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Spiritfarer - Review



How do we as human beings cope with death? It’s a question that seems simple at first, but the older we grow the more we begin to ask ourselves said questions. One cannot simply let go of a person they care deeply about without having any feelings or remorse to give in return. Friends and family members will pass away with time, and we all have to say goodbye before they move from this peaceful earth. Death is a completely normal thing and that’s why we have so much trouble thinking about it. The question evolves from, “how do human beings cope with death?”, into a new but similarly structured one. How do we, ourselves, cope with death? We too must leave this earth someday whether we like it or not. We ask ourselves what lies at the end of our tracks. Did we accomplish everything we wanted in life, or did we work towards nothing? Were we happy with who we became or upset with the mess that has been created? Will there be people who remember the virtuous deeds we have performed, or will our souls be forgotten to drift swiftly through the air? What lies after death? What does the afterlife even look like? These questions are what makes death so scary to many people, including myself.


I often get anxiety attacks over what I have achieved so far in my life. That I may not be skilled like most of the individuals around me and maybe my purpose is a little meaningless. I could keep treading the same old road, but that road will get bumpy and knock my legs off balance. There aren’t that many individuals that can be sought after for guidance or aid, and so my mind begins to argue with where I currently am. Take a deep breath and calm down. There’s still a lot of road to travel down and the splits along that road may change where my life ends up. I just have to appreciate what I have now. Life and death, two topics that coexist and dance together to create a ballad of wonders. A journey that must be forged on our own. It’s nice when a video game reminds us of human nature and morality.


Some of my favorite narratives in video games deal with philosophy and what can change a man. However, few of them have talked about what may lie beyond the end. The only games I can really think of would be Nier: Automata and Dark Souls. One game that does handle the topic of life and death perfectly is one that came out recently. A title I almost missed out on and haven’t played until recently. That game was Spiritfarer, a beautifully stylized adventure developed by an independent studio named Thunder Lotus Games. Some of their previous works include Jotun a Norse mythology themed adventure and Sundered a lovecraftian metroidvania with roguelike elements. Both titles were hand animated as well, but they were more action focused and darker in tone.


When it came to their new game, Thunder Lotus Games decided to tone down on the action and grim. They have always believed video games as an artform, which is a term I have come to deeply respect. They wanted a game that was more heartening and gave the player good feelings. A game that even after beating it could be looked back on for it’s characters and overall experience. A game that could keep the player emotionally engaged. They took influences and inspiration from many sources like their past two games, Animal Crossing, and most notably Spirited Away. They got several random individuals to test their game and during E3 2019 they revealed their next big project during the Xbox conference. Spiritfarer was the name, and it left an impression on a small handful of people. I say “a small handful” because the game that stole the Xboxcase show at the time was Halo Infinite. Which hasn’t come out yet after three years upon announcement to let you know.


Spiritfarer looked like a promising title, and it’s said it dragged more attention for how well put together the reveal was. We don’t get games like this anymore and if we do, it doesn’t have the intentions they say they have. Spiritfarer came out during the mid-period of 2020 and those who played the game ended up really loving it. A heartwarming adventure with memorable characters and the topic of death extremely well. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but it was the most thought-provoking game of the year. I was planning to pick this game up sooner than later, but I have been so busy catching up on other titles. Finally got to play Spiritfarer and I may love it more than expected. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I want my readers to know how amazing this game is. Today we’ll be talking about why I absolutely love Spiritfarer and why it deserves your attention. Let’s set sail for adventure.


Story


We follow a young girl wearing a large star shaped hat named Stella as she wakes up beside her pet cat Daffodil on a small wooden boat. They have no recollection of how they got there or where they are, but the river is pulping red and a black hooded figure with a raspy voice is rowing them to a mysterious location. The hooded man reveals himself to be Charon, the personal ferryman of Hades who guides dead souls along the River of Styx. Yep, the game is getting an extra point for how it’s connected to Greek mythology. Fan boying aside though, Charon has decided to retire from his duty as a ferryman and pass his job onto a random soul. He chooses Stella for the role and explains what it means to be the ferryman of spirits, otherwise the Spiritfarer. She must explore the vast ocean she is floating in, find the spirits of those who are struggling to move on, help them with their desires, and then bring them to the location they are standing within. The Everdoor, a gateway that allows them to pass onto the afterlife where they can lay in peace and become one with the stars that light up the night sky.


Charon gives Stella the Everlight, a ball of light that can be used to create the tools she needs to forge a ginormous ship to carry the spirits across the raging seas. It can also be used to steer Stella towards where she needs to go. The Everlight is special and is one of a kind… until Daffodil runs into Charon’s hood and pulls out another one which is cute and funny. Charon ascends into the Everdoor and Stella rows away to find herself a boat to fit spirits. Charon is probably off to chat with a very hyperactive messenger, and I really hope you readers get what that is a reference to before this review starts to look stupid especially with how strong the intro started.


