Overwhelming at first, the farming sim is a relaxing pet project
When I bought Stardew Valley for my Switch early last year, I knew almost nothing about it. All I knew was that it had farming and romance stuff, and that it was meant to be very good. I also hoped it would scratch that Animal Crossing itch, and so I bought it – but it didn’t take.
Jump ahead a year later where I’m ten days into Fall and I’ve spent 20 hours on the game over three days. I’m hooked.
It took me a little while to figure out why it clicked now and not then, but I think I’ve figured it out.
When I played Stardew Valley originally and wanted something laid-back like Animal Crossing, I found myself playing as if I was competing against the game. As in, like most other games where you try to “beat” the game itself, whether it’s the enemy AI or the encounter design. It was overwhelming; since the passage of time plays a central role in Stardew Valley, where the player only has so much time per day and only so many days per season, it felt like I was “losing” at Stardew Valley as soon as I started.
I could tell that I was making mistakes that cost me resources and time. It felt like my farm was already destined to die, like I would eventually watch my little farmer set her family farm ablaze just so the bank couldn’t get it, laughing as she felt the heat against her face.
Starting fresh with a new farm about a year later – I’m not sure why I did, I think I was just bored – I’ve realised that my hopes for an Animal Crossing-like experience weren’t too far off.
Similar to Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley is about letting the player progress at their own pace inside its own active, buzzing world. It’s a game where my growth is limited by time played more than anything else. Even though I have to keep tabs on the time of day and month, I’ll always be growing and moving forward as long as I’m playing. Making enough money to improve and upgrade my gear and farm is easy as long as I pay attention and keep on top of things. Even if I wasn’t able to do something during Summer that I could only do during Summer, it isn’t a big deal – not just because there’s plenty of ways to progress otherwise, but because the game will eventually loop back to Summer anyway.
Basically, I discovered that “failure” doesn’t really exist in Stardew Valley.