“A game about death, that is full of soul”
There is such a large amount of choice on offer when it comes to games these days, that it is often very difficult to find something unique. Spiritfarer however, proves that there are still some truly special games out there, and stands as a refreshing reminder that the medium still has so much more to offer. It really is one of those ‘once in a blue moon’ kind of games.
It is hard to directly categorise, but if it had to be labelled into archetypes then the gameplay itself is a story driven, 2D management sim, in which you sail the seas gathering resources and completing quests, with the narrative conveyed through visual novel style exposition. Describing it like this, however, removes all of the charm that drives so much of the experience. It is a beautifully animated adventure that takes the difficult subjects of death and loss and turns them into one of the most wholesome games I’ve ever played.
You play as Stella, joined by her cat Daffodil (who can be controlled by another player for a co-op experience), tasked with taking over as the new Spiritfarer. Your job is to sail across the seas, searching islands for different spirits that need taking care of, so that you can eventually ferry them along to their final resting place, the Everdoor.
In this bridge between the real world and the afterlife, the spirits are people that have died but haven’t quite fully moved on yet. They are portrayed as various different animals and are often people that your character knows from back in the real world, each having their own unique stories and personalities.
Once you find a new spirit, they join you aboard your boat and carry on with you along your journey exploring the map, until you have fulfilled all their requests, and they are ready to move on. The game does an incredible job of making you feel attached to these characters, and gets you invested in their stories so that when they’re eventually taken away from you, it really does feel like having to let go of something you care about.
The pacing at which you are exposed to their lives is very well crafted, for instance at one point having to deal with the reality of old age and dementia in one of the spirits. By making the player carry out seemingly small actions here, it forces you to sit and stew with the difficulties they’ve gone through and is just one example of how the game creates meaningful attachments through simple tasks.
The actual core content of the game outside of the narrative, is solid in its own right. You could play through the whole experience without paying any attention to the story or dialogue and still have a very enjoyable time. Using the chart on your ship, you simply choose where on the map you want to explore and confirm your destination. The boat will then move of its own accord, which is where the management part of the gameplay comes in.
Each spirit has their own house that needs constructing and each of these buildings can be upgraded over time. This is done by collecting different resources that can also be used to construct various other buildings as well, each of which serves their own purpose for managing things throughout the game, e.g. planting seeds, cooking food, cutting wood etc.
The time between these journeys also gives you plenty of opportunity to look after the spirits, who will need regular meals and can be hugged as a way of increasing their mood. There is an abundance of different recipe combinations to try out, and each spirit has their own favourite dish and meal type, so there is a good incentive for trying out as many things as possible.
All of this is very free flow and allows you to take things completely at your own pace, letting you choose which spirits and quests to prioritise. The day/night cycle does bring in a sense of time, but never punishes you for not doing things efficiently. For the more completion hungry players, it definitely gives you the room to max out your resource management and get things done as efficiently as possible if you want to.
With that said, doing these things efficiently makes a lot of the tasks feel repetitive and sucks a lot of the enjoyment from the experience. The whole design of the game invites a calm and peaceful atmosphere, so rushing through it can turn charming quests into boring chores, and I would say that it is therefore best played without efficiency as its focal point.
So, what is it that makes this game so good?
Whilst the narrative is definitely what drives the heart of the game, the main thing that really makes this game something special, is its aesthetic. Often the word is associated with just visuals, but in games it’s used to describe the artistic cohesion between any of the sensory aspects of the experience; how the game looks, sounds and presents itself to the player. It is here that Spiritfarer strives.
The hand drawn art style is a massive part of what makes the game so inviting. The vibrant, warm colours and detailed animations constantly put the player at ease. Couple this with well-crafted audio, and the game stands as a great example of how good polish can drastically enhance a game.
The soundtrack is also nothing short of sublime. One of the main reasons I looked forward to new areas was because it often meant a new piece of music to go along with it. It is a staple throughout the entire game that simultaneously brings emotion to the table whilst also making you feel like you’re stepping into a warm, relaxing bubble bath.
All of these things are amazing in their own individual rights, but it is the unified vision and cohesive style between all of them, that excels the experience and makes the game something that I would highly recommend anyone to try. It is clear that each person that worked on its development, did so with a shared vision in mind. Every single aspect of the game, from serenading your plants to help them grow, to each spirits final monologue, all of it welcomes an atmosphere of tranquillity and introspection.
|Recommended for||Player types|
|If you’re a fan of animal crossing style gameplay then definitely give this game a try. Anyone that enjoys a meaningful story with colourful characters will also certainly find what they’re looking for.||-Explorers
Direct recommendations aside, this is the kind of game that can’t fully be conveyed by labels or comparisons to other games, so even if you’re the type of player that enjoys fast paced games and shooters like myself, you might find that Spiritfarer is a refreshing break that takes you by surprise.
Summary and final words
If there is one thing that this game does, it makes you feel something. Narrative heavy games can sometimes be subjective in how they affect players but there is no doubt that Spiritfarer has a strongly compelling sentiment. It takes you through the journey of getting to know people, coming to care for them, and then having to let them go, and does so with a profound sense of meaning the entire way.
Pearce is a recent masters graduate with a passion for games. He thinks they can be seen as a form of art, conveying stories and narratives that can have an immense impact on players. Outside of game design, he has an interest in Twitch, music and animals.