Stella finds a small island with a red-hooded spirit who claims to know her. She gives Stella a large boat to work with, transforms into a tall and limber deer, and introduces herself as Gwen. One of Stella’s best friends during her childhood. Gwen teaches Stella the basics of managing a boat, navigating the ocean, and forging the houses needed to comfort the spirits aboard. Gwen even talks to Stella about how her father often misjudged her when she was still alive and how bad she felt when around him. As Stella explores more of the world, she begins to encounter more spirits who board the ship and somehow know who she is. For example, the optimistic woodcutting frog Atul is actually Stella’s uncle and recollects the fond memories he had whenever his family came over for dinner. The strong stern lion Astrid believes that there should always be power to the people and tags along with Stella once she recognizes her. Being a Spiritfarer may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s made much better since Stella is surrounded by those who care about her and her work. They’ll spend time with each other, get to know each other's personality, create loving memories, repair past wounds, and have a wonderful time exploring the sea. Stella is thrilled to be the new Spiritfarer, but she will have to learn how to let go of the people aboard. The people who will remind her that she is not alone even in the afterlife.


Gameplay


Spiritfarer is a management simulator in the same area that Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley is in. Before you decide to pass this game for how repetitive those other two are, let me convince you that Spiritfarer is the best when it comes to management. Rather than make or do something just for the sake of it, you are working towards goals and objectives.


The ocean you are in is bigger than you expect, and you navigate through it by plotting a coordinate for your ship’s director. Do this and your boat will begin chugging towards set coordinate. Once you arrive at a coordinate you can then hop onto a rowboat and port onto the coast of the island. Some islands on the ocean sea will be given to you by NPCs or your spirits, but most of the time you will have to discover new areas on your own. Just randomly plot the ship director onto an unexplored area and your map will begin to unveil unknown areas. You will be shown new areas when you pass by them and given the option to explore. Be aware that you can only travel during the day since the Everlight is powered by sunlight, and when it is completely nighttime you have to go to sleep for the next day.


While exploring the world you may stumble upon resources to collect for your ship, and spirits willing to hop aboard and join your crew of souls wanting to move on. This is where the review begins to dive more into how Spiritfarer creates incentives for the player to work towards. Spirits have questlines that lead up until the moment they want to go to the Everdoor, and these quests come in a variety of forms. Build them a house, feed them a specific meal, go towards a location they give you, build a new station on the ship, collect a rare item to give to them, or talk to random strangers in the world. Your spirits must be cared for, fed properly, and listened to whenever they have a request. They have a mood meter and when the meter is down, they might not be motivated to perform activities. Sometimes the necessities they need will require materials you don’t have on hand, and those materials may be in areas you don’t have access to because your ship doesn’t have the features needed to venture through harsh conditions.


You are going to need to upgrade your ship at Albert’s Shipyard, a place where you can exchange Glims and resources to improve the efficiency of your ship. Glims are your main currency. They can be earned from completing quests, selling supplies to merchants, or partaking in world events. You gain them from world events. Whenever you unlock a new spirit you gain access to a world event, and by partaking in the event you earn Glims and a special resource that can only be earned from the event. Gwen gives you access to the jellyfish storm which gives you special Green Jellyfish. Sailing into a lightning storm with Atul allows you to collect Lightning in a bottle. These events are timed, so make sure to collect as much as possible. Once you have the Glims and resources you can upgrade one of three aspects of your ship. The workbench which allows you to forge buildings on the ship, the ship size which allows you to forge more on the ship, and the ship’s physical features which allows for either faster travel or the ability to explore areas you didn’t have access to before.


Some resources will require stations to be made and this is where you embark on another scavenger hunt to build the station. These stations are also required to progress through spirit quests, and they have short guides to show how they work. You can’t make wood planks unless you have the sawmill, you can’t grow food unless you have the garden or field, or you can’t cook the food into delicious meals unless you have a kitchen. Spirits may request you to add furniture to their houses which sets up a third scavenger hunt for the player. This all may sound really tedious after a while, but this is how the game creates incentives for the player. Hunt for specific supplies to forge what is required to progress. It’s good that spirits make the player forge stations otherwise they will never figure out how to make crafted resources. It’s good that crafted resources are needed to make certain ship upgrades, as they get the player to track them down and experiment with stations. It’s good that these resources are found at specific areas of the map as it encourages the player to venture into unknown territories. This is what I call a well-made management game.


