I wasn't quite aware just how well I knew Harvest Moon until I played Stardew Valley. This is in no way a bad thing.

Excepting the visual design and the particulars of the dialogue, the pacing and mechanics of the game are almost exactly the same. This is because the developer is crazy about Harvest Moon and wanted to find a version he could play on his PC — but there wasn't one. So he made one. What began as a programming exercise in C++ became one of the most fun, involved and busy games I've ever played, not to mention the most loving recreation of one of my own personal favorite game series.

The game begins with a late night communication from Grandpa, displayed sleeping in his bed. He has sent you something, but you can only open the letter and find out what it is when the time is right.Thanks, Old Timer! Tired of your corporate job, you open the letter and find the deeds to Grandpa's old farm. With no hesitation, you pack up your bags and move to the sticks. The mayor of your new home, Pelican Town, meets you from the coach and escorts you to your new farm.

Moving to the sticks is not an exaggeration — Grandpa's farm is a mess of overgrown trees, fallen branches and all manner of debris that you'll need to clear in order to make room for your crops and animals. Then you'll ship all your products and make a bunch of money and make your farm better.

And that's it. You'll spend your time divided by seemingly endless jobs but you'll love every minute of it because everything you do achieves something.

Gaming in general is stressful at times, but the best thing about Stardew Valley is that you can take your time and no-one is trying to kill you.

Right now, my typical day in Stardew Valley runs like this: wake up and water/harvest my crops, feed/harvest my animals, put their produce in the shipping bins, check my mushrooms, a quick trip once around all the areas I have unlocked so I can forage for items to ship, drop in on the homeless guy Linus and give him something because he likes it, try to get to the bottom floor in the mine while collecting rare gems and geodes. Then I'll go home because it's 12am and if I don't get home before 2 am then I'll pass out and wake up back home the next day with my energy still depleted by half.

The following day might run a little differently, maybe it's raining so I don't need to water my crops, so I'll skip that part of my morning and go for a forage until the blacksmith opens where I pay him to break open my geodes, then I'll take any unique resources to the library and collect rewards, talk to some of the townspeople, go to the job board at Pierre's and see if anyone has any work they need doing (usually retrieval or produce quests), then head to the beach for a spot of fishing before heading back home to ship anything I've foraged and caught.

Throughout the seasons, there are community events to attend which often grant you prizes and rewards for your participation. These events will usually take an entire part of a day to attend, even if you only spend a few minutes actually doing anything at the festival. If you arrive at 9.00am and leave at 10.00am, the day will skip forward until 10.00pm. Each night you go to sleep, your shipping totals are added up and the game is saved.

Your tools are on the toolbar along the top or bottom of the screen (you can select to keep this static in the options), and you can select between tools using the triggers on the controller.

You initially start with the following tools:

  1. Ax: for chopping wood, sticks, and small trees.
  2. Hoe: for tilling the ground to prepare for seeds.
  3. Watering can: holds water and is used to water plants to make them grow.
  4. Pick-axe: for breaking open rocks and mining.
  5. Scythe: cuts long grass and weeds in a sweeping motion.

Within your first couple of days, you will also receive:

  1. Sword: for fighting monsters.
  2. Fishing rod: use your noodle.

By default the marker to indicate your selection on the ground is disabled. I found it much easier to hit things and water plants if I turned it on. Since using tools uses Energy, you don't want to waste it by flailing your tools at nothing.

Each day you start with full energy. Using a tool will deplete it by a tiny amount, but if you use it up completely you'll pass out and be sent back home. Depending on where you pass out, you may be found by a neighbor, a member of the Joja rescue team (who will charge you a fee), or if your health falls to zero in the mine, you'll lose 10 floors of progress, a number of items from your backpack and an instantly regrettably large sum money. You can refill your energy by eating things you find, or farm, and you can craft recipes to get better health and energy boosts.

On your farm, next to your house is a shipping box. Each night "at some point", the mayor (not at all creepily) visits your farm to collect your produce, in return leaving you your earnings. You can spend these earnings on so much to customize your farm and house.

Buy items to decorate the interior of your farmhouse, or buy blueprints to expand the potential of your farm. But you won't be merely taking care of your own business, you'll be helping all of Pelican Town.

