Review: 'Stardew Valley' is a labor of love

Screenshot of "Harvest Moon" (Courtesy/Harvest Moon)

There’s something special about rolling out of bed at 6 a.m. to feed the chickens and till your ancestral farmlands, even if the natural world that surrounds you consists entirely of colorful pixels and 2D sprite art. A clear homage to “Harvest Moon,” Natsume’s Japanese farming simulation series, “Stardew Valley” takes all the best parts of the original games and crams them into one title.

This game, a multi-year labor of love by solo developer ConcernedApe, has something for everyone. Want to grow gigantic pumpkins, cauliflowers and melons? You can. Want to become a fishing master capable of reeling a legendary catch? You can. Want to forget about farming entirely and go kill some cave bugs with a wooden sword? You can do that too, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t try to take in everything the game has to offer.

Like most “Harvest Moon” games, you begin “Stardew Valley” as a disgruntled city dweller. This time, you’re a burnt out employee of the corporation JojaMart. Lucky for you, your family just happens to own an old plot of farmland in Pelican Town, the inexplicably fertile village where your adventures begin. Your beef with JojaMart doesn’t end there, though. Soon after you move to town, Mayor Lewis tasks you with revitalizing the local community center to bring Pelican Town together and stop the comically evil megastore from paving over the valley entirely. 

Themes of environmentalism and coroporate responsibility echo throughout “Stardew Valley,” but the game is really about living your life. You can meet townspeople at Gus’ Tavern, celebrate festivals and even get married (to a man or a woman, something that was just a little too “political” for “Harvest Moon” to handle). Some of the characters are a little flat, but grinding through a week of gift giving in the hopes of unlocking that next scrap of dialogue is part of what makes games like this so great.

“Stardew Valley’s” controls may be less than intuitive, but it more than makes up for this through the sheer quality and quantity of its content. At it’s heart, it’s a game about discovery - whether that be through foraging, conversation or simply watching the seasons go by - as much as it is about raking in the dough on your farm. It isn’t meant to be a game that does all the work for you - there’s no tightly wound plotline or intricate mysteries to be solved. Much like “The Sims 2” and “Civilizations V,” you have to use a little imagination to build your own narrative and create a meaningful gameplay experience.

Lest you think this is just some indie game pandering to “Harvest Moon” fans’ nostalgia for games gone by, though, keep in mind that “Stardew Valley” sold over 300,000 copies in just over a week, is the number 3 best seller on Steam and has 98 percent positive reviews. At $15 a pop, that’s a lot of moola for ConcernedApe, and he deserves every cent of it. While big time developers can rest easy knowing their AAA titles will make waves, it’s no small thing for one guy with a computer to devote such a huge chunk of time to a project that might never pan out. Much like “Stardew Valley” itself, ConcernedApe’s success shows just how much good can come out of a simple labor of love.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.