Since the revelation of the Switch, I’ve been dying to find that one game which not only draws me in entirely but also acts as a perfect go-between for both portable and home console gaming. I’ve wanted something that I can play on the train ride to work and continue playing after arriving at home with the same focus, something that can both get me emotionally invested and entranced with its mechanics and yet still play in quick bursts for a few minutes here and there, feeling like I got my fill.
At 30 hours deep into my latest playthrough, Stardew Valley is both the first game to provide such an experience and also the Switch game I’ve sunk the most time into.
While my ultimate goal is to use the Switch as a portable retro console for all of my classic favorites (the day Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger come to the Switch is the day I never buy another gaming console), my enthusiasm towards its headlining hits hasn’t been high as other Nintendo fans. Right away, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fell a little bit short on me, probably because I have grown exhausted of the open world genre at this point. Not even Nintendo’s tweaks and a fancy Legend of Zelda skin was able to revive my interest after the likes of Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Shadow of War, Just Cause, and the rest of the Ubisoft tower-climbing simulators whittled away at my enthusiasm for “exploration” over the years.
Then there is Sonic Mania, which is a fine little game, but playing it in bursts just isn’t the same as losing yourself to a nice RPG. SEGA did provide a save file, but I have trouble seeing Sonic as anything deeper than an arcade experience, which is not what I’m talking about here. Then there is Mario + Rabbids, a marvelous game and a pure joy of the Switch library, but that ultimately proved to be a victim of Stardew Valley’s warpath. Everything was going fine in my mission to liberate the Mushroom Kingdom, but then I traveled down to the farm, and not even Mario has been able to wrestle my attention span back into his favor.
Hopefully, his next adventure, Super Mario Odyssey, set to release on Oct. 27, will have a stronger umph to pull me free from my eternal, seasonal coil.
However, Stardew Valley isn’t just a benefactor of a skimpy line-up of games. It also speaks to my gaming habits more so than many other games in recent memory. If you haven’t realized by my name drops of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, or indeed any article I’ve written over the last five years, I’m still in love with 16-bit era of video games, and Stardew Valley’s aesthetic captures those glory days more soundly than any other indie imitation out there.
This is an advantage I fully expect Project: Octopath Traveler to carry when it comes charging onto the Switch next year. Nowadays, nothing makes me happier in video games than retro feelings, and the best way to get me to buy your game is to tap into my inner 90s child.
My current save file also isn’t my first time playing Stardew Valley. Like most fans out there, I approached the game when it came to Steam as a genuine sleeper hit over a year ago, but I did so blindly and without a clear sense of direction.
Now, we have a wealth of information about its inner workings a mere Google search away, and thanks to this, Stardew Valley is also unleashing the tendencies of my inner completionist, a demon I’ve worked very hard at burying over the last year or so. I take a lot of joy in planning out my days, spreading my wealth of gifts to the locals, romancing Leah (who was my clear partner candidate from the get-go), and finding time to just enjoy a simulated life on the farm.
Stardew Valley’s ultimate attraction though is that of an escapist game. It’s no different from the other life simulators out there like Animal Crossing and its ilk, and thanks to major overhauls in my life over the last few months, Stardew Valley is also providing just the right levels of distraction to grant me a few beautiful minutes of reprieve. Whether I sit on my butt and hammer out a week’s worth of in-game time or just water my crops and take a quick dive into the mine, Stardew Valley grants me the “out of body” experience that only the best and most personal outlets can really provide me anymore.
Finally, what I find most appealing about Stardew Valley, though, is the lack of obligation I feel towards it. As I’ve said, certain recent overhauls to my life recently have drastically cut down on the amount of gaming I’m able to do in a single day, and I’ve had to draw some clear lines in the sand when it comes to determining the games I want to play. Basically, if I ever feel like an experience is starting to drag or if I catch myself forcing my way to the end out of obligation, I drop the game and pick up something else.
It’s this lurking feeling that I am bound to a game until I beat it that has eaten away at my enthusiasm over the last year or so, and it’s something that starts to set it barely at the halfway point for a number of games, regardless of whether its AAA, indie, or retro; hardcore or casual.
I simply don’t have the time to play games I don’t enjoy anymore. This proved to be the case for my recent playthrough of Final Fantasy VII, which wasn’t able to retain my enthusiasm until the end. Dropping it led to me playing Final Fantasy VI again, which I wrapped up feeling a little choked and emotional. Thankfully, Final Fantasy VI didn’t drag in the middle, it provided the experience I was looking for, and most importantly, I felt I wanted to see it through to the end.
Had I stuck to Final Fantasy VII out of obligation, I would never have found the time to play that special campaign of Final Fantasy VI.
This is why Stardew Valley is succeeding so well in my current life. Simply put, I can put it aside whenever I want. There is no obligation to beat the game because there really is no “beating the game.” I suppose being judged by your grandfather is a goal in some sense, but it’s hardly the reason I’m pressing forward. I’m playing the game solely for the sake of enjoying it, and it’s a feeling I haven’t felt in quite a while. The vast selection of games on the market has felt like a burden, so it feels so revitalizing to focus on only the ones that matter most to you.
Hopefully, whatever game I follow it up with is able to replicate those feelings.