Spiritfarer Review — The Ties That Bind Us Together
Spiritfarer is a beautifully crafted, memorable experience that focuses on the dead trying to find peace upon heading into the afterlife.
Thunder Lotus Games, Kowloon Nights, Canada Media Fund
Thunder Lotus Games
Stadia, Other, Other, Xbox One, PS4, Switch
2D Platformer, Indie, Simulation
Review copy provided by the publisher
Whether it be a parent, parental figure, or even a best friend, losing someone that you’ve known throughout your life makes you look at and take on life in a completely new way. A little over a month ago, my Dad passed away unexpectedly. I had a difficult relationship with him for most of my life, with us hardly ever seeing eye to eye. Some of my first thoughts after he passed were, “Was he proud of me?” or, “Did I do right by him?” So many questions I wish I had the answer to.
It wasn’t until I played Spiritfarer that I was given the perspective to stop and think how he could possibly be feeling, even if there is no purgatory or afterlife when everything is said and done. What were his regrets? What did he wish he could have said to the people he loved before it was too late? Spiritfarer gave me the ability to mourn and obtain a viewpoint on the thoughts of those who’ve passed in a grounded, humanistic way, despite taking place in a phantasmal world.
Spiritfarer puts you in the shoes of a young woman named Stella who is the latest person to uphold the titular mantle. As you explore through the presumed world of purgatory, you help those who are struggling with their death and getting them to learn to cope with it. As passengers on your vessel, your job is to take care of them which ranges from providing food to building them a personal house.
“Spiritfarer gave me the ability to mourn and obtain a viewpoint on the thoughts of those who’ve passed in a grounded, humanistic way, despite taking place in a phantasmal world.”
Alongside Stella is her cat Daffodil, who is a playable character in local co-op. But with so few reasons to use Daffodil, it is often better to play on your own more times than not. While on your vessel you can do several activities including farming, fishing, and cooking. Using the resources you find around the world, you can then create new items that are used to build new structures, make improvements, as well as upgrade your ship.
With Spiritfarer being a management sim, there are a lot of features and options when it comes to what you can do throughout every passing day, but I never felt like I was drowning when trying to learn and keep up with its systems or overwhelmed by the number of things I needed to do at the same time. Spiritfarer, like most in its genre, has a day-night cycle where you begin every day waking up and checking on your current projects. At night, the ship will not travel, but that doesn’t stop you from being able to continue working the next day if you so choose.
When creating materials on your ship, there are fun little mini-games that can reward you with extra items, such as weaving fibre into thread. Even with doing at least one of these jobs a day, I didn’t get bored or find the mini-game involved repetitive. They never felt like a chore, which has turned me away from so many popular titles in the genre before Spiritfarer.
“Spiritfarer is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played.”
Passengers take the form of a specific animal that normally fits their personality, like an ongoing cheater who is a charismatic lion. Interacting with a passenger allows you to talk, feed, and most importantly, hug them to brighten their mood. There is also a chart that explains their likes and dislikes which will help you when it comes to what food they prefer eating. Depending on their experience on the ship, a passenger’s mood can either rise or decline based on certain factors, such as not being fed or a different person on the ship frustrating them.
There is no real detriment if a passenger isn’t happy, but if they’re in a good mood, they will collect resources for you and willingly work different jobs on the ship. One of the many surprises that Spiritfarer brings is taking care of passengers in ways that I would have never expected. This made Stella’s connection to them much more emotional and personal.
At some point while being on the ship, each passenger will give you a coin that you can redeem at different shrines throughout the world which will give Stella new abilities like double jumping, gliding, and ziplining. This makes platforming both easier and quicker. While technically a platformer, Spiritfarer’s gameplay doesn’t really revolve around that. Once you earn those new abilities, you will be able to access new areas, but outside of that, the platforming is pretty straight forward.
When traveling across the map, there are certain locations that will give you the ability to obtain a material that is unique to Spiritfarer in special events. These events are some of the major high points in Spiritfarer due to the surprising spectacle that each boasts. Some of these include catching lightning in a bottle or collecting rocks from a comet shower. These are just a few examples of the incredible moments that will stick with you throughout playing Spiritfarer.
From the red water at the Everdoor to the delicate eclipses that occur, Spiritfarer is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. I became mesmerized time and time again due to its fantastic use of color in conjunction with some of the most detailed animations I’ve seen. It got to the point where I forgot at times that I was playing a game with the heavy themes that it conveys because it always feels so joyous.
Aside from main objectives, there are areas where you can obtain side missions that can reward you with a potential upgrade for your ship. Most improvements that are made to buildings on your ship require a blueprint which can sometimes be earned by completing quests. As you explore, there are also bus stops that will allow you to go to areas you’ve visited before much quicker thanks to the help of a friendly magical walrus. There is a lot of back and forth traveling in Spiritfarer so for those who usually are not a fan of backtracking like me, this brought down my frustration to a minimum. Despite my lack of frustration, however, I did run into a few minor bugs during my playthrough even though what I was playing was not the final build of the game.
Once completing all the tasks for a passenger, they as you to take them to the Everdoor, the bridge that leads them to the afterlife. Spiritfarer at ground level is a fun and charming management simulator for those looking for it, but it is during these times where Spiritfarer ascends to another level granting us these vulnerable, authentic moments where I found myself on the verge of tears each time I had to send someone away. Their final words whether they were content, reminiscent, or scared, in combination with the incredible score, will make those goodbyes will stick with me for a long time despite only knowing the characters for such a short period.
“Spiritfarer tells that message in a way that I found to be a cathartic experience that I will forever hold dear to me.”
When I first began Spiritfarer, I was upset to learn that Stella was a silent protagonist. She never responds to anyone, with her feelings instead being conveyed through animation. As I progressed further, I realized that this was the best choice because what was more important was listening to the people who are trying to handle their current situation. Some characters I loved from the start, and while others I disliked, they always felt real. It made me want to know what my Dad would say or think during his last moments in life. Something I will be questioning for the rest of my own.
Life is fragile and people are flawed. We don’t get to choose our position in life from beginning to end, but we have the choice to get ourselves to where we want to be. We will make mistakes and I’m sure at the end of our lives we will have things we will cherish, regret, and resent, but that is all the part of being human. Spiritfarer tells that message in a way that I found to be a cathartic experience that I will forever hold dear to me.