How To Play Stardew Valley: A Beginner Guide

If you're not sure how to play Stardew Valley, here is a handy guide to help kickstart your game! Learn the basic mechanics and story points that will help you beat the learning curve and get right into the best RPG/Farming Sim on the market right now.

How To Play Stardew Valley: A Beginner's Guide

If you’re reading this, you probably dove headlong into Stardew Valley and are feeling a bit lost. A basic understanding of the controls, mechanics and story should have you well on your way to returning Gramps’ farm to it’s former glory and reviving the economy of Pelican Town! This Stardew Valley beginner guide is intended mainly to cover the very basics to get you started.

Despite it’s colorful retro-styled pixel graphics, Stardew Valley is a modern and robust game with deep mechanics. It is considered the best farming simulator of it’s type, handily outselling historically popular series of this kind like Harvest Moon. I am not here to draw conclusions on which is the best farming sim/RPG, merely using it’s popularity to demonstrate that the game is accessible and has appealed to a wide variety of people, selling in excess of 20 million copies across just about every platform you can think of.

Stardew Valley Trailer

Setting Up Your Game

We’re going to start right from the top – you’ve bought the game, loaded it up and are now staring at the title screen. There’s not much to see here, so go ahead and select “New” to begin your game and create your character.

A Word On Farm Types – Choose Carefully!

You are able to select the type of farm you have on the character creation screen. This cannot be changed after you start the game, so choose carefully! Depending on which type of farm you choose, you will have more fishing, mining or foraging opportunities.

If you are a beginner to Stardew Valley, you need to know that most of these farm perks come with a catch – for instance, you cannot use sprinklers on the beach farm, but you will sometimes have items wash up on the shoreline, or pesky monsters will spawn on your farm at night when you’re more likely to be tired. If this is your first time playing the game, it’s probably best to take the standard farm.

Make sure you choose your farm type carefully when creating your character - there are 7 options going down along the right of the window

Make sure you choose your farm type carefully when creating your character – there are 7 options going down along the right of the window

Advanced Game Options

Added in the 1.5 update, the advanced game options menu allows you to tweak your experience. I would advise new players to tread lightly here! You can also modify the world seed here – this affects the RNG used by the game to determine where items spawn and some random in-game events will occur. This is mostly used by speedrunners to manipulate in-game events to get the best possible start, whatever their objective may be.

Other than that, most of the things on the character creation screen are cosmetic in nature and down to your personal preference – you can also click on the dice in the top left corner of the window to randomize your character. It’s a surprisingly versatile character creation menu, so if you enjoy creating the perfect character go ahead and take your time tweaking yours, while enjoying the relaxing background music. The toughest question for me to answer here was do I want a cat, or a dog?

How To Play Stardew Valley

Once you are done creating your character and grappling over your preferred animal companion, you’ll play through a short intro where you will meet a couple of the townsfolk – Robin and Mayor Lewis. Through their banter it’s revealed that Robin is your go-to for house upgrades, but you won’t need to worry about that for a little while yet. Mayor Lewis does what it says he does, Mayor stuff. 

You'll get to know the characters through their interactions with each other

You’ll get to know the characters through their interactions with each other

When you wake up on the 1st day of Spring in your cabin, you will see a parcel. Grab that, and head outside. Not much is happening in town for the first couple of in-game hours, so you may as well spend that time familiarizing yourself with the controls and clearing out some space for you to start farming. 

Start With The Basics

The best way to get started with Stardew Valley as a beginner is to learn the controls and familiarize yourself with the tools and mechanics. You can do this by heading outside your house on the first day, switching between your tools and experimenting with them – pickaxe for rocks, axe for wood, scythe for grass. Once you have cleared an area, you can use your hoe to prepare the land and finally plant your seeds. Don’t forget to water them afterwards using the watering can!

There is a lot more to this game, which is why I think mastering the basics is the best place to start. That is, learning the controls and the basic mechanics of the game. Stardew Valley is primarily a farming simulator, but also boasts an interesting story, social mechanics and a robust crafting system, but you can largely ignore them until you’ve mastered the basics. Go ahead and knock down some trees and break some rocks – don’t feel bad, you can always plant new ones!

Clear some rubble near water so you can start planting your first crops

Clear some rubble near water so you can start planting your first crops

While you are clearing your farm, don’t get too carried away. Save some grass, as this will come in handy once you start getting animals later on. Destroy all your grass, and you will need to either buy or craft grass starters. You should also consider your proximity to water – you don’t want to have to run all the way across your farm to refill your watering can! Only clear what you need.

Get To Grips With The Controls

For the purposes of this guide, I have been playing Stardew Valley on Nintendo Switch. The controls are by and large the same across platforms, whereby you use the left thumb stick to move your character, with the right stick bringing up a pointer. This pointer can be used to interact with and place objects – useful when you want to redecorate your home.

