Stardew Valley: The Most Addictive Indie Game of 2016
Stardew Valley was originally mentioned to me with the exclamation "hey, there's this really cool, new farming simulator out now, I think you'd like it!" My response was, of course, "why on Earth would you think I'd like a farming simulator??" Sure, I get into plenty of strategic games, and the odd RPG, but at heart, I am absolutely a first-person-shooter kind of gal. The only simulation game I've ever really gotten into was Surgeon Simulator, and even then, my interest waned quickly.
Despite this, I looked into this new.. farming simulator. I had to admit, the reviews for this game were intriguing. I kept thinking 'how would a farming simulator possibly get overwhelmingly positive, 5-star reviews?' It was baffling. I had to know. Plus, I genuinely love supporting indie developers, so even if I hated it, I'd at least be able to do that.
Three months later, I have literally racked up more than 300 hours on this game. It turns out, I was far from being alone on that detail.
This is no farming simulator. This is a labor of love.
Under the guise of sustaining a farm, Stardew Valley delivers an intriguing story, heard piece by piece from a couple dozen NPC's across this world. The perspective of this story varies nicely. I've seen a lot of games where the NPC dialog matches up a little too well - as if the individual characters weren't given personalities. In Stardew Valley, everyone is there for a reason. Whether it's because they moved to the country to get away from the rat race, they wanted to focus on their art without any distractions, they're trying to escape their sordid romantic past, they love the sea air and small-town feel, they were born in Pelican Town and long to explore the world outside the valley, or they simply feel too trapped, they all have their reasons. The more you become friends with these characters, the more they'll tell you.
You also get a sense of the town and its history. What was once a vibrant and close-knit community has started to become a little run-down. They're starting to feel the pressure and consequences of outsiders coming into their little valley with big box stores and overly commercial practices. In the midst of this, you have to make a choice. Will you save the old traditions of Stardew Valley and restore the once-flourishing community? Or would you rather see the citizens accept the spirit of commerce into their town? Your decision makes a strong difference in the community dynamic.
Along with the stories and sense of community, the characters offer a chance for relationship growth with the player. You can give gifts to and talk to the various characters to grow their admiration for you. There are a number of bachelors and bachelorettes in the town that you can romance into becoming your boyfriend or girlfriend, and eventually into marrying you. During this process, there are cut scenes for each of these characters along the way. These cut scenes range between funny, informational, adorable, romantic and downright tragic.
Then there's the adventurous part. In addition to farming, raising animals, meeting the locals, contributing to the town, fishing and gathering, you can also raid and explore mines. There are levels upon levels of monsters to slay and minerals and gems to collect. What's fun about this is that there actually is a sense of leveling up your skills and equipment, and legitimately difficult foes and strategies for dealing with them.
All the while, this experience is delivered to you in a beautifully designed 16-bit style. The various colors and mood changes stand out so nicely, and are coupled with charmingly cheerful and simple background music. The days get longer and shorter with the seasons. The television tells you your fortune. And you get to celebrate non-denominational holidays throughout the year.
What seems like a simple, little RPG game ends up being just so much more. There's an unbelievable amount of content in Stardew Valley, and if you follow the developer, ConcernedApe, on social media, it's clear that there's even more coming.
The most incredible thing about this game, to me, is reading through the reviews on Steam. There is a considerable group of fans who are using this game to self-treat issues such as anxiety and depression. Stardew Valley is very much escapism, which can be extraordinarily helpful for a lot of folks. It's incredible that one, little indie game can not only be so involved and entertaining, but to also have such a positive impact on a lot of gamers.
If you're in the market for a game that will surprise you, give it a shot. Stardew Valley is available on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux.