The Gameplay of Building Relationships in Stardew Valley

Junkie, this is a blog about romance shows and manga…what gives?

Well…I don’t mind talking about romantic subplots or overtones in stories that aren’t explicitly a romance. It’s actually something I want to venture into more in the future. Sometimes this even means video games.

So. One of my favorite mechanics in Stardew Valley is the ability to build relationships with the different characters through giving gifts, talking to them, completing tasks for them if available, and how the closeness to a character is measured by hearts (you start with zero and ten is the max). What I really like is that if you want to max out the relationship with one of the characters you can’t only talk to them or only give them gifts (well… if you consistently give them gifts they love then you might be able to max the relationship but you wouldn’t have the enjoyment of seeing how their dialogue changes as you get closer to them…I’ll add to this later). The point is, you have to do a little bit of everything, and I like that.

I also like that the gifts in of themselves are a mechanism as well. Each character has gifts they love, like, are neutral towards, dislike, and hate. A certain gift can increase your relationship with one character but decrease it with another. Some characters have a limited amount of gifts they love or like, making it more difficult to get closer to them. Then there are characters that have tons of gifts they like which naturally makes it a lot easier to max out their relationship.

While this is nice, it’s kind of expected from a gift mechanism. For me, what makes the gifts interesting in Stardew Valley’s case is that the different things you do around town will make it easier to give gifts to some characters and harder for others. If your trying to get closer to Emily, Sebastian, or Maru then you’ll have a lot of mining to do. Meanwhile getting closer to characters like Leah, Shane, or Jodi will rely a lot more on foods (in Leah’s case try to keep it fresh and healthy), which means more farming and buying meals at the Saloon if you haven’t upgraded your house yet. Increasing your friendship points will unlock cutscenes (also called “heart events”) that are unique to each character. From my experience, it seems that there’s a heart event every two hearts for the marriable characters and the eighth heart event will typically involve a moment suggesting the character has romantic feelings for you. “Suggesting” being generous for some of them (I am 100% talking about Abigail right now).

I like these aspects of the game a lot, but what makes them really work is the game’s screenwriting. The characters are interesting and the different heart events you get with them are, for the most part, amazing. I was laughing my ass off during Emily’s eighth heart event and the same goes for Abigail’s. A lot of these cutscenes are intensely engaging and incredibly well done. You really feel for these people in your virtual town. Some of these heart events really hit hard. Some characters have almost all angsty cutscenes. For most of them, there’s a balance of bleakness and optimism behind all the cutscenes. All of this…pretty much made the heart events my favorite part of the Stardew’s gameplay. Whenever the heart meter went up for a character I would just walk around everywhere I knew the character normally goes just WAITING to trigger a cutscene. I would get so excited- sometimes they were the only reason I wanted to increase my friendship with characters because I always wanted to learn more about all these wonderful townspeople.

Lastly, I’d like to mention something slightly off topic but still somewhat connected to this and that’s Leah has an ex-girlfriend. Why is this important? Well. Something I’ve noticed about the game while playing is that the dialogue is gendered. Despite this, you can date any of the bachelors or bachelorettes no matter the gender of your character. While this is a nice mechanism that is becoming a part of more and more games, there’s something kind of…off about it. It gives this “ This game can be gay…if you want it to be. But it isn’t really gay” kind of energy. So oftentimes these characters will be straight up until you pursue them if that’s what you choose. Especially when in most cases the rest of the game and characters are fairly heteronormative. I’m not specifically including or excluding Stardew from this. Leah is a good exception but most of the characters do seem to come across as straight unless you as the mc want to make it gay.

So. Was the virtual dating aspect of Stardew Valley good? Yes. Very much so. I haven’t played all the heart events to all the characters, but for the ones I have, I found to be really well done and even the characters I haven’t unlocked that many heart events with I still find interesting and like. It’s just…pretty solid gameplay.