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Paradise Found: Welcome to ‘Stardew Valley’

If you’re anything like this writer then you’re still getting caught up on the growing pile of games you didn’t have time for last year. Fair enough, 2016 was a brutal year for must-play games, maybe even worse (or better) than the notoriously stacked 2015. In any case, chances are you might have missed out on a lot of great games from last year, and it would be no surprise if one of those forgotten gems turned out to be Stardew Valley.

The little Harvest Moon clone that could, Stardew Valley is the kind of game that will absolutely blow away the stalwart sim gamer who thought they’d seen it all between Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. If you thought Farmville had drained away all of the good will left in the farming sim genre, you’ll be happy to be dead wrong.

As it turns out, not only is Stardew Valley every bit as good as a lot of the classics that paved the way for it, in a lot of ways it’s the ultimate version of everything that its progenitors strove for. Designer and developer Eric Barone has filled Stardew Valley to the brim with everything you could possibly want from this type of game.

There’s a guy or gal for everyone in Stardew Valley. It’s okay, they’re fucked up too.

It begins with an unabashed appeal to the gamers of yesteryear through its look. Now, of course, it’s become pretty old hat for indie games to leverage nostalgia by utilizing the look of games that many of us played in our childhoods–but if you’re going to do it, you’d best do it right. This is something that Stardew Valley understands implicitly. The perfect emulation of SNES era, top-down sims is echoed so perfectly here that you’d be hard pressed to find someone unversed who could spot the difference between Stardew Valley and an actual retro classic of the same vein.

In a lot of ways it’s this pristine re-imagining of a time long gone that makes Stardew Valley so achingly effective. It not only calls back to a simpler time in terms of the game and its setting but also a simpler time in our own lives. I, for one, can recall the endless hours that I spent exploring every nook and cranny of the countryside in Harvest Moon 64 while I built up, and perfected, my ideal version of a small town life I had never known.

As we get older, and especially as our society grows more grim and divisive with every passing day, a little escape like Stardew Valley becomes all the more precious and valuable. Only in Stardew Valley can you revel in the bullshit asinine reward of simple hard work, and take joy at the basic suggestion to give people gifts so that they’ll like you.

You’re regularly told that you’re not good enough as you progress through Stardew Valley. Your assuredness that you will be, with time, becomes a comfort of its own.

Stardew Valley is a safe space. It’s a place where you can be whoever you want and build a life. Gay or straight, man or woman, it doesn’t matter here. All that matters is that you have a desire to embrace the echoes of your past, and escape from the troubles of today.

If that’s you, then your perfect little simple life is waiting for you somewhere off in the country side. It might be a place you’ve never heard of but when you push away from the endless monotony of your every day life, it’s precisely the place that you’ll want to find yourself.

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