Stress Relief Gaming: Stardew Valley

My last gaming post featured one of my favorite games for stress relief: Slime Rancher. There’s been a few updates to the game since my post, but if you haven’t seen it it’s still worth checking out. (You can find it here.) Today, I’m gonna tell you about another de-stresser of mine that I just recently got in to: Stardew Valley.

I love shooters and RPGs just as much as the next person. But sometimes I just don’t feel like dealing with it, you know? Sometimes, I don’t wanna sit down and play Civilization where unless I’m at my top game I’m gonna get my ass handed to me. I don’t wanna play a strategy game like Fire Emblem because it’s time consuming and strategy games are not easy on the brain. So that said, I think it’s important to highlight games that are not so much about winning as they are about working toward a goal.

Stardew Valley is, at its core, a farming game. But it’s so much more than that simply because of how much content there is, and the variety of things that you can do within the game. The thing I appreciate about Stardew Valley most is the fact there’s not a “right” way to play the game, or a certain order you have to go in to advance. The game is set up so that you wake up at 6am every morning, and what you do from 6am to 2am (when your character will pass out if you don’t get them into bed) is entirely your business. You wanna fish all day? Great. You wanna mine all day? Sure. Water plants and chop down trees? You do you. Hey, there’s an event today. You wanna go? No? Okay, catch you later bro. There’s so much to do, but basically none of it is forced. So now to introduce you, let me take you on a little tour of my farm.

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This is the character/farm creation screen. It is just as important as your character creation screen in your favorite RPG, if not more because which farm you pick will also guide your game experience and farm layout. You have your choice of creating a male or female character, naming them, and selecting their outfit. There are dozens upon dozens of choices for each aspect of your character, meaning you can spend quite awhile on character creation. The right panel gives you a selection of 5 different farm types that will accentuate one of the various skills you can foster in the game. The first farm with the red house is best for a farming focus, the second farm best for a fishing focus, the third farm best for a foraging focus, the fourth farm best for a mining focus, and the last farm where “monsters come out at night” is best for a combat focus. There’s no “best” farm for beginners, so feel free to choose whichever farm calls to you–though I will say that, personally, I don’t want to deal with monsters at my farm and spend a lot of time outside at night, so I’d personally not recommend the last farm to first time players looking to relax.

Selecting an animal preference will determine what animal you choose to adopt later in the game. When your pet reaches maximum affection, the game will notify you that “So-and-so loves you.” Isn’t that precious?

I decided to go with the third farm with a foraging focus.

So here’s the setup: the game opens with an adorable grandpa writing to his grandson/granddaughter (that would be your character) from his deathbed. He tells them that there will come a day when they are weary of the world and all the pitfalls of modern (consumerist, corporate) life. On that day, open the letter that he’s enclosed with this note. The game then shows an office with “Joja Mart” and their slogan “Thrive” plastered on a long line of dismal, blue-grey cubicles. Nameless little people are clacking away on their keyboards, staring at their computers mindlessly. The camera eventually pans to your character, staring sadly. A little teardrop appears over their head to express their utter misery. You then go through the motions of opening up the desk drawer, opening Grandpa’s letter, and finding the deed to a farm in Stardew Valley. Your character then leaves their job to start their new life as a farmer.

So here’s what my farm, the un-creatively-named “Verdant Farm,” looks like 3 in-game years later:

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So that’s my little farmhouse behind my character. If you look in the top right corner, you can see the time of day, the date and day of the week, the season, and the weather in the first box. Below that, you have your current funds as well as the exclamation mark which is how you access your journal, where the game encourages you to complete certain tasks for monetary rewards. The weather changes day by day and has differing effects on the world around you; certain fish only come out on rainy days in spring, for example. Also when it rains, there’s no need to manually water your crops. The day of the week is also an important feature that helps lend the game a certain semblance of reality. “The Queen of Sauce” re-runs, which teach your character to cook, only run on Wednesdays and Sundays. Pierre’s General Store, which will be the main source of your seeds until you’re able to craft a seed maker and other cooking/farming essentials, is not open on Wednesdays.

There’s tons of features to this game, and I’ll try not to inundate you with too many specifics. I think it’s safe to say that if it’s been in a farming game before, it’s in this one. The last thing I’ll mention specifically is what sets this game apart from other farming games: the friendship/romance component.

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Your character can develop a relationship with basically everyone that lives in town. Each character has a set of loved, liked, neutral, disliked, and even (god forbid) hated gifts that you can give to them which either increase or decrease your friendship level with them. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try and figure them out for yourself. If you’re lazy and afraid of rejection like me, you can find all of a character’s likes and dislikes on their wiki page. You’re allowed to give each character two gifts per week. You get extra friendship points if you give someone a gift on their birthday; the calendar in town will tell you whose birthday is when.

When you get a high enough friendship with people, you can trigger a special cutscene that will give you some personal insight into that character. For instance, I walked into Emily’s house when he had four friendship hearts and found her dreaming about me.

Though you can bond with everyone in town in some way, there are only twelve characters available to romance. The plus side is that ALL TWELVE of these characters are bisexual–meaning it doesn’t matter if your avatar is male or female, you can marry whoever you want.

It’s such a small feature, but it’s so amazing considering the amount of games that restrict (or completely ignore) same-sex relationships. I’ve been playing a lot of Fire Emblem lately and I cannot tell you how frustrating it is that there is only one (if any) gay option in them. And only for the avatar character. There are so many characters that would work infinitely better if they were allowed to be gay in those games. But luckily, that is not a problem in this game.

The final note I want to end on is the music. This is the real stress-relief component of this game. The music is fantastic. Smooth, relaxing, and unobtrusive. The music changes each season–with spring being wistful, winter being reflective. I’ve actually downloaded some of the songs to go to sleep to at night. If you don’t want the game, just find the soundtrack somewhere. You won’t be sorry. But I have to say, at $15, the game is more than worth it.

Stardew Valley is available on Steam for $14.99. The soundtrack is available on Steam for $4.99.

 

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