If you haven’t heard of Stardew Valley, then you must not have logged into your Steam account lately. Released in late February, the game is a love letter to the Harvest Moon series and has already sold over half a million copies. Stardew Valley has become so popular, in fact, that fans of the game have bought users who pirated it legal copies.
Stardew Valley is a passion project of developer ConcernedApe—real name Eric Barone—who worked on it for over a period of four years. Barone created everything: the charming pixel graphics, the catchy music and the engaging characters. Still not convinced? Here are ten reasons you need to check out Stardew Valley.
Harvest Moon has several archetypes that repeat throughout the series: the tomboy, the shy girl, the flirt, the ice queen (or king). While there are elements of that in Stardew Valley—Barone has stressed frequently that he’s a fan of the series—the characters feel very fresh and modern.
There’s a recluse that struggles with the inattention his family pays him, a girl who was popular in high school and is struggling to figure out her place now that it’s over and even an alcoholic dealing with her recent unemployment. The darkness found in the characters helps bring out the rest of the game’s inherent sweetness.
The story of Harvest Moon was also repeated in every game: your grandpa has died and you must take over the farm. Stardew Valley has the same story, but with a modern twist: you’re leaving the rat race behind for country living and the company you formerly worked for, Joja Corporation, is slowly encroaching on the town you’re moving to.
Joja Corporation is clearly a stand-in for companies like Wal-Mart, and the idea that the local economy of Pelican Town is threatened by cheap prices and competition from Joja Mart is very true to life and imbues your farming with some purpose.
Stardew Valley allows you to choose between five bachelors and five bachelorettes. You can marry any of them, regardless of your gender. It might be a simple thing, but it was an option missing from Harvest Moon. It also lends even more of a modern, updated feeling to the game.
Go ahead, click on the E in “Stardew Valley” on the title screen.
There are tons of little Easter eggs like this littered throughout the game. In fact, Barone has stated that there is one so obscure he doubts anyone will ever find it. Other places to check? Place a cherry bomb by that rock in the entrance to the mine, check out the forest area to the extreme left of Marnie’s place and rebuild that bridge on the beach and check out that area when it’s raining.
One big difference between Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon is the introduction of crafting. By combining items like wood, rocks and minerals, you can create things like bee houses, mayonnaise makers and kilns, all of which can net you more money and improve your farm. Crafting lets you control the way your farm is going to turn out: Are you going to make your money through brewing, creating preserves or purely through artisanal goods? You get to decide.
What should seem like an obvious feature is still sadly missing from a lot of simulator games. Stardew Valley lets you customize your character’s hair, clothing, skin tone and even lets you adjust the colors to get the exact shade you want. A simple function like this goes a long way in making your character feel like, well. . .you.
A huge part of the game’s success is thanks to Barone’s personality. As a developer, he’s constantly releasing updates, fixing bugs and promising more and improved content. If a player’s save file gets corrupted, he’s even been known to go into the code and fix it for them. There’s a reason people are buying pirates copies of the game and even trying to figure out other ways to get money into Barone’s pocket: he’s earned it.
The game has a ton of different wallpapers and furniture items, so you can customize your house as you wish. Want to fill it with rocks and plaster the walls in mushrooms or skeletons? You can do that. When you’re married, your spouse will also have a space of their own that they’ll decorate according to their interests and personality.
If you want to make your way to the bottom of the mines, you’re going to have to fight a few monsters. This game allows you to outfit your farmer like an RPG hero with special clothing and accessories that will nullify status ailments or increase speed. Hey, sometimes it’s nice to unwind after a long day of watering blueberries by taking out a couple of zombies.
Okay, so the game doesn’t have co-op. Yet. But Barone has repeatedly promised to include it in the game, and judging by everything else he’s delivered on, it’s coming. Co-op will allow players to live and work on the same farm, providing an experience unlike any other farming simulator games, so start building up your farm now.
Ashley Burnett is a writer whose work has also appeared on The Billfold and The Toast. You can reach her via Twitter @AshleyDBurnett or through her website: www.ashleyburnett.net.