Thursday, March 17, 2016

Stardew Valley, the only RPG/dating sim/farming game you'll ever need

Stardew Valley

Grade: C
Platform: PC
Genre: Farming, dating sim, rpg
Price: $14.99

A rarity even in indy games, Stardew Valley is wholly the creation of a single person.  Eric Barone did the coding, the writing, the art, the music, everything.

The result looks like it'd be at home on a Super Nintendo, and that's a good thing.  The 16 bit style graphics add a needed note of whimsy and unreality to the game, reminding you that it isn't really a farming simulator but a game that uses "farming" as a mechanic.

Despite being billed as a farming game, a good portion of the game is a dungeon crawl with an RPGish feel, coupled with a ruthless bit of resource management, with that last being essential to gameplay and much of the challenge.

Your character has a limited endurance, and that pool is consumed when you do much of anything.  Fishing, farming, harvesting crops, fighting monsters, mining for ore, chopping down trees, all consume your energy forcing you to carefully consider what you'd like to do in any given day.  Adding to the problem is that you can't work too late into the day or your character will pass out and you'll be penalized with even lower energy the next day.  And that some things can only be accomplished at certain times of day, or certain weather conditions, or seasons, or days, etc.

Managing your character helps keep the farming from getting boring, as does the variety of available tasks.  If you're bored with farming you can go fishing, or chop wood, or go exploring the caves, or go try to woo a romantic partner.

Because yes, Stardew Valley is also a dating sim.  With all the often squicky problems that dating sims come bundled with.  

Gamifying human relationships is always a fraught exercise.  But in a way Stardew Valley navigates the problem with minimal difficulties.  In part, I think, due to the simple graphics and gameplay that harken back to the older systems it feels less wrong to render human relationships almost entirely as buying someone's love with money.

Because that's how Stardew Valley mostly handles relationships.  Want to date someone?  Give them presents and they'll eventually be your date and marry you.  There's a few added elements, some conversational options similar to the stuff you'd see in a Japanese dating sim, but mostly if you want to pursue a relationship with any of the single people in Stardew Valley you simply find out their favorite product and give it to them repeatedly until they agree to marry you.

Since the rest of the game has a simplified feeling, the purchasing of affection through presents doesn't come across as badly as it sounds at first.

Still, it'd be interesting to see a game where romance options involve some randomness, where every time the game starts some randomly determined characters just aren't that into you and you've got to find that out the hard way.  At least it'd be different.

I will say that Stardew  Valley at least takes a refreshing approach to LGBT issues that fits with the rest of the highly simplified tone of the game.  There are ten single characters you can try to date, five men, five women, and you can pursue any of them regardless of the sex of your character.  Getting a date with a guy, as a guy, plays out exactly the same as getting a date with a girl as a guy.  Bring your intended lots of presents and you'll score.

Even with my reservations about the dating aspect, the game is entertaining and well worth the purchase price.  A solid, averagely fun and enjoyable game.

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