Stardew Valley is all about patient and gradual progression. Think of the whole of Year 1 as your learning curve.

The mayor is insistent that you help out to bring the Community Centre in town to its former glory, in order to prevent it being turned into a warehouse by the greedy Joja Corporation. The Community Centre hides a secret, though, and it's really the Junimos (the equivalent of Harvest Moon's Harvest Sprites) that run the under-story of Stardew Valley. These little guys are the voice of the Forest and only communicate with those who they feel are "One" with it. That happens to be you. If you forage, farm, fish, and mine for these little buddies they will unlock new areas of Pelican town for you to explore and also reward you with loads of seeds and good things to help you on your farm, as the Community Centre gets repaired.

If you wanted a game where you pretty much actually did just move to the country and began farming, then Valley would be it.

Gaming in general is stressful at times, but the best thing about Stardew Valley is that you can take your time and no-one is trying to kill you. With expandable backpack space, you'll eventually take more items with you enabling you to refill your energy without having to go to bed at 5 pm. Later, other areas open making energy replenishment easier and free.

In the early game, days feel rushed because you have nothing going on yet. You may not be making much money because you're waiting for your first batch of crops to grow, and you're stuck foraging for items until you've got enough materials to start building things on your farm. But Stardew Valley is all about the patient and gradual progression. Think of the whole of Year 1 as your learning curve. In the first season alone there is a lot to learn and you'll probably be well into your second or third before you actually stop getting lost on your way around the town. But your earnings will increase the more you develop your farm. When you have cows and chickens, you'll be able to start making things on your farm to make their produce more valuable. Eggs can be turned into mayonnaise, increasing its shipping value. You can craft a Preserve Jar, which turns fruits and vegetables into conserves and preserves which are more valuable than the raw ingredients.

The more you use your tools, the faster they level up, increasing your proficiency with them. As you level up, your health bar may be increased, or you may be rewarded with new recipes for crafting and cooking.

You can craft smaller items such as furnaces and tappers (for collecting syrup from trees) from the crafting menu, or you can visit the carpenter who will build barns, coops and other useful farm buildings for you — provided you have the materials and the money. Your day-to-day in-game will be taken up with collecting resources to obtain and create new things and make donations to the Junimos, and there is almost never a time where you can't think of one last thing to do before you turn in for the night and ship everything.

Frankly, it's brilliant, but for one flaw. Well, several actually: there are quite a few bugs. I've personally encountered many save bugs where the game would freeze and quit to the main Xbox screen while saving. That's an entire day of activity you'll have to replay, and if you've been in the mine and a monster dropped a powerful item or you found an artifact... the chances of that happening again are slim. I replayed the same day three times in a row before I began holding my breath every time it saved, for fear I may inadvertently let out a scream of rage. Stardew Valley shouldn't be rage inducing — it's calming and relaxing. Fear not, though, as developers Concerned Ape have already stated that there is a patch on the way.

I love Stardew Valley's laid back attitude. You have quests you can do, but there's no real penalty for not completing them (aside from a small drop in friendship which is easily replaced). Just when you think things are beginning to slow down and get a bit monotonous, something happens and refreshes the whole game. It's a cyclical game, which may spell monotony in the long term, but the sheer scope of just how much there is to do makes it the most engaging and addictive game I've ever played. Stardew Valley does pretty much everything Harvest Moon does, but better.

Except for the part where no-one would dance with me at the Spring Dance! That's me in the top left corner, standing alone. I asked each and every citizen if they'd like to dance, and they all said no, because they don't know me well enough. Not even the wildman who I'd been feeding from my own farm every day. Awkward...

Summary

Stardew Valley is the most intriguing and engaging games you'll play in 2016, and maybe 2017. If you want a break from all the skull-crushing and bullet sponges, and want to kick back and relax while actually feeling like you're accomplishing things, buy it. Buy it now.

Pros:

  • Easy and ever changing
  • You'll never be bored
  • Addictive and entertaining

Cons:

  • Some bad, game breaking bugs (that are being patched)

Outstanding

4.5/5

See on the Xbox Store

This review was conducting on Xbox One, using a copy that the reviewer purchased themselves.