Recently, a voice on the internet asked Stardew Valley players across the web where they have been for the last 20 years. With Harvest Moon already an established series—the series that inspired Stardew Valley’s creation—why is everyone getting so worked up about a new farming simulator?
Well, to answer this tweeter’s first, explicit curiosity: mostly, I was in school. In fact, when the first Harvest Moon game was released, I hadn’t even started primary school yet. When Harvest Moon was receiving hype, I wasn’t old enough or connected enough to hear about it. Even once I was aware of Harvest Moon’s existence, I never saw copies of it anywhere in Australia (and still haven’t). As a child, I was already pining for the elusive Dark Cloud; I couldn’t invest in another disappointing search.
And that wasn’t the only thing I couldn’t invest in. The first game console in my house was an original Nintendo Game Boy, and somewhere in my formative years it was joined by a Game Boy Color and a PlayStation 2. My parents had little disposable income and my country doesn’t allow child labour, so additional consoles were out of the question until much later in my life. I played almost everything on PlayStation 2 and PC because they were what I had. I grew up on Jak and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot, Might and Magic, and Age of Empires.
As a result of factors outside my control—like my age and my access to games as a child—I missed out on a lot of titles that underpin the evolution of the game industry. Consider, for a moment, that I was born the same year that Doom was released; that may help you understand how behind the times I am. But don’t worry, I’m catching up.
Still, sometimes ‘catching up’ doesn’t quite do it for me. There’s a certain level of nostalgia I feel you need to have in order to endure some earlier games; approaching them with fresh eyes sees flaws that an excited child may have missed and that a still-excited adult can excuse. That’s why, sometimes, I prefer to play new games that are attempting to recreate a ‘retro’ vibe rather than diving into the games that inspired them; a new game, though influenced by the past, is imbued with a sense of familiar time and cultural context that can sometimes help it capture the same excitement that an older game may have managed at its peak of brilliance.
So this leads me to the answer to your second question, dear tweeter: some of us play Stardew Valley because it’s the first farming simulator of its kind made at a time where, due to a particular combination of age and access, we can play it. It’s new and it’s for us. And, since I think it’s amazing (or, at the very least, the part of me who has played close to 100 hours of it does) and since this was originally supposed to be a review of Stardew Valley, I should probably talk about it a little.
Stardew Valley is lacking in rules but overflowing with objectives. It lines an array of targets ahead of you and says, ‘Feel free to meander towards these, if you like.’ Time ticks away slowly, but you never feel rushed; if you miss this crop or that fish during the Spring, you know that you’re only 84 short in-game days away from the season’s return.
I find Stardew Valley meditative. I enjoy clearing away each branch and stone, focusing solely on the next goal without being too bogged down in a complex, overarching mission. It’s nice to plod along without a sense of urgency, with even combat feeling relatively stress-free. While I love games with intricate narratives and anxiety-inducing combat systems, sometimes I am just looking for an experience that will help me relax after a long day of work. In this way, Stardew Valley is bliss.
I’m so pleased that somebody took a game series that already exists, was inspired by its magic, and spent years crafting the masterpiece of Stardew Valley so that a different collection of people could enjoy the bliss of a farming simulator at exactly the time they needed one and on an accessible platform. If I had to rate it, I would give Stardew Valley an ‘It’s for us!’ out of 10.