A quest to conquer an ever growing backlog of games.

Backlog Review | Stardew Valley

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Stardew Valley…. Isn’t that a lovely name? I know when I first heard about the game, oh so many moons ago, the name grabbed me right off the bat. Then, of course, I found out that it was a farming simulator and I was sold…sort of. I may have forgotten about it once I realized it was going to be PC only at first. We’ve really only in the past few years beefed up our PC to withstand our gaming desires, so I just wrote Stardew Valley off until I heard it came to consoles.

Then, my doting husband slipped a cute little package under our Christmas tree just this year and lo and behold it was Stardew Valley for the Switch! I shouted, “OH man! I didn’t even know there was a physical release for this!!” To which he sheepishly replied, “There isn’t…I got that case custom made since I can’t exactly put a digital purchased game under the tree.” “No less cool!” says I and here we are in …wait what month is it again? March? How is it March already?!

Whatever… Here we are in March and I’ve just about polished up this game as much as I’m willing for now. Granted, I only started playing it a few weeks ago, but these games are sort of my jam. I will usually wholly invest myself into finding every secret and Easter egg these games have to offer while I go about the usual daily business of farming and such. So far, I think I’ve hammered out most of the simpler secrets and a few of the less obvious ones. I’m sure there’s some more obscure things hidden around that I haven’t encountered. That’s why they’re called Easter eggs after all.

Apples and Oranges

Not too long ago, I was fully immersed in another such simulator called Graveyard Keeper. And I’m not gonna lie…I’m still thinking about it. Loved every bit of that game. Stardew Valley was a big inspiration for that game and you can definitely see it within just a few short minutes of playing either title.  It’s honestly hard not to compare them to each other, but in the end, they are sort of different beasts all together. Yes, they both have the whole farming, crafting, socializing aspects at the core of their gameplay, but that’s about where the similarities stop. Stardew Valley has a much simpler and more wholesome storyline and end goal (sort of) where the main focus is for the player to take over their recently deceased grandfather’s farm. Your job is to spruce back up the farm and town, make friends, get married, have kids and make stacks on stacks on stacks of cash. Just like real life! This is shamelessly Harvest Moon inspired right there.  And I love that. Sure, there are some weird goings on here and there with some of the town’s folk, as well as a marital dispute between the resident witch and wizard. And an evil corporation trying to squash the local businesses…Didn’t I just say this was like real life? It sure is! Right down to the weird little apple shaped guys that want to help you fix up the community center! Hits you right in the weird spot that only hurts when things get too real – know what I mean?

Anyway, when you look at Stardew Valley like that, there is virtually no comparison to Graveyard Keeper’s unfathomably freaky storyline, yet surprisingly simple end goal. And that’s one thing that puts Graveyard Keeper above Stardew Valley in my books, and that is that it has a hard and fast ending. No playing on forever and then just letting it drift in the wind when you run out of things to do in the game. Graveyard Keeper ended with credits rolling and everything. You could go back in and the game would set you before the final scene, so you could technically keep playing if you like. But honestly the lack of closure in these types of games is one thing I really dislike. I hate feeling like I just dropped the game once I run out of things to do. Graveyard Keeper nipped that in the bud and I can’t appreciate it enough. Ending aside, it was Graveyard Keeper’s ability to repeatedly make me say, “I gotta do what now?” that puts it far above Stardew Valley. Such a weird game, seriously. Even my husband who despises these sorts of games was intrigued enough to sit and watch me play a bit here and there just to see what kind of weird shenanigans the game made me get into next.

Eggplant Emoji

But enough gushing about Graveyard Keeper, we’re here to dish on Stardew Valley, which is most certainly a great game in its own right. And definitely not without a few of its own oddities surprisingly enough. Like what’s up with those crazy sounds whenever it rains? I was seriously waiting for Endermen or ghosts to start popping up, only to find out its just frogs…. suuuure just frogs with haunting wails. That’s exactly what a ghost would say. Once you go to bed at night sometimes a fairy will come and leave money under your pillow…wait that’s another story…a fairy will come and boost up the growth of your crops. Or a witch will fly over your farm and turn your chicken’s evil or your slimes black. Your chickens don’t really become evil just “void” which is actually pretty useful later on in the game.

