacifistic means. This approach is cleverly encouraged as the endless slog of hitting attack and dealing damage when trying to play it like a normal RPG is revealed as dull and frankly quite grim compared to the ever fresh cycle of negotiation and defence that plays out between yourself and the various characters you encounter.

skeleton

Did I mention that defending in the game takes the form of an old school shmup? Its a mad idea, and proves both satisfying as a mechanic, and perfect as a medium for even more oddball creativity to make it into the game.

There’s actually a third ‘Genocide’ ending available if you choose to stubbornly play like its a normal RPG, but be warned, it’s intended to be a soul destroying ordeal by design. It may even prevent you getting the better endings permanently, because this game remembers everything. Reloading a previous save file to correct a past mistake will never quite clear your conscience as characters will have a vague recollection of what happened prior to your quickload; sometimes just a hint of deja-vu, sometimes something far more omnipotent.

I should probably end this section with another screenshot, but I really don’t want to spoil any of the good bits, so here’s only a moderately funny bit in the grander scheme of Undertale. You’ll have to take my word for it, but seriously, this isn’t even the funniest cooking sequence in the game:

cooking

If you’ve read this far you might be thinking this game sounds like a bag of ideas with no coherence, and it can feel that way on a Normal playthough, but when you start to truly invest in the game by pursuing the various goals which build towards the ‘True Pacifist’ ending does it start to reveal the painstaking care that the game’s creator has poured into creating scope for connecting and bonding with the strange characters that cross your path. This works to ground the game in surprising ways, working towards a true ending that is among the most satisfyingly coherent, complete and rewarding I have ever encountered.

And if all that promise of emotional investment and payoff isn’t quite your thing, haven’t you always wanted to play an RPG that lets you lie down next to a mute slime mould enemy and wiggle endearingly to try and make it become your friend?

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