Sometimes, a game feels less like a game and more like a form of therapy. These are the sort of games that have no real rush to them, no urgency, no adrenaline surge; they’re the sort of games that evoke steadiness, calm, routine, and everything else that the experts prescribe for soothing a troubled mind.
That’s the sort of game that Stardew Valley is. It’s not the kind of game you play when you’re pent-up with frustration and need an action-packed release; but when you’re looking for something a bit more calming, games like Stardew Valley can sometimes feel like the equivalent of a whole weekend spent in a remote mountain cabin.
Incidentally, I’ve been told that Stardew Valley is very much like a drastically improved version of the Harvest Moon games. Having never played them myself, I won’t be making any comparisons either way; but suffice it to say, it seems like, if you like Harvest Moon, you’ll love Stardew Valley.
But if, like me, you’re unfamiliar with the world of Harvest Moon, here’s a quick overview of what makes Stardew Valley so great.
The premise of the game is simple. You, the protagonist, inherits his or her deceased grandfather’s old farm, located near the quiet town of Stardew Valley. From there, the game is concerned with the simple day-to-day tasks of farming. You plant crops, raise crops, pick crops, sell crops. You raise livestock, collect their produce, sell it. You learn to cook and sell your recipes.
There is other things to do too, of course – the town is home to a small, but colourful cast of slightly one-dimensional, but nonetheless likeable individuals, many of whom the player can choose to pursue a romance with – but for the most part, it’s all about the farmwork.
Funny thing – before you’ve played the game, hearing it described that way makes it sound dull. Perhaps it would be to some people. But there’s just something about the consistent routine that the game evokes – the sense of hard work paying off, of producing things that people need and want, of building your own little natural haven – that makes it all feel profoundly comforting and calming.
Heck, perhaps one might even be bold enough to say that the game, to some very small degree, evokes what it must be like for a real farmer to experience a bountiful harvest. Minus the backbreaking labour, of course.
And of course, the way it’s presented doesn’t hurt. The game is played from a traditional JRPG top-down perspective, and presented in bright, pastel-coloured, hand-crafted 16-bit graphics, set to a soothing score. Taken all together, it can almost feel like a full-fledged spa day.
Stardew Valley is the sort of game that you play when you want to alleviate your frustrations rather than vent them. Choosing to play it instead of another game is kind of like choosing to go for a leisurely stroll around the park instead of going to the gym: it’s not the option that’s right for everybody, but when you’re looking to truly clear your head, it really can be perfect.