Several Games Could Learn From Stardew Valley’s Approach to Characters
Though it may present itself as a humble farming simulator, Stardew Valley is far deeper than what initially meets the eye. Tending to livestock & watering patches of l& is undoubtedly an expectation of players, but its simple graphics & gameplay are alarmingly deceptive, as getting the best out of the game means spending time battling enemies, contributing to the community center, & gifting items to the local townsfolk. It’s a life simulator as much as it is a farming game, & while comparisons to Harvest Moon are justified, it advances the formula in many critical ways.
One of the best things about Stardew Valley isn’t the farming, but the interactions with the 28 different residents of Pelican Town. The more conversations that are had, the more the player feels at home in the fictional setting, & building relationships with them — some resulting in romance & eventual marriage — is delightful. They don’t encroach on the farming experience at all, but also never feel like an afterthought, striking the perfect balance that makes Stardew Valley suitable inspiration for other developers to follow suit with the way they approach character dynamics.
Stardew Valley’s Characters are Diverse, but Equally Engaging
In Stardew Valley, no two characters are truly alike, & when they have similarities to others in the gaming space they also have small quirks that make them more complex. Mayor Lewis, for example is presented early on as a wise, rustic, & friendly man, so learning of his cheeky relationship with Marnie in the side quest “Mayor’s Shorts” adds a fun element to his personality. The mystery of Abigail’s father is further proof that Stardew Valley commits to truly unique character development.
Knowing this, it feels like a genuine treat to spend time with a new character, as their stories are almost never stereotypical affairs. Everyone has some kind of added complexity, & the interactions are short enough to never feel like a slog. Pelican Town is a somewhat unspectacular place filled with mundane locations, but the characters that call it home make it a pleasure to w&er around in.
Pelican Town’s Inhabitants are Rooted in Realism
The tried-&-tested way that plenty of games h&le character dynamics is to sequentially introduce new personalities as the story goes on. In RPGs, players might collect a party of people who are different because of where they were acquired & the life they led as a result. Law in Tales of Arise is different to Shionne because he’s experienced the world the game presents through a completely contrasting lens. It’s simple, yet effective, & is a philosophy that does well to make the characters unique to each other.
Stardew Valley doesn’t take players on an epic quest across expansive locations & harsh terrain, but it’s not bereft of unique personalities. The farthest payers will go is the s&y recesses of the Calico Desert, so the game has to look to other ways to conjure characters worthy of seeking out repeated meetings. It succeeds by never leaning too heavily into their past, instead having players learn more about the struggles they face as the game’s seasons roll by. From Penny grappling with living with her mother Pam, to Shane’s ongoing fight with alcoholism, having the player peer into the lives of the inhabitants is a great way to make the setting feel alive.
Farming, foraging, fishing, & mining may make up the bulk of the gameplay in Stardew Valley, but without the characters that players can interact with, it wouldn’t have nearly the same level of charm. It’s essential to the experience, & the locality of the town’s residents doesn’t make them all feel the same — quite the opposite. Stardew Valley shows that not every game has to have characters from all over to provoke interesting & unique acquaintances, & more games should use that knowledge to justify breaking the mold.
Stardew Valley is available on Mobile, PC, PS4, Switch, & Xbox One.
MORE: Stardew Valley Heralded the Golden Era of the Farming Simulation Genre
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