Review – Spiritfarer
I’m not typically a big fan of management sims, but something about Spiritfarer from Thunder Lotus Games caught my attention. Perhaps it was the clean and adorable art style, or maybe even its premise that piqued my curiosity. All I know is that I’ve been curious about this game for a while now. So when it came to Game Pass, I decided to give it a try. I was unprepared for just how deeply invested I would get into this game.
Spiritfarer deals heavily with themes of death, finding peace, and letting go. You play as Stella, a plucky young girl with a giant hat and a kitty companion who has been designated as the newest ferrymaster for the deceased. She will meet several spirits along her travels who will accompany her on her ship. It’s her job to get to know them, listen to their stories, make them happy, and find out what they need to be ready to pass on.
At its core, Spiritfarer is a management sim. Throughout the game, Stella can customize her boat with new rigs to get past environmental obstacles, as well as various buildings and upgrades to improve the well-being of your passengers. Stella will start off with some basic upgrades like a kitchen and a lounge for her guests, but will eventually be able to build more extravagant features like orchards and a smelter. Each fixture provides her with more materials to further improve her boat and fulfill some of the more intricate demands of her passengers.
One of my issues with management sims is the fact that before too long it feels like you’re just doing the same things over and over for not much payoff. What’s nice about Spiritfarer is the fact that you acquire new fixtures at a slow and steady pace throughout the game. This means that you’ll consistently be adding new chores and tasks to your routine to help keep the gameplay feeling fresh. Perhaps it’s due to the chaotic nature of our currents times, but I found the simple yet engaging gameplay provided a much welcomed cathartic experience.
Although, Spiritfarer isn’t strictly a management sim, either. Whenever you visit one of the many destinations around the map, Stella will dock the boat and disembark. This is when the game turns into a 2D platformer. When visiting a town, Stella can meet new spirits, buy resources, and collect special items. Many of the special items and even some of the spirits are hidden or in hard to reach areas. You won’t be able to collect everything you see right away.
Stella won’t have many moves or abilities at the start, but each time a spirit boards her ship they’ll give her a special orb. She can then use these to unlock new abilities whenever she finds a special alter. Eventually, she’ll be able to gain new moves like double jump, glide, and dashing abilities. She’ll need to find and unlock each ability from every alter around the world in order to collect everything and meet every spirit. The platforming sections are fun, with responsive controls and nice level of challenge. It adds just enough complexity to the game to balance out the easy management sim side of the gameplay.
In addition to that, there are times when a special event will trigger when the ferry crosses a certain section of the sea. These are essentially timed minigames. They range from chasing down pulsars, to collecting lightning in a bottle, to clearing corrupted crystals from a giant dragon, plus more. These also involve a bit of platforming, especially the dragon encounters. You can opt to skip them if you wish, but you’ll miss out on some valuable resources as a result.
Another point that Spiritfarer does very is making the management sim features blend with the story-driven aspects. Each spirit has their own unique set of likes and dislikes when it comes to food, lodging, and even other passengers. Instead of having a game where you simply do chores so you can build something new or gain a cosmetic component, Spiritfarer gives you more meaning for your actions. You’ll have to carefully plan out which crops to plant, which meals, to prepare, which fabrics to loom, etc., in order to appease the desires of each guest. Listening to their stories, making them happy, and taking them where they want to go will allow them to make their peace and pass on.
This is what truly makes Spiritfarer a standout game: the passengers. Each spirit has a very different backstory from one another. For example, there is an elderly hedgehog with Alzheimer’s, as well as an eccentric, well-traveled falcon. The spirits will take the form of an animal once they’ve joined your boat. This is a bit of a clue as to who they feel they are in essence. The more you speak to them and figure what it takes to satiate their desires, the more you’ll discover about who they were. This will also allow you to take them on some personal quests so they can face their fears, learn to let go, or take care of some unfinished business.
I was shocked by just how tender and touching Spiritfarer is. Since each spirit has a wildly different story from one another, it touches on a variety of different ways people deal with death. I was not expecting this level of emotional impact from a game with such an adorable art style and laid back gameplay. While I didn’t feel a connection to every spirit in my care, I became attached to quite a few of them. So much so that I actually felt sad when I sent them through the Everdoor to pass on.
That’s another thing that this game drives home: the feeling of loss. You’ll get use to seeing these spirits around your ship, interacting with them, and crafting things to make them happy. However, once they’ve decided they’re ready to go through the Everdoor, they’ll be gone forever. I found myself truly missing some of my favorite guests once they were gone, almost grieving their departure. Every time I would see their empty homes or find a surplus of their favorite foods in my inventory, I’d feel a pang of sadness. It’s truly a testament to how well a game is crafted when it can affect you so deeply.
The emotions are further enhanced by the game’s soundtrack and art design. It features a hand-drawn art style that is both simplistic yet striking. Each area holds a beauty unique unto itself. My one minor issue is that the animations Stella makes while performing a task can get repetitive after a while since there’s only one per chore. However, there is a dedicated hug button and for some reason watching Stella hug her passengers never gets old.
Max LL’s musical score has some truly beautiful melodies that will stay with you even after you’ve turned the game off. Each one helps to perfectly create the appropriate tone for the situation your are facing. Since there is no voice acting, the music and animations are what are relied upon most to set the mood for the circumstance you’re dealing with.
For the most part, Spiritfarer is a charming and upbeat game, but it covers the themes of death and loss with seriousness and respect. I was genuinely shocked by just how much I came to care about the spirits in my care. Learning about them and helping them move on gave the management sim side of the game have a lot more meaning. It’s a fun, sweet, and surprisingly addictive game that will stick with you long after you’ve stopped playing.
It has a simplistic yet bold hand-drawn art style that’s both charming and visually striking. The animations for performing various jobs around the ship feel repetitive after a while of playing though.
For the most part, it’s a management sim in which you’ll have to keep on top of taking care of the chores on your ferry. Although, there are some fun platforming sections sprinkled throughout. The storylines for each of your passengers are well varied and surprisingly deep.
There’s no voice acting, but the soundtrack is absolutely beautiful and creates the perfect emotional tone for each situation.
While the management sim aspects are the most prominent, the personal journeys for each passenger are what will stay with you.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Spiritfarer is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Google Stadia, and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.