Country life simulating RPG Stardew Valley busted onto the scene in early 2016, taking pc gamers by storm with its immersive open ending gameplay. Initially, however, Xbox fans were left wanting if they hoped to spend hundreds of hours farming for pixel parsnips. As of December 2016, Stardew Valley is now available on Xbox One!
Upon starting a new farm, players are given the opportunity to customize their character, choosing everything from their farm’s name and location to their favorite thing to think about. You can even choose if your character is a dog or cat person. The interface for character creation is pretty straight forward, however the color selection tool for the character’s hair and clothing relies on a slider that – while perfectly suitable for PC gaming – isn’t really controller friendly. Following the creation of the character and choosing the farm name and locale, the player is then treated to a cut scene that sets the stage for many of the in game events.
The character the player works for Joja, a hybrid Walmart/Amazon knock off company that cares so little about its employees that they can become skeletal remains in their cubicle without raising alarms. Stuck in their cubicle at work, the player opens a letter to find they’ve inherited a farm in the idyllic country side of Stardew Valley from their late grandfather. Its at this time the character sheds the chains of their corporate overlords and sets out for a simpler life in Pelican Town.
Okay, so “simpler life” might be an understatement. Pelican Town’s infrastructure has been left in disarray following the arrival of big box store, JojaMart. Starting with nothing more than Grandpa’s hand me down tools, a piece of land, and some pocket change, it is suddenly up to the player to be the hero that restores Stardew Valley to its former glory. Pelican Town’s Mayor, in a brief cut scene, explains to the player that it was the arrival of JojaMart that has left the community such a mess and resulted in the deterioration of the beloved community center. He threatens that if one more person buys a membership to JojaMart he’ll sell off the community center to the company for warehouse space. The player is then faced with a conundrum. Will you choose to save the community center, or will you buy a JojaMart membership?
The decision made by the player at this point effects progression for the remainder of the play through. If the player chooses to save the community center, then they must complete a variety of bundles consisting of items that can be grown, foraged, or crafted. Each bundle completed gives the player a reward such as new crafting recipes or bonus friend ship with community members. Should the player choose the path of JojaMart membership, however, there are no friendship rewards available. The JojaMart membership is ultimately the easier route to progression, despite the absence of friendship rewards, as the upgrades to the community can be purchased with in game gold rather than through farming and foraging.
The RPG element in Stardew Valley comes into play through the character’s skill progression. Every task is worth an unseen amount of experience points, gradually leveling up the player in the areas of Farming, Foraging, Mining, Fishing, and Combat. Players start the game with every skill at level 1, and max out at level 10. While leveling up each skill, the player will occasionally be given the ability to choose between two specialties which grant bonuses such as increased chances for finding extra geodes while mining or earning 25% more gold from selling fish.
While Stardew Valley’s protagonist moves to Pelican Town for a “simpler life”, it’s fair to say that Stardew Valley is not in any way a “simple” game. The in game world consists of a variety of areas to explore and develop, including two very expansive mines, an exotic desert, a cozy beach, and even a secret forest. There are thousands of in game items to grow, forage, and/or craft – from parsnips to crystalariums . Dedicated players can spend a hundred hours with the game and only barely scratch the surface, and anybody looking to actually experience all the game has to offer would do well to keep a wiki nearby for quick reference. Knowing that the game was developed by just one person makes Stardew Valley’s expansiveness all that much more impressive.
While the world of Stardew Valley is near overwhelming in scale, the game itself is surprisingly relaxing and the pacing allows the player to progress as they see fit. Stardew Valley breaks each in game year down to the four seasons. Each season lasts 28 in game days. There are limits to what items can be grown or foraged depending on what season the player is currently experiencing, but despite this it is entirely up to the player to decide how their hours and energy are allotted to progress. If, perhaps, the player is really determined to catch an octopus and wants to spend 6 hours every morning during the summer season sitting on the beach with a fishing pole in hand, the game allows for that so long as the player has enough energy (or reminds to pack a snack so they can replenish their energy!). Stardew Valley is the very epitome of a sandbox game where the player can do what they please with the tools and items at hand.
Upon it’s initial release to Xbox One, Stardew Valley did see a few mishaps such as microfreezes and game crashing during the save process at the end of each day. A patch for the game was hastily released, however, and these glitches no longer rear their ugly heads. Despite these missteps, Stardew Valley creates a near limitless world where players can create their own story of country living, complete with adventure, farming, and possibly even a little romance, if only they’re willing to accept the time commitment.