Spiritfarer broke my heart. Don’t get me wrong, this review is going to be glowing as this game is a charming and wonderful game that treats a heavy topic such […]
Spiritfarer broke my heart. Don’t get me wrong, this review is going to be glowing as this game is a charming and wonderful game that treats a heavy topic such as death with a grace rarely seen in video games. Yet it broke my heart and delivered one of the biggest emotional moments I’ve experienced in a game for years. This game broke my heart and made me so sad I had to stop playing it for two days and I can not recommend this game enough. It’s excellent.
What is Spiritfarer anyway? It’s the new game from Thunder Lotus, the studio behind Jotun and Sundered, though this is the first of their games I’ve played. You control Stella who has been chosen to succeed Charon as the Spiritfarer, sailing her boat finding wayward spirits needing guidance to the afterlife. Most, if not all of them, are linked to Stella in some way such as Gwen, the first spirit you meet, was Stella’s best friend in life. Spirits you bring on board your ship take the form of animals – the aforementioned Gwen is a deer for example.
It’s got elements of exploration as you slowly uncover the map as you sail from town to town looking for spirits, quests and supplies. The supplies are used to build new buildings on your ship that range from practical use – a kitchen, a loom, a foundry etc – and housing for your spirits. It also has elements of a management game as you need to cater to the needs of your friends, making you sure you feed them regularly. Each spirit has different likes and dislikes with food so you have to learn what they like and hate. One spirit will eat anything, a couple of spirits refuse to eat meat and a couple refuse to eat fruit. In addition, each spirit has a favourite dish.
By feeding them what they like their mood will rocket and this is important – the higher their mood, the more they help you out, either by giving you items, or by doing work on the boat. Sometimes putting a spirit into a good mood will have a positive effects on other spirits. Spirits can have a positive or detrimental effect on the mood of other passengers depending on their personality. One early spirit – Atul – will annoy others by hammering to “repair” the ship, but he can also play the flute which will improve the mood everyone who hears it.
Each character has their own minigame that will net Stella special kinds of materials that are hard to find anywhere else, these can be nice distractions as you sail across the world although if you’re wanting to get to a place quickly and you enter the area where an event will happen it will stop you in your tracks in order to ask you if you want to do the minigame, which can lead to some annoyance especially towards the end of the game.
You learn about each spirit’s previous life as you progress their individual quest lines, they’ll offer up more of their backstory. I won’t go into detail about any of them in case you want to play this game for yourself but each one is memorable in their own way. Well I will go into detail in one… the one that broke me.
*SPOILERS START HERE*
So one of the spirits is called Alice, who is a little sweet old lady in the form of a hedgehog. She is a lovely wee thing who you meet looking after sheep. You can convince her to jump on board by helping her with her sheep problem and building a small cottage on your ship. After that you learn she was a stay-at-home mother, who has fond memories of her family. She is also a big fan of Swedish romance novels and for one quest she asks your to bring her to a certain place that reminds her of the setting of such a book. She excitedly travels through the town, recalling the tale of the romantic hero of the book but her excitement comes to an end when she suddenly grows very tired. Stella has to help her back to the boat.
This leads to the heartbreak I referred to at the beginning – back on the boat her age starts to catch up with her. You have to walk her to the front of the boat in the morning and back at night. I made the mistake of getting distracted with another quest one night and didn’t bring her back until it was sleeping time. Seeing “Was left outside all night” on her mood bar made me feel like the worst human being alive. This is also when she starts getting confused, she asks you to find her husband (who we never meet) to get her old “wooly”, and we have to create such an item to make her happy. Eventually though she stops recognising who Stella is, thinking she is her daughter.
In order to help Alice, we have to dress up in the way her describes her daughter and when she see’s Stella in that outfit, she follows who she thinks is her daughter to the sailboat where Stella takes her to the Everdoor. The Everdoor is the door to the afterlife and Alice is the only character who does not – or can not – choose to go there. I found it really difficult to get through this bit.
I don’t wish to get too deep here, but as someone who has lived with someone suffering from dementia and seen how it completely changes someone, I could not help but think of that throughout the end of Alice’s arc. It hit me hard, the emotional blow left me drained and I had to turn the game off for a couple of days. The game has moments of sadness – it is a game about death after all – but nothing prepared me for that.
***SPOILERS STOP HERE***
The art style of this game is to die for, it’s very well animated and it looks gorgeous. One of the best looking 2D games you’ll see. The music is really effective at creating moods, there’s only a couple of tracks I’d maybe listen to outside of the context of the game, but there are certain songs that create the right mood for certain events – it can range from inspirational, awe-inspiring to low-key dread-inducing jazz. It’s great.
It is not a short game either, the pace of the game is deliberately quite slow paced. This gives you time to care for the characters, learn their stories and explore the world. I did just about everything there is to do and it took maybe 25-30 hours if I had to estimate? I wasn’t in a rush to get through this game until the end when I was pretty much all alone with not much else to do.
I loved the idea of this game when I first heard about it roughly when it got released, but I never would have guessed it would impact me the way it did. It’s gorgeous, it treats it’s topic matter in a really effective way and it’s got a memorable cast of characters, most of whom I’ve not even mentioned here. You’ll just have to discover them for yourselves. This game might have been a GOTY candidate if I hadn’t bought it so late in 2020 and played most of it over the first two weeks of 2021.