Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
I think we can all agree this has been a horrible year. For most people, life has been turned upside down by the pandemic. People have lost friends and family, others have lost jobs and financial security, and we’ve had to go long periods of time without seeing loved ones in person. I doubt many people will be coming out of this without a heavy burden, things to process, and things that will stay with us forever.
In a way, Spiritfarer couldn’t have come at a better time. Thunder Lotus’s new game is all about change, loss, and acceptance. It’s about the things that happen to us in life that become a part of us, but how they eventually do need to be processed for us to move on. Spiritfarer takes place in a Studio Ghibli like purgatory, where spirits must come to terms with their final wishes before passing on to the unknown. This is a very literal sense of ‘moving on’ but the themes and lessons are essential for the living as well.
In Spiritfarer you play as Stella, who’s just taken on the titular role of the game. Her job, along with her trusty cat Daffodil, is to roam the seas in her boat in search of spirits to take care of. Once aboard, the spirits take the form of different animals, and Stella listens to stories about their lives, helps them reminisce, and aids them in carrying out their final wishes, before taking them to the Everdoor where they can move on to whatever comes next.
The game is varied in its mechanics, which means it’s a consistently engaging experience with new things to discover. Aside from the character’s storylines, there’s a lot to do when you’re the Spiritfarer. Your guests need somewhere to live and food to eat which means you also need to be on the look out for resources on the islands you visit. Food often has to be grown on the ship which means you need on-board gardens, fields, and orchards and time to go fishing. Resources will have to be refined so you’ll need a loom and a sawmill for starters. Even the process of collecting or refining your resources is varied, which is a testament to how much care was put into the game. Move the analogue stick back and fourth to chop trees, hold square and let go at the perfect moment to mine, trace patterns on the logs to make planks, keep the temperature steady in the foundry to create metal bars.
Beyond these management aspects, there are also mini games that play into the 2D platformer feel of Spiritfarer. You can head into a storm and catch lighting in bottles, or enter swarms of jellyfish you have to jump on to acquire jelly. These games give you rarer resources as well as the game’s currency called ‘glims’. The management tasks and these mini games can get a bit repetitive after a while, but not so much that it becomes annoying, and since everything can be taken at your own pace, there’s never any pressure to keep on top of everything at once. You can just take your time and enjoy the ride.
Additionally, the day to day tasks of the job are often a welcome break from the emotionally heavier parts of the story. The game does an amazing job at giving you space to learn and love the spirits in your care. They all have individual personalities, foods they like and dislike, and different ways of responding to hugs. For each them you even have to build specific homes. This, in addition to hearing about their lives, their loved ones, the things that they loved and the things that hurt them makes it hard not to care about them. When you finally have done enough for them to accept it’s time to pass on, it’s just as much about you learning to let go as it is about them.
The final moments you get to spend with the spirits are the best in the game, each gets a touching goodbye as you pull up to the Everdoor which lives in a red sea surrounded by trees and blossom. You get a final conversation with the spirit in which they talk about how they’re feeling now they’ve had time to think on their lives, and they often thank you. It made me cry nearly every time.
Then the game takes it one step further, and shows that it’s not just about letting go but also about remembering. It’s about how people come and go in our lives and how we all have an effect on each other. Then, even when it’s over - whether its been a years long relationship or a brief meeting of paths, those whose lives tangle with ours may one day be gone, but they do not need to be forgotten. In the game, the spirits that pass on are are turned into constellations in the sky, so when you look up at night, they will always be there looking out for you.
Spiritfarer is a game that is beautifully made. Not only is it gorgeous, but there are plenty of tasks meaning you’re never stuck for something to do, which are entwined with the carefully crafted tales of the spirits in your care. Spiritfarer is a game that teaches us about love, loss, and letting go, and it does so in a way that’s comforting and kind. The overall message is that things will be okay. That we’re all messy, complicated people with things in our lives that are sometimes hard to get a handle on, and that we’re always impacting other people in ways we don’t think about. In Spiritfarer we’re told it’s okay to take time to process things, to let go of them and accept them. It’s an important message, but one that will resonate with us now more than ever.