This is an ongoing list where I attempt to do the following: Play, Complete, and Rank every video game in the known universe in order to finally answer the age old question "What is the greatest game of all time?" For previous entries find the links on the attached spreadsheet.
How did I do?
My mom, if she had seen me play this, would have called this the "Happy Game." A long time ago, on a whim, I purchased Harvest Moon 64 for the Nintendo 64. I had never played any farming games prior to that, and barely played any after that. Whenever my mom would come into my room and she would see me playing Harvest Moon, she would always stop and watch a little bit, amazed that I was playing a game about planting crops, feeding animals, and regular farm chores. While she was never one who believed video games were too violent, or limited what I played, to see a kid who would switch from playing wrestling games, fighting games, or shooters on the PC, she was generally surprised to see a game have such a hold on me.
Stardew Valley had a very similar hold on me, but we can get to that later. For anyone unaware, Stardew Valley is probably best classified as a farming role playing game. Its not quite a simulation, despite the fact that you do end up doing some mundane tasks, but it is not a realistic recreation of being an actual farmer. You start as a person who is fed up with their normal 9-5 job who gets bequeathed a struggling farm from a dying relative. You leave the only life you have known to come live and work on the farm and hopefully turn it around.
While the game centers around farming, it is really up to you to do whatever you want as a way to spend time in the world. There is a day/night cycle, so any activity you do will take actual time, but ultimately your options are pretty open. You can spend time tending to your farm and all that entails. You can become an expert fisherman and spend your entire days catching fish in the rivers, lakes, and oceans that occupy this town, or you can become a miner who dives into the local mine looking to dig up relics, ores, treasures from day to day. You could even just spend your time in town talking and schmoozing with the locals or trying to find love with any of the eligible romance options. There are a lot of things to occupy your time with in Stardew Valley, but the good news is that no specific task is actually required.
The reason nothing is required is because there really isn't an overall plot to the game. It is an endless game where you make the terms on how to spend it and when you are done with it. The game tries to have a small plot about how a corporation is destroying their town, and it is up to you to return it to glory, by completing a community center checklist. In reality, you can opt to side with the corporation and the game doesn't game over or tell you that you did a bad thing. You can also meet your grandpa's ghost who gives you a general time line of 3 years, in which he will come back and judge your life, but the game will continue after that, and you can never visit the grave in the first place.
A game like this, that is completely open, can be tough to dissect for lots of different reasons. There is no real end to the game, so when you finish playing can be much different then someone else. It's also a game that can either be stressful (time limit, trying to min/max your days, don't want to waste days) or something played to de-stress since there is no real game over. For me, I played Stardew Valley as a de-stress game for the majority of my time. Not worrying about how much money I made day to day, or if I have maximized my approach to farming. I was just along for the ride.
Each activity has its own appeal, but some are obviously more fleshed out then others. Farming is your bread and butter. You need to purchase seeds, till the soil, plant the seeds and then water them. Of course some plants only grow in certain seasons, some plants grow fast or slow, and some plants will stay for an entire season while others are one and done. There are obviously nuances, but farming is pretty easy to figure out. Fishing plays out like a little minigame, where you have to keep a fish icon, inside a green box by feathering your button presses to avoid the fish getting away. Depending on what season, what time of day, where you are fishing, and what the weather is outside, determines what kind of fish you can catch and learning all of that can be a headache. Normally you don't know what fish you caught until after you catch it, but if you play the game enough you are able to know the fish based on how much fighting it is doing on your fishing pole. If you aren't familiar with the game, it sounds stupid, but I can play the game and tell you what fish I am currently catching based on how much of a fight it is putting up in a video game. For a second you feel like a real fisherman. Mining has you descending in a mine to go for ores and gems that you may find. On each level you have to smash rocks to find the staircase leading down to the next level and hopefully find some things to take back along the way. Digging in the dirt might uncover relics that you can bring to the museum, some rocks you break contain geodes which can be opened in the town to reveal their treasures, etc. The mine is also the main area in the game that contain actual enemies that you need to fight off with your sword. Take too many hits, and you wake up back in your house, with a loss of items, and a bruised ego.
Stardew Valley, like other games of its ilk, is about feeling like you are in the community and being rewarded by playing the game and belonging in this utopia you can never leave. Every NPC has a relationship meter that you can raise to become friends with them, or even romance them if that is an option. Your friends and romance options don't care about your gender, how you spend the day, or even how many times you go into the sewer every month. As long as you visit them regularly, give them gifts that they like, and maybe answer a job board or two for them, then you got a friend or a partner for life. Friends will send you gifts or share recipes with you regularly, romance partners once married will help out on the farm from time to time, and might water all your crops or feed your animals saving you precious time. You can even be a monster and divorce people now, so you can take their perfect life and ruin it if you so choose.
