“A cozy management game about dying” is perhaps my favorite tagline for a game ever. And it really is an apt description for Spiritfarer, a lovely indie game from Thunder Lotus that I recently completed on my Switch! (I enjoyed it so much that I added it to my top 10 best games of 2020 list even though I hadn’t finished it). The atmosphere and mechanics of the game are extremely calming and relaxing, yet there is an immense amount of depth in its tackling of complex themes. It was the perfect game for me to transition from 2020 to 2021, especially since our family is making some big changes in the coming year. Let’s jump into why I love this game with a Spiritfarer review!
First day on the job
The premise of Spiritfarer is very clever. Your character, Stella (and her adorable cat Daffodil) is taking over as the titular spiritfarer from Charon. As the new ferrywoman, you must find, take care of, help, and eventually say goodbye to several wandering souls in the afterlife. You move your boat throughout a fairly large world map, and stop at locations to gather resources, gain new abilities, and “recruit” new spirits.
There are 11 different spirits to find and get to know, and the journey of nearly all of them ends at the “Everdoor”, a beautiful gate that marks the final passage into what comes next. Most indie games I’ve played tend to be on the shorter end (such as the absolutely delightful Coffee Talk), but Spiritfarer is a lengthy experience. It took me about 25 hours to complete everything! How did the time fly so fast?
Everything is beautiful
I’ve seen multiple comparisons between the art design of Spiritfarer and Studio Ghibli. And it’s spot on! The graphics are lovely and wondrous. Every single character (almost all of which are anthropomorphic animals) is insanely expressive, and environments are lush and detailed. I wanted to take a vacation to several spots I visited!
So is the sound design! The effects present in crafting and building are both realistic and whimsical, and the soundtrack is both calming and contemplative (I immediately added the Spiritfarer OST to my Spotify). The main theme in particular, with beautiful vocals in the end credits, is now of my favorites! It’s been playing in my head since starting the game, especially as we’ve been starting to pack and say goodbye to our house.
So what exactly are you doing for nearly 25+ hours? Fans of Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing will find a lot that’s familiar in terms of resource management. You can farm, fish, cook, build, arrange, and collect a variety of materials. All in the name of taking care of the spirits on your boat! (it honestly reminds me of being a parent to my two girls-constantly running around and trying to care of a hundred things at once). Crafting is actually quite a bit of fun and surprisingly involved. You build machines that function much more like their real-world counterparts than what you’d find in other sims. I personally most enjoyed “smelting” the most as the furnace is very fun to operate! You can also cook a plethora of recipes that take different amounts of time depending on the ingredients.
Additionally, there are some light platforming and Metroidvania elements! Each passenger you bring on board provides you with an “obol” that can be used to gain power ups at shrines, allowing for more exploration of different parts of each location. It’s by no means a huge part of the game, but it’s gratifying to try out new abilities and become more nimble over time, especially as your scramble about your ship! Speaking of which…
If you build it…
One of my favorite things to do was build structures (houses, gardens, machinery, etc.) on your boat, which each require a bundle of resources. It’s then very easy (and quite a blast!) to re-arrange everything into a crazy jigsaw puzzle on your ship deck. It ended up reminding me of something out of Harry Potter or the stacked trailers of Ready Player One! It was consistently pretty enchanting to run and climb about all the organized chaos that was our little floating village.
Nearly every character also comes with a new “resource mini-game” that is unique to them. These generally trigger in special locations around the map, where your spirit will tell you what you’re supposed to do. I found these sequences to be quite a delight, and rather beautiful too (at least for most of the game!)
There is also a day/night mechanic. Your ship doesn’t move at night, so can either spend the time taking care of business, or sleep until the morning. Figuring out how to manage your time is (at least for me) part of the fun of the game! But there’s never any rush-the game can be played at any pace, and that’s the beauty. There’s no life bar, no hit points, no lives. It’s truly relaxing, quite the opposite of the also beautiful Kaze and the Wild Masks!
When one of your spirits feels their “time has come”, they will ask to be taken to the Everdoor, the gate to the final afterlife. I want to tread carefully here to avoid spoiling anything, but I have to say that these sequences are some of the most powerful I’ve experienced in any game. Stella slowly and quietly rows the spirit to the door in a canoe, past beautiful trees with falling leaves, while the spirit reflects on their life. The culmination of gameplay elements, Stella’s past with the character, the reflections in the dialogue, the breathtaking graphics, the pitch-perfect score, and my own thoughts about the afterlife made this very impactful.
Each character has a very different take on their own life, and the meaning of existence in general. Some resonated more with me than others, and I think that’s a matter of personal perspective. They’re all very thought provoking, and I’d almost venture to say it’s worth playing the game simply to experience these sequences!
A few grains of salt
I certainly loved Spiritfarer, but I do have a few nitpicks! Time flies while playing most of the game, but I found the last several hours to drag on a bit. Once you’re down to your last few spirits, you generally have all the resources you need, and it’s simply about moving around the map to complete the last few tasks. Your boat moves rather slowly, even when fully upgraded, and the “resource mini-games” mentioned earlier become a bit of nuisance when you constantly run into them late-game.
I also encountered a few minor bugs, such as character dialogue or resource events not triggering at the right time. This was always fixed by sleeping until the next day and trying again, but it was enough to be notable. Additionally, there is some slowdown present when a lot is happening on the screen during mini-games or snowy environments!
Should you take the job?
If you enjoy management games and are up for a deep dive into the meaning life and what comes with death, this is your game! The characters are just lovely, and you dearly miss them when they are gone. I personally found it very therapeutic after a brutal year, and the themes to be beautiful in more ways than one. I highly recommend it.
Have you played Spiritfarer? If so, what you say in your Spiritfarer review? Do you like games that address things like death and the afterlife in meaningful ways, or do you prefer lighter fare? Let me know in the comments below!