Stardew Valley is basically a retro-pixel ripoff of Harvest Moon, a game series I’ve always wanted to love, but always bounced off within hours.
“Ripoff” is harsh. Maybe it’s more of a love letter? A really cloying love letter that makes you queasy when you read it years later with the benefit of maturity and hindsight?
I’ll be fair: Stardew Valley eliminated the “ticking time bomb” element of Harvest Moon that always sucked the joy out of it. You no longer have to get married and save the family farm in two years or less Or Else. You can be a complete slacker and take decades of game time to explore and appreciate the subtle systems.
But let’s be honest – ain’t nobody got time for that once they have kids.
Despite the admittedly fantastic retro art, music, themes, and tone of the game, I simply do not have hours and hours of interest to burn on trying to figure out the birthday schedule and walking patterns – to say nothing of hopes, desires and romantic tastes – of more than two dozen NPCs. I don’t give a damn about that many people in real life.
The original Animal Crossing on the GameCube was a strange beast that most people did not understand. It took the concept of Harvest Moon and slowed it waaaaay down, to real time. Every game day was a real day. This was a concept that worked better with its sequel on the DS. It was easier to just pull out the DS and check on your tiny town whenever the mood struck you. There was no frantic dashing around to get things done in a day of game time, like there still is in Stardew Valley.
Persona 3 and Persona 4 (the only ones in the series that I’ve played) retained the relentless march of speedy game time, but they made the relationship parts of the game menu-based, eliminating the need to chase down your prospective boo every day to give him/her a gift and make small talk. This made the rando dungeon grinding easier to bear.
Stardew Valley has a mining/adventuring subgame with a rudimentary combat system (think 2D Minecraft), but it interrupts your farming, gathering and wooing cycle. And it’s brutal. Get killed, and you lose a LOT of money, items and access to mine levels.
Ain’t nobody got time for that once they have kids.
But this is a stellar game for tweens and teens. If parenthood and a subsistence career hasn’t already sucked the romantic inclinations out of you, this is your pot of escapism. I would have obsessed over this game had it been on my SNES. The tone is sweet and brisk. The music is very good. There is a ton of content. And you might not have to listen to inane Minecraft stories for a while.