Of course I would be remise if I didn't talk about what makes Stardew Valley truly great and that is its new addition of multiplayer (maybe not so new anymore). If you so choose, you can make everything about the game better by inviting up to 3 other people to share a farm with and live in this world. You can make it so that you share money and truly have a co-op farm, or make it so that it each person has to earn their own money but you can play together. Before this advent of multiplayer, me and my wife would literally switch who was at the computer playing the game for hours on end. She would play 10 in game days, then I would, and back and forth. Now we don't have to. We have a co-op farm save that we play together. What's truly great whether you are playing split-screen or across multiple devices is that you don't need to do the same thing or stick together. If she wants to farm for the morning, I can go out and do some fishing. If she is out mining, I can be chatting up townsfolk. For instance my wife absolutely hates the fishing mini-game, it is just not something she is good at. When we play together I can catch all the fish we need, store them at our farm, turn it in for money, or fill out the collectables for our community center and she doesn't have to engage with something she doesn't enjoy.
Now obviously, I love Stardew Valley, but it is not without its detractors and flaws. This is obvious, but if you aren't into this type of game, Stardew isn't going to change your mind no matter how much they pack into the game. You love combat and action, great, there is a little bit of fighting monsters in this game, but if that is the only thing you engage with this game will get dull fast. My personal knock with this game is that my enjoyment is very front loaded in the game. I love starting from scratch, barely having enough time or money to get through some early seasons, having a whole checklist of things I need to do, but there is always a flipside to that coin. By the time I am halfway into year 2, I don't really have that much to do. My farm is already cleaned up and turning quite a profit, I might have collected all the fish I need for the checklist, and depending on how fast I romanced a character their might not be a big draw for me to chat with the locals. I would often find myself cutting my days really short the farther in I was, because I just ran out of things to do.
Once your farm starts making a consistent 1k+ a day, its not like you are really struggling anymore. You can build sprinklers to water all your plants, upgrade your barn to auto-feed your animals, create a greenhouse so that you can plant whatever seeds you want regardless of the season. It gets to a point where the struggle doesn't exist and you are just waiting for certain events to hit.
There have been some late game updates to rectify some of this, playing in multiplayer can alleviate some of this, but ultimately it still boils down to the type of person you are. Are you a Vinny who would want to get his farm working at maximum capacity, and that drives you to keep playing? Or are you someone who needs a defined end goal to work towards? I am somewhere in the middle. I love getting started in this game, and have started over so many different times. Playing co-op farms, solo farms, or everyone-for-themselves farms, I still enjoy setting up exactly how I want my farm to look, figuring out who I am going to romance, or what type of farmer I will be (there are some minor leveling up mechanics), but when I close out my first winter and a new year begins, I always wonder if there is enough in year two to sustain me all the way through again. I also want there to be even more romance partners, there is a sizeable amount (plenty for your first time through), but I really want everyone (non kids) to be romanceable.. Let me try and break up a healthy marriage by going for someone already in a relationship, or let me romance the sad sack Clint, or the drunk Pam, or the wizard. Free all the characters for love!
All that being said, I have only played to year 3 in like 2 games, compared to the 10-15 times I have started this game. It makes me excited to see the next project, but Stardew will still be a game I hold pretty dear, and something I will once again re-visit when I think my kids can handle playing the game, because I love the idea of having a fake family farm way more than having a real farm.
Is this the greatest game of all time?: It is close for me
Where does it rank: I truly love Stardew, and for me it is up there near the top of the list. I completely understand people who bounce off of it, or decide that this genre is not for them. If I reviewed this prior to multiplayer being added in, this would be lower on the list, but I can't deny that being able to play with my wife split-screen on the couch, or play with my brother across state lines helped pump new love for this game into my heart. I feel I talked for hours, but didn't even capture things that happen that change some of the dynamics (Filling out sections of the community chest unlock new areas, a new NPC joins after the first year, NPCs will talk about the crops you sell back to the store after they have eaten them, etc.) There is enough here, that if you were truly trying to do everything that you would have LOTS to uncover. I have Stardew ranked as the 5th greatest game of all time out of 88 games. It sits right above "Into the Breach" (6th) and right below "X-Com 2" (4th).
* I am going to attempt to outline the next 3-4 games that I will talk about in case anyone is interested in playing along. Now granted these aren't released once a week, as I might do two write-ups in a single week of smaller games, but giving people an idea of what's to come.
1. All Walls Must Fall (Switch)
2. Pokemon Shield (Switch)
3. Serial Cleaner (PC)
4. Mario and Rabbids (Switch)
Anyone looking for it: here is the link to the list and more if you are interested in following along with me (this is not a self promotion). Here. I added links on the spreadsheet for quick navigation. Now if you missed a blog of a game you want to read about, you can get to it quickly, rather than having to scroll through my previous blogs wondering when it came up.
Thanks for Listening.