The ABXY buttons are used for interacting with objects, using tools and placing items, as well as opening the menu. The trigger buttons are used for switching tools and items, while the  shoulder buttons cycle through rows in your inventory – you only have one of these to start with, so essentially these buttons do nothing until you unlock one. 

I play Stardew on Switch, but the controls are similar across platforms.

I play Stardew on Switch, but the controls are similar across platforms.

By default on the Switch, A is used for interaction and X for using tools. You’ll notice once you have hit enough rocks, the little Energy bar in the bottom right corner will begin to deplete. Let it drop too low, and your character will pass out! You can replenish this by either getting some rest, or eating some food. 

The Menu Explained

Access the menu by pressing the B button by default on the Switch. This is where it all happens. Along the top of the window, you will see a bunch of tabs. You can use the directional buttons or the stick to control your cursor – you can see what the tabs are for by highlighting them, and either switch between them by clicking on the tab you need or scrolling through them using your trigger buttons.

Inventory

Stardew newbies take note – inventory management is something you need to try stay on top of from early on. The first tab in your menu is your inventory, the icon looks like a back pack. To start, you have one row but you can unlock more later. You can rearrange your stuff by navigating to the item you want and picking it up with the A button. Once you have your item, you can either move it to where you want, or drop it in the trash can to discard it. 

You can arrange and equip items in the menu. Note the tabs at the top of the window

You can arrange and equip items in the menu. Note the tabs at the top of the window

Something I found helpful is to group my tools roughly in the order I use them. I have my axe, scythe and pickaxe next to each other so I can switch between them quickly while clearing land to farm. The same goes for hoe and watering can when planting.

Below your inventory, you will see your character and some equipment slots. If you didn’t know what they were before, you do now. Once you find items you can equip, like a Glow Ring, you can drop it in one of the available slots like you would if you were moving or discarding an item.

Map

If you take a look at the 4th tab, the one that looks like a map if you squint a little bit. This is your map. Most importantly, it shows you where you are. Sadly, your map does not give you a specific path to where you want to go. It does give you a general direction, and in most cases that should be enough to get you home. It also contains other useful information, such as the opening and closing times of shops.

The island is big enough to get lost, be careful!

The island is big enough to get lost, be careful!

Crafting Menu

Represented by a claw hammer icon, your crafting menu will allow you to create new items. You can see what you need for a recipe by selecting it with your cursor using the D Pad. Probably the first thing you will want is a chest, which requires 50 pieces of wood. You should be able to gather this quite easily just by clearing the area for your first crop.

New crafting recipes will be added as the game progresses. There are all kinds of things that will improve your farm such as sprinkler systems and scarecrows, along with many more. Even if you aren’t planning to get too involved with the crafting, you’ll want a bunch of chests to put all your things in. Items accumulate fast in Stardew Valley.

Other Menu Tabs

I am not going to cover these in depth here. Among these are a character stats page, a social tab, and an options menu. Finally, there is an option to exit to the title. To me, the menu is reminiscent of Dark Souls’ menu but unlike ‘Souls, the clock stops while you are in the menu, so you can take your time figuring everything out and arranging your inventory as you please. 

I was able to plant all this on my first day, can you do more?

I was able to plant all this on my first day, can you do more?

Farming For Your Life

Probably one of the first things you noticed when the game started is the digital clock in the top right corner. This isn’t just a fancy looking clock, though – it tells you what the weather is, how much gold you have, and where in the day you happen to be. Like in the real world, you have a morning, daytime, afternoon and night time. At any time during the day, you can enter your bed sleep. This will save and progress your game to the next day.

There are several good reasons to keep an eye on this. Not only do the shops open and close at certain times, everyone in this game has their own routine. You will probably find yourself developing one, too, as time passes. As I have previously mentioned, you can check when shops open and close via the map in your menu.

When it comes to growing your crops, it takes a few in-game days from planting them until they reach maturity. This process can be sped up by using the right fertiliser before you plant. So long as you make sure your plants get water every day, you should have a successful harvest!

Refill your watering can at a body of water

Refill your watering can at a body of water

I’ve Harvested, Now What?

You have a few options to consider here. In the beginning you will probably just drop most of what you grow into the collection box outside your house, but you can also save some of what you grow for cooking, brewing or preserving. Storing things in your fridge will make them available for cooking when you interact with the stove.

For brewing and preserving, you will have to unlock the relevant items to place your crops in. You will notice that some crops are better than others, as indicated by a gold, silver or purple star icon – these will produce better products. Wines, jams and cheeses sell for much more than their raw counterparts – they can be sold by dropping them in the collection box like you would any other crop.

Once you unlock it, there is also a machine that can turn your crops back into seeds. This effectively cuts Pierre out of your profit margins. Islanders might also post requests for specific crops on the notice board, so be sure to keep an eye on that for an extra reward where available.