When it comes to romance, the Stardew Valley developers made it as simple as possible to court and marry any of the eligible singles in the town, regardless of your character’s gender. You can also divorce them later on if you like. There’s even a spell you can ask the witch to cast that will make them forget ever meeting you! A similar spell also exists that will make your children disappear! Alrighty… that’s super dark… but moving right along. All of these things are thankfully something you would have to actively seek out though.

Currently, Elliott and I are living in adorable newlywed bliss. His lovely Fabio-esque hair and penchant for the simple writer’s life drew me in instantly, while the other bachelors were a little lackluster in my opinion. I loved Abigail’s purple hair and eccentric personality, but I was always at the beach or the blacksmith’s so Elliott ended up reaching his max affection a lot quicker. Actually, Linus the “by choice” homeless guy was the first person I reached maximum friendship with mostly because he was so damned easy to please, but also, I couldn’t help but give him whatever food I had in my inventory every time I saw him. Even my coveted Eggplant Parmesan with its major mining and defense stat boosts! Only you Linus! I had to befriend Lewis of all people to get that dang recipe! I’d marry your old butt in a second if I could, just so you would come and live in my house!! Most of the single people were kind of blah to be honest. Maybe if I befriended them and learned more about them that might change, but I never felt the need to put much effort into the whole marriage aspect of these games anyway. I don’t even usually start turning up the heat on anybody until like year three or something like that. There’s way too much else I have to do first. Just like real life… is this becoming a theme?

Kind of an Ugli Fruit

Graphics wise Stardew Valley is nothing to write home about. The character/townsfolk sprites are cute enough, but the dialogue box art just felt amateurish. It just wasn’t for me. I did enjoy the odd expressions the characters would get during conversations, but that’s more along the lines of me poking fun than a compliment. The music was fun and well done, though not particularly memorable. I do appreciate that the developers made more than one track for each season. Nothing like impatiently waiting for the season to change just so you don’t have to listen to that annoying winter background music anymore.

Crazier Than a Coconut

All in all, my favorite parts of the game were fulfilling the Junimo (little apple dudes) bundles and finding all the hidden secrets and unlockables. I really enjoyed mining as well, but I found it tough to ever make much progress since once the clock strikes 2am you get transported back to your house and the day changes over. Once you unlock the Skull Caverns I really don’t know how someone could even make it all the way to level 300+ without an insane amount of luck. Skull Cavern doesn’t have a convenient elevator checkpoint every 5 levels like the mountain mine, so you basically have to start from the top every single time. Plus, the enemies are super hard and dying is one thing you are punished pretty severely for in this game. Dying or “blacking out” in Stardew Valley means you lose a bunch of your money and a random number of items from your inventory. All that crazy loot you just died trying to get can be gone. I’ve even had my weapon taken a few times! The higher-level swords are eeeeeexpensive to replace let me tell you!

Fishing is enjoyable and fairly profitable if you can get past that horrid mechanic of keeping the fish within the little green bar. Forget trying to capture those legendary fish! Not worth the aggravation at all. There’s plenty of items you can buy or make that will ease your suffering slightly, but like I said I wasn’t inclined to sink a lot of time into trying to catch the legendary ones. I inadvertently caught a few along my travels trying to fulfill the Junimo quests, but man that fishing minigame is not for me. Why oh why of all things did Graveyard Keeper have to adopt that! Baaah! The treasures though, that you can pull up along with your fish seem to be completely random, but in a good way. What you get from a fished treasure chest doesn’t seem to correlate in any way to the difficulty of the fish you brought up with it. You can get things like precious stones or artifacts in a treasure you got from a sardine or you can get a chest full of bait from a legendary fish.  I got my first dinosaur egg from a fished-up treasure chest and I couldn’t bare to hand it over to Gunther at the museum. I was desperate to hatch that sucker in my incubator and have a dinosaur milling around with my chickens. Luckily, every couple of days he lays his own dinosaur eggs and I gave Gunther one of those. Little does that mustachioed Indiana Jones know that I have the real artifact egg! Heh heh heh…

A Little Bit of Sour Grapes

There’s certainly more to Stardew Valley once you really begin to scratch the surface. All the many secrets and hidden story bits make the game much fuller than I was anticipating and I kind of love that about it. Though, while I continue to play it and discover new things still, I doubt my opinion will ever change enough for Stardew Valley to beat out Graveyard Keeper as my all time favorite in the genre. Where Stardew Valley took Harvest Moon and exploded it into a barrage of endless tasks and secrets, Graveyard Keeper in turn took that and turned it all the way up to 11.