Death is coming for all of us. Some people embrace it, some people are scared of it. But what happens on the way there? In Spiritfarer we explore the mysterious ways of parting with your living self. It’s a management game that manages to turn a game about death in something cozy, heartwarming and relaxing.
In Spiritfarer you play as Stella and are accompanied by your cat, Daffodil. You get tasked to become the Spiritfarer. You’ll take people to their last journey, to the great unknown that is the end. It’s a story-driven management game with aspects of platforming.
Stella will pick up inhabitants of this strange and mysterious world and make sure their needs are taken care off. While you’re exploring the world and learning more about your company, you are the shipmaster at an ever evolving ship. Your ship is your point of operation, as you use it to complete all kinds of tasks. The more spirits come aboard your ship, the more compartments you’ll need to add to the vessel. For example, each spirit will want their own room at some point.
While the ship surely transforms throughout your playthrough of Spiritfarer, it’s the characters who evolve the most. There are some deep and emotional stories behind each of the characters, about depression, suicide and more stories told throughout this journey. These impactful stories are beautifully contrasted by the artstyle and animation in the game.
Spiritfarer is a looker. The animations are very well done and add to the cozy experience. Your cat Daffodil will play with a ball of light when bored, your passengers will have all kinds of animations portraying their emotional state of mind at that point. The artstyle they’ve chosen shows the route the developers have tried, and succeeded, to walk with this game. It contrasts the theme of the game in a great manner and turns everything to life, or.. death?
The gameplay of Spiritfarer is very diverse. There are two main aspects to it. There’s the management part and there is the storytelling part. Let’s start with the management aspect.
Being a Spiritfarer is hard work. You have to fish, garden, cook and maybe most importantly hug. You are the centre of this whole operation, your actions are what brings everyone closer to their final destination. At some point you’ll be in the kitchen garden taking care of all the vegetables you’ve been planting with a song (which includes a rhythm game by the way) when you remember you were sailing into a thunderstorm or a jellystorm. What? Yes. You’ll require jelly and lightning in a bottle to further evolve your ship. These are minigames which are a welcoming change from the management aspects of the game.
And there are plenty of minigames. The aforementioned rhythm game, fishing, catching lightning, trying to catch as much flying jelly as you can or, even gather resources from a dragon covered in ores. The management aspect is very relaxing and well built, but can get a bit monotonous at times. Having some change in gameplay helps fight this.
But, it’s a management game at its core. If you don’t like busywork in video games, your experience could differ. You will need to get resources from towns and floating barrels, you’ll need to go to a sawmill, which you’ve built on your ship, to make planks. The good part? Your ship can travel by itself, it only needs to know the destination. But, your ship is powered by light so it doesn’t work in the night. Which isn’t a problem, as you’ll need sleep too. You can choose to work through the night, but can also sleep and skip to the next morning.
Then, the story. You are the Spiritfarer guiding each of your passengers to their last destinations. Some are very willing to leave, while others are less sure of their last journey. And Stella, the Spiritfarer, would love to hold on some of the passengers on board for longer than sometimes happens. You’ll be exploring a world full of wonder. There are cities, beautiful forests and mountains. And each part of the world has their own inhabitants and stories to explore. For example, at some point you’ll be tasked to find a sheep to accompany another sheep. You travel to one island and take the sheep aboard your ship, to deliver it to another whole island. These are the small missions who make sure the game isn’t just about death and the fascinating stories behind those faiths. But it’s still a story about death. You’ll learn about the reasons why your passengers have died, although be it in a very obscure and sometimes avoiding way.
Overall Spiritfarer is telling emotional stories in a well crafted world. Some bugs aside Spiritfarer is a well thought out and polished experience. The diverse aspects to this game keep it engaging for long enough, and it’s a long game, for you to be interested in each of the passengers stories.
When touching on difficult subjects, you sometimes miss the mark. The developer behind Spiritfarer, ThunderLotus, has commented on one storyline in particular that will probably be changed in the future. It included a story about a person in a wheelchair that was finally free in death. Insinuating people with disabilities can never be truly free. Thunder Lotus has issued a statement on this, ableist, piece of storyline:
Spiritfarer is a game where death is treated differently than in many other games, which makes this game unique. We’ve been killing people and things in video games for so long, that we’ve stopped to wonder what actually happens after that. In Spiritfarer we learn this, in a colourful and happy world which invites you to be the best Spiritfarer in history.
Who wouldn’t want to leave this world with one of those precious hugs from Stella? One thing is guaranteed. You’ll learn to say goodbye.
Spiritfarer is available on Xbox One, Windows 10, Steam, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox Game Pass for PC and console.