Available for the PS4, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch, this Spiritfarer review is based on the Steam version, developed by Thunder Lotus – creators of Sundered and Jotun.
Resource management, platform action and entertaining a group of spirits on their last run towards the Everdoor, between life and death, this game has plenty to offer.
I almost don’t want to review this game as playing through felt more like a lifestyle than gaming and in a matter of minutes I was put under the spell of this enchanting title.
In Spiritfarer, you play Stella; newly appointed in the title role, she is accompanied by her cat Daffodil and Gwen, a Spirit of the Forest-like adviser, similar to the character in Princess Mononoke (only on a less grand scale).
Her position is to fulfil the last requests of the dead as they make their transition to the afterlife. This consists of completing many side quests and the relevant story arcs for each character while accommodating them on your upgradeable ship with somewhere to eat, sleep and be entertained.
She is equipped with the Everlight, a shape-shifting object that shines in the darkness, operating as a pickaxe to an oar, fishing rod to a device that protects against and captures lightning.
You’re the hostess with the mostess as you sail from island to island, discovering new locations, discovering loot, side quests and encountering new spirits, all the while upgrading your ship as a mobile home for the dead. Sounds morbid, but it the complete opposite.
Visiting a (loan) shark, you can increase the size of the ship and upgrade with new features as you progress, plus build from a range of buildings that are stacked on the deck using a blueprint desk. Build a guest house, individual living quarters, crops… it’s all self-contained, the more characters that join your journey, the more space and facilities you’ll need to cater to them.
From the opening cutscene and introduction where the former Spiritfarer passes the baton to Stella, the presentation was stunning, and the cynic in me was expecting the game to shift to walls of text or stripped down animation that wasn’t on par with the introduction.
Instead, the art style is consistent throughout and Stella, and the NPCs are a mixture of a Don Bluth piece or even similar to a Studio Ghibli production while matching the ambience and score.
The options include playing on the keyboard or with a controller. While I favour the latter, Spiritfarer isn’t a fast-paced or demanding title, so the controls feel quite effortless on the keyboard (no mouse required), including the platforming areas of double-jumping or gliding, using the spacebar.
It’s on the easier side without the worry of death or performing endless combos. Instead, it is an indulgent escapism piece where, despite the real-time events of night and day, you can take your time and experience the world rather than be a slave to it.
Spiritfarer is a mash-up of genres on paper, and I think that I may have had a bit more expectations for resource management in the game, expecting it to be more like a title such as Forager. Without playing a demo or seeing anything other than the trailers, it gave the impression that you’d have to go out and chop down trees and build a base, complete side quests and fulfil the last requests of spirits moving on.
In truth, it ticks all these boxes, but it didn’t feel in-depth, perhaps as I had hoped. But saying that, by having a slightly ‘light’ management system, the game didn’t feel much like a game and instead, a lifestyle.
That mash-up of genres include resource management (source supplies to better your ship, living quarters and resource building), a real-time strategy of managing your tasks before it’s time to return to bed, platforming sections, and a charming narrative. There are even rhythm mini-games and relationship building with the passengers you ferry about on your journey where you can have a natter or give them a well-needed hug.
I’d plot out my route on where to go next from the map available from your cabin, and the ship would automatically sail to its destination. I’d often choose a shipwreck to dive in the water and grab some seeds, wood or shells, or perhaps stop off at a nearby island to cut down some trees, then I would either shift to the back of the ship to do some fishing or attend to my crops.
This meant nurturing the plants by giving them water or perhaps playing them a simple rhythm mini-game playing the guitar fused from the Everlight to expedite their growth so you can build new gear or feed your passengers.
Spiritfarer is a multitasking game, and unlike real-life where you might be scolded by a boss or significant other for not being able to do two things at once, in this game, there’s no punishment in sight. You can leave the food you’ve foraged in the oven without fear of it burning (or burning down the ship), and fall from great heights without any risk of death. There is no death, you’re the Spiritfarer.
The areas to explore in the game are relatively small, and it doesn’t take long to ‘clear’ an area. But these locations are scattered across a massive map and with no fast travel, you have to ensure you carry as much as you can so you don’t have to backtrack to somewhere the other side of the world.
But in-between travelling, there’s so much to do. The core gameplay isn’t getting to the destinations to source materials but everything. As mentioned, attend to your crops, prepare meals and accommodate your guests is key as you monitor their moods, hugging them when needed.
You can’t spam them with the same food either as they’ll get bored of it, so you have to have an on-demand supply of food at all times to keep them happy when it comes to variety or simply because they’re a vegetarian or want some a little more fancy than popcorn. Does such a food exist?!
Thunder Lotus have done a stellar job with Spiritfarer. I review a lot of games, and though I’m on the nicer side of the fence when it comes to the somewhat meaningless scores reviewers give, I have to say that this game is one of the better games I’ve played in a long line of high-scoring games.
Not because Spiritfarer is the best. Not because it’s better than another top game, WRC 9 (it’s obviously different), but because it’s unique and a game that promotes acts of kindness without being corny or preachy.
While there’s a lot to manage in the game, Spiritfarer doesn’t feel demanding. I forgot I was reviewing it and instead felt like this was a game for me which was oozing with positivity. Likewise, I’m surprised I didn’t puke with the on-demand hug feature of the game. It was infectious and in turn, had me chasing my family around the house to remind me how good hugs feel. Now you can puke.