I have spent over seventy hours in Stardew Valley. In that time I’ve cultivated my land, raised animals, got married and had a child of my own. I’ve plundered the deepest depths of the mine and ridden the bus to the desert. There’s no crop I haven’t grown, no animal product I haven’t churned or spun. Of course in a game like Stardew Valley there’s always something more you could do. I could pop out another baby, make my farm more efficient, or build another barn. But I found myself growing listless of my streamlined faming life. Money was piling up in my bank account with nothing to spend it on and I felt like I’d finally reached a plateau.
So I decided to start anew, and in a game that is all about starting anew, it felt fitting. I waved goodbye to Berry Farm and my little pink haired avatar and created Jemima. Whose hair and colour scheme is based off the Little Mermaid. Because I’m a goddamn adult and I can do what I like.
I thought I’d do things a little differently. While Holly preferred dogs, Jemima prefers cats. While Holly romanced the local doctor, Harvey, Jemima was going to flirt with the nature-loving artist Leah. Would my 70 plus hours of farming experience help my second attempt? Let’ see.
Anyone who’s ever played a Harvest Moon game knows that your farming legacy must first start with the death of a loved one. Stardew Valley follows in this tradition. The loss of my second grandfather was met with the same reaction as the first: indifference and slight annoyance. What was this guy doing with his farm? I arrive and it’s covered in weeds, no animals, no crops, how did he survive for so long?! Time to be shown up by your farming amateur granddaughter, old man.
I introduce myself to the townspeople. It’s bizarre saying hello to my other-save husband and him not going on about how great I am. This might take some getting used to.
I finally see Leah, her cheery demeanour and fabulous hair confirm that she’s the girl for me. This isn’t my first rodeo, I know the subtle art of seduction that’s needed in these games. I cram my inventory with daffodils (the wiki has confirmed she likes them) and figure out her routine. Perfectly normal video game romance stuff.
Wandered around the area. Visited the museum with nothing in it, and found a library book in the dirt. The sailor gave me a fishing rod and told me “if it smells, it sells”. I worry for the economy and cultural well-being of the town.
Knowing the map inside out does take some of the fun out of it on a second play through. The world doesn’t seem so big. It allows me to pinpoint the areas I need to go to and the best foraging spots, but the sense of discovery is gone. I was expecting that though.
What I wasn’t expecting was how difficult things are. My tools are weak. The axe can’t even crack a stump. A complete lack of funds means I can’t load up on seeds. My seventy hours had made me forget the hard grind of the first ten. I’d grown soft and doughy on my mountain of gold and cows.
Finally got 4 little squares of crops growing. Take that grandad. My harvest of green beans, parsnips and potatoes will put your legacy to shame.
Crops are doing well, despite my inability to craft a scarecrow yet. I have a cat that I named Mildred but it seems to be doing very little apart from wandering about and occasionally lying in a position that makes it look dead.
Talked to Alex, the stereotypical jock, by a weird fenced off area with a "dog" that I can't see. Instead I’ve only seen red glowing eyes coming from within a box. Suspicious. Alex asked me if I got new “pants” and said that I must be “doing something right”. What does he mean by that? Are my superior farming skills already showing through from my choice of jeans? I make a note to avoid Alex and creepy “dog” in the future.
The mayor showed me the run down community centre. I’m not surprised it’s abandoned as the town is made up of around thirty people. None of whom seem to miss the community centre. I think the mayor is trying to guilt me into restoring the building so he can reap the awards and be elected for another term. Sly.
After pouring hours into cultivating friendships in my last save, I can’t really bring myself to bother with it all over again. Whether that’s because there’s a lack of character development from NPC’s or because I’ve become a stone cold psychopath I’m not sure. I find myself choosing the sarcastic options in conversations with little regard for friendship, just to see what will happen. Maybe that’s what going from everything to nothing does to you.
The game keeps telling me I’ve already given Leah two gifts this week and "that’s enough". I forgot that happens. Stardew Valley obviously doesn’t understand how game romances work. You talk to them every day and pile them with gifts until they automatically fall in love with you. Well, just because I can’t shove a daffodil in her face continuously doesn’t mean I can’t track her down and talk to her every day.
Levelled up my farming skill. I now have a newly built scarecrow guarding my six crop plots. I’m at farming level 1. That’s one more farming level than grandpa seemed to have. If the scarecrow could high-five me it so would right now.
It was the egg festival today, there’s an egg hunt put on for the children and lots of food. In my last save I won it every year, and I was sure my skills would see me through. I was planning to impress Leah with my ability to shove small children out the way and collect small painted eggs. Only something got in the way: Abigail. That annoying “oh I’m so quirky” girl that everyone just seems to love. She won the egg competition and I retreated to my farm to lick my wounds. Abigail is swiftly put on the enemies list.
Thought I should battle through the weeds and rocks on my farm to have a little explore. Came across a weird shrine thing in the north-west. There was a piece of paper on it. I didn’t have any recollection of it from my first play through, it said;
Wait for my return on the dawn of your third year.
A cold shiver runs through me. My dead grandpa has ominously warned me that he plans to haunt me. I’m worried it might be because of the way I made fun of his complete lack of farming skills to the scarecrow. I’m reminded that in Stardew Valley, even the dead can’t be trusted.
A cut scene involving Linus, the man who lives in a tent outside of town, was triggered. It’s a moving moment in the game. I thought back to the hours I dedicated to my last save and realised that no other instant topped this scene in terms of character building. I’d almost forgotten about it, as expanding my farm had pushed the surrounding characters into the back of my mind. It’s disappointing that this level of emotion doesn’t really return after this.
I’ve given Leah so many daffodils, even if the "only two presents a week" rule has hindered my plans.
Triggered a cutscene in her house where I encouraged her to organise an art fair. Managed to avoid the option that has “(creepy)” prefacing it. Just in case the player doesn’t realise that asking for a kiss completely out the blue is really inappropriate.
She must be so enamoured by now.
Looked around Leah’s house, found a book that says ‘How to Deal with Overbearing People’.
May have to rethink my strategy.
It was the Flower Dance today. A festival where the local singletons do a nice little jig surrounded by some flowers. On my first play through I failed to dance with my beau in the first year. This time I thought my dedication and ability to avoid the “(creepy)” option would mean I’d be dancing with Leah.
She said no.
She danced with that writer Elliot who lives on a beach and does nothing. I stood in the corner as my heart shattered.
Elliot is added to the enemies list.
My farm is expanding well. Finally managed to get a chicken coup built. Bought two chickens and named them after Overwatch characters. I think ‘Widowmaker’ is a great name for a little chick.
It’s taken me almost a full season just to get the rudimentary chicken coop built, but, I’ve enjoyed the hard work a lot more than having piles of cash with little to do.
That’s my first season completed. My life of luxury made me forget how little you start with and how much longer everything takes, but that’s what I really enjoyed about going back. Finally building a chicken coup, looking at what it required to upgrade and yelling “How much?!” rather than immediately being able to do it. Yes, the sense of discovery is gone, and the characters don’t interest me as much as they did, but it's still been fun to make different decisions and pursue different paths. My seventy hours experience hasn’t helped me as much as I thought it would either, and that’s a great thing. It made coming back feel fresh, rather than treading old ground. So Jemima’s farm may be slowly building up, her love-life is hopeless, and her dead grandpa is threatening her; but I’ve enjoyed every minute.