Let me get this out of the way: I am not big on management simulators. Games like Stardew Valley and RollerCoaster Tycoon simply have too many elements to manage. But ever since Thunder Lotus Games’ Spiritfarer was revealed at Microsoft’s Xbox E3 2019 Briefing, I was hooked by its narrative. A title that deals with the inevitability of death in a positive light sounded like a sad but rewarding time. Thankfully, that is just what this journey turned out to be.
Forge relationships with spirits before they leave this mortal coil
In Spiritfarer, you play as Stella, with her lovely cat, Daffodil, accompanying you at all times. As the new Spiritfarer, it is your job to use your boat to discover areas where wandering souls are present. You must befriend these beings, invite them to reside on your vessel, learn about their lives, and release them into the afterlife when they are ready.
At its core, Spiritfarer has a simple gameplay loop. You find a lost soul and take them to your ship, where they reveal themselves in a variety of animal forms (a lynx, hedgehog, deer, etc.). You build a home for them to live in. Along the way, you converse with them, feed them, and give them hugs while following their quest lines. Once those quests are completed, you ferry your compatriots to the Everdoor, where you say your final goodbyes. Fair warning: There are a number of spirits who have farewells so emotional that you’ll cry outright.
Go deeper while living life on the high seas
While the basic gameplay sounds simple, Spiritfarer is much deeper than it appears on the surface. Anything you build, create, or cook requires resources. To obtain these materials, Stella must do a variety of things. Some of the supplies you need can be bought from merchants or found on the various islands you discover. Others can be grown on the ship. Still more can be created by utilizing assets you find out in the wild with production machines you construct, including a Foundry, Sawmill, and Smithy. Lastly, rare materials will be shown to you on the map by the different souls you bring aboard your ship. Gathering these goods requires a minigame to be completed by Stella, which usually requires her to employ her platforming skills to great effect.
Exploration requires management expertise, as well. Stella cannot explore the entire map with the default ship. Necessary upgrades need to be made to the boat, like adding a Rock Destroyer and Icebreaker. The ship can also be enhanced to travel faster and hold more space. These adjustments aren’t required but make sailing a whole lot easier and more fun.
The heaviest Spiritfarer gets is with its characters. The crew you assemble deals with a variety of issues: infidelity, Alzheimer’s, self-doubt, familial ties, losing a loved one too soon, and more. All of your comrades knew you at some point in their lives, which is why Stella is the perfect person to accompany them on their final journey. It’s all very emotional, so be prepared to encounter some heavy topics.
Bumps along the expedition in Spiritfarer
I have a few gripes with Spiritfarer. For starters, while the pasts of each passenger are a joy to learn about and decipher, their full backstories and connections with Stella aren’t always clear. I found out more about these individuals online, and having extra clarity about their stations in life had even more of an impact than what you can deduce in-game.
Furthermore, management becomes a chore closer to the game’s conclusion. At first, having your mind racing about what needs doing, watering plants and crushing rocks while setting a course for your next destination, is invigorating stuff. But when you’re at hour 20 of this 35-hour adventure, crafting materials gets tedious, especially since a lot of the preparation is time-consuming.
Also, if you set a path to an island and you happen to pass an area where you can obtain rare assets, the boat will stop until you speak to the corresponding shipmate who told you of said matter and either accept or decline the farming event. This happens constantly and grinds exploration to a halt.
The days are super short, too. Before you know it, night falls and you must rest to get the vessel moving again since you cannot chart a course in the dark. I don’t mind a game having moments of respite, but I feel the days could have lasted just a touch longer, especially since it’s imperative to visit certain locales for much-needed resources.
Regardless of these minor quibbles, Spiritfarer is a journey I wholeheartedly recommend taking, even if management sims are not your thing. The main lessons of accepting loss and the importance of leaving something behind are important to learn. The heavy topics your colleagues discuss with you are also necessary to navigate and leave a lasting gut punch. The title is also wonderfully animated and the music is superb, with its main theme receiving a number of variations throughout the experience that well up deep feelings inside of you. Give it a go if you are ready to ugly cry and smile at the same time!
A review code was provided by the publisher.