You can get sweet rewards for fulfilling requests

You can get sweet rewards for fulfilling requests

Rinse And Repeat

Once you have the hang of the basics, you will get into the flow of planting, growing, harvesting and repeating through the seasons. There are certain crops that will persist across a couple of seasons, so use those where possible and you won’t be starting from scratch the next season.

The growing seasons are Spring, Summer and Fall. During this time, you will have plenty of work to keep you busy on the farm. There are even more things you can do, like getting animals for milk and eggs, but I am not covering that here. By now, you should have a working understanding of how to play Stardew Valley. You should be able to start and maintain your farm, navigate the menus, and have a basic understanding of the time mechanics.

Skipped the Intro? Spoiler-Free Story Breakdown

In Stardew Valley you have inherited a farm on a faraway island. You get sick of your soulless corporate job and decide to revive said farm and travel to the remote island to do just that. It’s the beginning of your new life, and boy have you got your work cut out for you. The farm is in a run-down state, and the economy of nearby Pelican Town is in trouble. Is there any hope that a city slicker like you can return it to it’s former glory?

Primarily a roleplaying game, by nature Stardew boasts an enjoyable story and some great characters to meet. You decide how this story plays out – you can abandon your destiny and play arcade games at Stardrop Saloon every day, if you really want to. However you decide to play, there are a few story basics that you should keep in mind.

You have no idea what you are in for

You have no idea what you are in for

Welcome To Pelican Town

The entirety of Stardew Valley starts and finishes on a remote, isolated island with the only major connection to the outside world being via a rail network. Surrounding the town there is a large wooded area, white sandy beaches, a vast cave system and many other areas to explore. 

The central focus of the game is on Pelican Town, with the story taking you to and fro across the map. There is a lot to do on the island, in spite of what you might think for such a destination. The town boasts a bar with arcade facilities, social opportunities and seasonal attractions. A gentleman named Pierre runs a general store in the middle of town where you can buy things for your farm. What he stocks changes with the seasons.

You can also visit the Jojamart across the river, but why would you do that? They are slightly more expensive, not to mention their unfair labor practices. There are other buildings, such as the clinic and the homes of the your new neighbors, and many others – I will leave those for you to discover!

You can buy seeds at Pierres. He also has an upgrade for your backpack!

You can buy seeds at Pierres. He also has an upgrade for your backpack!

Social – Love Thy Neighbor

I have mentioned the townsfolk a couple of times already. There are loads of people to talk to in the town, each with unique personalities and stories. As the game progresses, you can get to know them by interacting with them. You will sometimes trigger unique story events if you develop these budding friendships enough.

For the most part, you can ignore the social mechanics. If you do want to improve your relationship with a particular character, you can give them gifts by selecting the item in your inventory and interacting with the character. Be warned, they all have unique likes and dislikes, so take note if a gift goes down particularly well or badly.

You can make or break your relationships with the right gifts. Improving your relationship enough will trigger a unique story event, further deepening your bond. You don’t have to interact with every character, only the ones you like. Thankfully, your relationship with each character is mutually exclusive, and as such they will not affect each other at all. Until you get married, that is!

There are loads of interesting characters to meet

There are loads of interesting characters to meet

Stardew Valley Beginner Guide To Romance

The key to advancing relationships in Stardew Valley is patience. It takes time to win the trust and develop a bond with the people in this game. This is a rewarding experience in and of itself, so try and enjoy it!  With so many interesting characters to meet, and stories to experience, you might forget about the passage of time as you get into a rhythm.

Several of the characters in the game can be romanced by persistently giving them acceptable gifts. Once a character likes you enough, you can buy bouquet from Pierre – gifting this to the character in question will make him or her your boy or girlfriend. Ultimately, you can get married, which comes with a few perks like getting your crops watered.

You will know if someone likes the gift you gave them

You will know if someone likes the gift you gave them

You can have a look at how your relationships are progressing under the Social tab in the Menu. There is a  limit of 2 gift opportunities per individual, per week, with a further limit of 1 gift per person, per day.  All you have to do is switch to the item you want to gift while you are in-game. Your character will now be holding it, and upon interacting with someone else you will gift the item. You can then gauge how much they liked the gift by their reaction.

The details around the relationship mechanics are complex, but the execution is simple: give nice gift, get nice result. It’s as easy as that. You also don’t have to take it further and get married, and if you do, you can do so with whoever you like. This includes same-sex marriages, but excludes a handful of characters, like Mayor Lewis.

Conclusion

There are a lot of things I have not covered in this Stardew Valley beginner guide, but at the very least you should now have a grasp of both the mechanics of the game, as well as the basics of the story. Armed with this knowledge, you can begin or continue your journey knowing a few things I wish I knew starting out. Feel free to let me know if you can think of any points I may have left out in the comments! 

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