In the increasingly depressing times we live in, the call of escapism can be quite tempting. Video games in general are effective ways to momentarily forget your troubles and relax, depending on what you play and how intensely — I wouldn’t recommend League of Legends or Call of Duty as a tranquil activity. But Stardew Valley offers escapism in a way few other games can.
Stardew Valley is a farming sim/dating sim/dungeon crawler, and yes, it is as bizarre as it sounds. But despite all the things to do in the game, it’s rather calming.
The game begins with a rather bleak sequence of your character having an existential crisis working a menial office job, then resolving to start over in the country, taking up property your late grandfather left in Pelican Town. Even in the game’s canon, Stardew Valley represents an escapist paradise, and comes across as a haven from all the troubles of the modern world.
The gameplay in Stardew Valley resembles Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon, giving you an assortment of things to do — fishing, foraging, farming, fighting, flirting, and various other F’s — without much direction telling you what you have to do. Want to spend your days expanding your farm? Go for it. Would you rather focus on delving into the monster-filled mine? Hell, it’s your life.
The farming options are vast, with an assortment of fruits, vegetables and flowers relegated to each season (which only last a month in the game’s calendar), and animals you can raise to broaden your farm’s offering even further. Your grandfather left you a generous amount of land, giving you ample space to develop the farm of your dreams. You can also renovate and customize your home, expanding it from a one-room building to a place you’d want to raise a family in.
Speaking of, there’s plenty of romantic and social opportunities in the game’s world, with about 30 characters living in Pelican Town, all with their own unique personalities. Growing close to others can take a long time, accomplished usually through giving them gifts and doing favours for them, but it’s ultimately rewarding as you find your relationships growing.
The most intense part of the game comes in the mining and dungeon crawling, which both happen in a mine full of randomly-generated levels, a mix of strange monsters and valuable minerals. Combat is incredibly simplistic, largely involving just attacking and defending alongside a few items to boost your stats, though there’s a charm in its simplicity that brings to mind old-school Zelda dungeon crawling.
Stardew Valley is available on PC, Mac, Playstation 4 and Xbox One for under $20. Check it out if you’re looking for a game to de-stress, especially as we move into midterm season.