Despite my rough and tough city ways, I am actually a farmer at heart. I spent the first four years of my life on my grandparents’ orange farm and often helped with picking/packaging during the busy winter orange season. Sure I never managed to actually succeed at anything remotely agriculture related on my own. Every grow your own potato experiment in school and ill-advised basil plant purchase in adulthood met an untimely end, but dammit I know it has just been in my genes this whole time waiting to be unleashed. Thanks to Stardew Valley on the Nintendo Switch, at least my digital self can live out its true life’s calling and make my kinfolk proud.
Upon cursory glance, Stardew Valley doesn’t look like much. The fact that this 16-bit inspired farming sim became such a runaway success is fairly mind boggling, but once you dig deeper into the game it’s evident why. Everything in this modest package has more depth than it has any right to especially considering it was made by a single person. By themselves, the farming, fishing, mining, and relationship sims would merit a couple of bucks and a handful of hours, but combined in one glorious bundle, they become unstoppable and have been a worthwhile use of approximately 80 hours since October.
The second you step into the game, a sense of tranquility comes over you. The soothing music and simple visuals of the main menu help transport you to this wonderful world that you quickly learn is meant to be an escape from the soulless work of the corporate realm. It’s time to leave your job at the evil JojaMart and take over your grandfather’s farm in search of something more fulfilling. Your first two tasks are so simple but so brilliant at getting you in the proper mood. As the newest resident of Pelican Town, you need to clear your farm so you can plant your first crops, and, more importantly, you need to introduce yourself to all the wonderful denizens of your new home.
Thoroughly planning out your time is a fool’s errand. If you wanted to, you could try to maximize your waking hours every day to earn as much money as possible, but that would defeat the entire purpose that your grandfather wanted for you. Rather, it’s much more enjoyable to just go with the flow and see what you feel like doing each morning. Sure there are tasks that must be tended to like watering your plants or feeding your animals, but after that you really should just focus on whatever is going to help you relax in that moment. Maybe you want to search the mines for new artifacts to bring to the local museum, or maybe you want to spend a quiet day fishing in the river. No matter what you decide, you end each in-game day feeling a sense of accomplishment and peace.
After a couple of dozen hours or so, I realized I wasn’t farming for any specific personal goals. Instead, I was farming to help out my colorful and quirky fellow citizens. I was spending my time and fake money to carry out small retrieval quests for the villagers or to restore the long abandoned community center and drive out JojaMart before they could put our local merchants out of business. For my efforts, I was rewarded with plenty of heartwarming cutscenes and friendships culminating in a beautiful sequence when I finally saved the aforementioned community center that may or may not have made me tear up a little. At times, Stardew Valley might as well have been Star’s Hollow from Gilmore Girls as you joined with your friends for yet another unique town festival (like the serene Dance of the Moonlight Jellies in this video that WordPress won’t let me embed). Sure it might be cartoony, but it feels like a living town with fully-realized people.
So what is Kennair Farms like? It started out as a produce-heavy farm requiring half my daily energy just to water all the crops, but once I saved up enough money, I started focusing on more fun endeavors. Over time, I added animals from milk giving cows to truffle sniffing pigs and egg laying chickens and started using those animal products to transition into a more artisan establishment that has proven to be quite profitable. Now my days are spent tending to my modest crops meant to simply keep my stores full while I wait for cheese, mayo, truffle oil, and wine to be made. It’s all worth it to support my ever growing family featuring my wife the shy school teacher Penny, our precocious infant Lucy, our loyal dog Maggie, and my valiant steed Grover. It’ll soon be my third in-game Winter, but we’ll be ready for it this year as our surpluses will be used for all kinds of brewing and fermenting that can quietly mature on their own while I focus on those last few townsfolk who I need to build friendships with.
Aside from the pure elation and sense of accomplishment the game provides, it also epitomizes the full potential of the Switch. Being able to pick up my Switch, throw on my headphones and be immediately transported to Pelican Town is one of the purest gaming experiences I can ask for. While getting ready for bed, I can quickly get in two days of the latest farming season and then just drop it off on the nightstand until I’m ready again the next night. Or if I’m having a lazy weekend or watching something on TV, I can easily get a few days in without having to put much thought or effort in. I can put this game down for weeks at a time and then return to it without missing a beat and feeling immediately happy to see all my old pals. After nearly three game years, there may not be a whole lot left to achieve or discover. but that feeling of warmth and joy that each new day brings means there is no end in sight to my adventures in Stardew Valley.