Is Stardew Valley the game Harvest Moon fans of yore wanted? Y-E-S
ConcernedApe's farming RPG Stardew Valley slid its way to release last week to much fanfare, and to someone on the outside looking in, the reasons for its success may be a surprise. After all, there are plenty of 2D RPGs on PC and farming in video games isn't interesting.. right?
Let's rewind a bit and look back at the PlayStation/Nintendo 64 era. A simpler time in gaming, when Japanese titles dominated console sales and one particular farming RPG series got two very similar entries in the span of a year: Harvest Moon 64 and Harvest Moon: Back to Nature.
We're not going to get into which of these is the better game -- if you've sat in the right parts of the Internet over the years, you've seen these debates -- but there's something to be said about the charm of those two iterations and the slightly updated and altered Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town on the Game Boy Advance.
The sense of home and wonder found in these three games are something the Harvest Moon series struggled to recapture in later iterations. The Rune Factory spin-off series never quite got it right on the nose either. It just might be a testament to the value of simplicity, if nothing else.
Back to the present
So here we are, it's 2016. Harvest Moon has been "iffy" for a while now, Rune Factory is puttering about at its own pace, and fans of the older Harvest Moon games have all but forgotten about the charm they once experienced with the farming RPG genre.
Well, they did. Until Stardew Valley snuck its way out last week.
From the time you start the game, read through the introduction, and get dropped right in the middle of Pelican Town you can tell exactly what type of game Stardew Valley is meant to be. It makes no qualms about the games it's meant to imitate and instead parades it with pride -- pride it so easily deserves.
It's clear that developer ConcernedApe did its best to capture the feeling of the older Harvest Moon titles. Everything from your grandfather's handing over of the farm to the farming, exploring, and relationship building gives a sense of familiarity and welcome, and you as a player can't help but want to see it all.
Old or new - Why not both?
It's odd. Stardew Valley is undoubtedly in a more realistic setting than the games I've brought up so far. It retains the naivety and simplicity of the games it's inspired by, but it's undoubtedly more mature in some ways.
The people in town aren't perfect, and many seem to have very "real life" problems and lives, to some extent. Pam and Penny, the mother and daughter who live in the trailer, are just one example. Pelican Town itself isn't the most cleanly place on earth, either.
The quality of the game itself makes it good, but the splits from the total innocence the games Stardew Valley is derivative of sets it apart and ultimately makes it memorable. When was the last time you played a Rune Factory or Harvest Moon and thought, "I could play this forever"?
Stardew Valley was worth the wait for anyone who has enjoyed these farming RPGs in the past or present, there just isn't any debate on this point. Some may say it's a perfect evolution from the HM games of yore with a nice dash of RF's adventuring -- and honestly I wouldn't be able to argue.
ConcernedApe went above and beyond what anyone expected before Stardew Valley finally released, and it is absolutely a game anyone who has played and enjoyed farming RPGs in the past. Instead of using throwbacks as a crutch to hold up an underwhelming game, it uses throwbacks as a supplement to its already established and fully-formed unique base. That is no small accomplishment.