Even if the player does get annoyed backtracking between the same areas repeatedly you unlock the ability to fast travel between huge chunks of the map with a special seal who runs bus stops across the world. Now, Spiritfarer has a big old map to explore but the game is set in a 2D plane. You move from left to right, jump to reach higher areas, and you can grab onto ledges to pull yourself upwards. Islands may possess Spirit Shrines and by exchanging obols given to you by passengers you can unlock new abilities. These abilities allow the player to reach areas they couldn’t get to before and open up options on how to get through the world. There’s a double jump, a hover ability, attaching to ziplines, and much more. Once you complete all the tasks a spirit may give you it will be time to send them through the Everdoor. Don’t get too sad. They’ll give you a talk on how their lives ended before accepting their fate. Give them one last hug and watch as they ascend into the stars. These characters you spent so much time knowing are all destined to move on, and you have to learn how to let go. That’s all I really have to say about Spiritfarer and how the core gameplay works. Relaxing, motivating, and pushes you to work towards a goal.


A place. A world unseen to us all. But it’s okay, you’ll always be together. My friend.


Thoughts


Spiritfarer is a game I keep looking back at even after reaching its final conclusion. It achieves what Animal Crossing: New Horizons couldn’t grab hold of after one and a half years upon release. That is to make the player immersed with the surrounding characters and world as much as possible. There is a lot to love about this game, but if you can’t overlook the repetitive gameplay loop then you may not experience the true brilliance that is buried underneath. The art style and animation are some of the first few aspects critics seem to mention when talking about Spiritfarer. It’s colorful, fluid, well lit, shaded properly, has a distinct personality to it, and is sure to charm any type of audience. The animation is up there with other hand animated games like Ori and Wandersong where the developers didn’t cut any corners. Each frame is silky smooth and gallantly moves the players eyes left to right to witness the itty-bitty details.


Gameplay for me had rock solid design, and I wasn’t really annoyed by doing the same activities over and over. As I stated earlier, the games create incentives so the player feels more motivated to work towards their goal. Once the goal is achieved, they earn something in the end, and the reward given is oftentimes really useful and required to progress through the game. Oftentimes I would hit a roadblock in the world and wonder how to progress even though I don’t have the tools required. I bumble around for an hour, mess around with my work stations, figure out how to get the supplies I need, and slowly put together the ship features needed to break through the walls and continue sailing forward. For some odd reason I really love games with boats and on seas exploration in Spiritfarer is really good. Oftentimes encouraging you to go off the beaten path and discover a location that has the resources or skills you need. There was also this metroidvania feeling I got with the game as new abilities opened up areas of islands I couldn’t get to normally. The game took me around twenty-five hours to beat which is a good run time for a game like this.


The best part of Spiritfarer though is spending time with your ship mates. The spirits of course. Getting to know them better with time, learning their interests, and piecing together the puzzle to figure out how Stella is connected to them. You spend all this time growing attached to them, so when it’s finally time for them to move on through the Everdoor you feel emotionally devastated. You don’t want them to leave your side just yet, but you can’t just keep clinging onto their waists. You row them to the Everdoor, tell Stella to never forget the bond they forged, you have one final hug, and they ascend into the air to become nothing. These moments of goodbye are really effective, and the game gets sadder as your ship grows emptier. Their houses are left there to symbolize gravestones and what was once your ship turned into a graveyard. I feel like it’s the hedgehog lady with dementia and the happy go lucky mushroom boy who are going to open the floodgates for a lot of people. When it’s revealed why Stella was chosen to be the ferryman and why the spirits she is guiding are somehow related to her life it’s sad as well.


Spiritfarer is a really good game and I can’t stress enough how much I love my time with it. However, there are a couple of problems that prevent me from giving this game a perfect review score. I was able to overlook how repetitive the gameplay loop was, but around the twenty-hour mark is where you really must start grinding through. Even with the grind you can still appreciate the beautiful moments that lie underneath. A few critics complained the ending was abrupt, so the developers added in the Lily Update to add more context that would lead to a more effective ending. I thought the ending wrapped up my adventure well, but without the Lily Update you do get an abrupt ending. There are a couple of bugs and framerate drops, but nothing to really break the game entirely. Spiritfarer is a high recommendation in my books, and I want whoever is reading this review to check it out. It may not be for everyone, but the experience is worth it. If you are someone who loves relaxing games with characters to care about then this game is definitely for you. At the end of the day, I am going to give Spiritfarer a 9.5/10 for excellence at best.


9.5/10, Excellence

This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

1 Comment


SinicalGeek
SinicalGeek
Aug 13, 2022

I started playing this on Xbox Game Pass and it is really touching. Highly recommend checking out, especially for those who also have Game Pass!

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