And I’m back with my second game starting with the letter “S.” We sat down for a roundtable discussion to make this list, and I had no hesitation laying out my three picks. This one was a no-brainer for me, a nice way to close out my choices for the best games of the year.
Everything that is old is new again. Stardew Valley isn’t an entirely new experience, but rather, a reimagining of the classic farming/life simulator genre created by Natsume’s Harvest Moon franchise 20 years ago. You know the deal. Move to the countryside, start a farm, hit on a partner, get married, and get to know the townsfolk. It’s a rinse and repeat formula that Stardew Valley manages to make appealing all over again.
You can thank the beautiful 16-bit sprite work here, which creates the lush and beautiful scenery needed to present itself as an escape from your everyday life. After all, if Stardew Valley was an ugly game, nobody would want to go there. The cheerful and soothing music helps as well, and walking into town where everybody knows your name… is small town living really this romantic and carefree?
Stardew Valley also benefitted greatly from the timing of its release. No game from its genre established itself as champion in this Twitch and live streaming dominated world, one that is made for “building” games to thrive. When this game, developed by a single mind no less, hit Steam to little hype and even less fanfare, it properly exploded into the massive success it is today.
Stardew Valley gets everything right, from the big picture goals of getting married and building a proper farm, to the smallest of details: time-management, exploring sewer pipes with the local kids, enjoying festivals, meeting achievements, growing that extra stock of corn with just the right number of days.
Harvest Moon proved the genre could be a hit in the 90s. Stardew Valley proves that it could be a hit now and until the end of time.