Have you ever arrived at a party or a social gathering where friends are assembled around one dynamic individual, enraptured by some hysterical anecdote he/she is narrating with reviting elegance? You arrive at the throes of their dramatic tale that culminates in the assembled audience bellowing in sympathetic laughter, the narrator chortling along and inviting further ridicule to their unfortunate series of events with additional probing details that extends the amusement. Completely oblivious to the context you stand idly, making a concerted effort to mingle into the besotted mire with a vaguely appropriate smile and forced chuckle. “What’s so funny?” you enquire, eagerly anticipating a rousing situational narrative that I can recite to my grandchildren one day. Instead they drape an arm around your neck, recant a conceited story, interjected with sporadic sniggering as they struggle not to laugh at their own account and burst into a rapturous cackle that renders them incapable of finishing their sentence, slapping your back repeatedly and keeling over as if his stomach had finally begun digesting last night’s hastily consumed vindaloo. You soon discover that their perceived witty story is nothing more that a hollow anecdote that isn’t nearly as entertaining as they think it is. This rather broad analogy is what I think of “Stardew Valley”: I just don’t get it.
My apathy for this revered title is curious really, more likely attributed to expectation more than anything. Everything I read/heard/felt indicated that this would at the very least entertain. Reviews espoused similar trajectory of positivity ranging from glowing to, at the very least complimentary. So I downloaded it to my Switch, thinking that portable functionality would allow me to engage with its considerable complexities with regular consistency. And it did, to a fault. Being a PC game converted onto a portable console does effect how intuitive the controls are, but isn’t something you can’t adjust to in time. The graphics seem to rely on being overly niche and nostalgic, attempting to avoid modernisation to remain in keeping with its rustic aesthetic. Which is fine, just not an art style that offers any significant benefits. Everything Stardew Valley does is quirky and for the most part distinctive, just nothing special.
The biggest grievance I have is the tedious concept. I’ve played farming simulators before, experienced the time dependent strategies that effectively manages each of the crops I’ve sowed, waited hours, even days for them to flourish and harvest them for financial gains. Yet somehow the acceleration of this benign process is arguably more tedious. Let’s be clear here, this isn’t a design floor with the game itself, just an exasperation of the games trivial simplicities of buying seeds, planting them, nourishing, waiting, harvesting repeat, with some mild, time constrained exploration. I’d probably be fine with this if it then didn’t try to rush me.
The natural compunction is to plant a bag of seeds, shear some overgrown shrubs, trees and rocks that litter my property, wander into town, interact with the local community and perhaps purchase some more seeds before taking a gentle stroll back to my novel looking farm to sleep, ready for another day of horticultural growth. But it isn’t like that, it’s “Chop chop, pick those potatoes, plant some strawberries. Come on! Water them now! We’ve got to deliver these berries to Mrs Tiddlywinks, gather daffodils and investigate that weird looking cave before dusk!”. Don’t rush me! I’ve just had a very long and stressful day at my real job, for which I get paid real money, just to come home and be harried into a horticultural nightmare! If I was left at my own pace and at my own accord, to harvest my crops at my own volition, with a casual care free attitude I would probably find significantly more joy from this experience. But sadly I don’t.
It’s evident really that the fault lies with me, not the game. People seem to love Stardew Valley for reasons I don’t think I’ll fully comprehend. If they ever develop “Pub Life” or “Bed Simulator” you’d better believe I’d be playing that though?! God I’m old.