Travelling across the sea and leading a variety of folk to their demise doesn’t sound like a particularly enchanting experience, does it? Somehow though, Spiritfarer – the latest release from developer Thunder Lotus Games – takes that concept and turns it into a memorable, beautiful, and emotionally-driven journey that I’d recommend all Nintendo Switch owners embark on.
Spiritfarer puts players into the shoes of Stella, a young girl who finds herself embracing the titular role and leading those who have reached the end of their lives on their final journey to the Everdoor. Sounds like a pretty rough ride, right? Well, it’s actually quite a peaceful yet busy role to take, with the colourful cast of animal spirits that she meets all having their own unique needs that need to be met. Tasks like maintaining the ship, managing its rooms and inventory, and keeping her crew happy means that there’s always something to do on the journey across the waves too, with the job of being a Spiritfarer certainly not an easy one.
With a concept like that, I’m sure you’d imagine that Spiritfarer is a game of sadness, and sure, it does have its tear-jerking moments that’ll leave even the most battle-hardened of gamers without dry eyes. The unique cast of characters all have their own distinct personalities and are dealing with their death in various ways, with their needs not only tying over to the gameplay but also helping build the narrative into a genuinely emotional trek – especially when their trip with Stella finally reaches its conclusion.
Despite this, there are also moments of joy to be found too. Seeing the folk you’re helping embracing their death with happiness could be pretty heart-warming, whilst there are also plenty of instances of humour thrown into the mix. Spiritfarer does tackle some hard-hitting themes that can really hit home, but it also shows the brighter side of the sadness – death might be harrowing, but it can also be so beautiful too.
See, Spiritfarer, look at the effect you’ve had on me… you’re getting me all sentimental now.
The core gameplay experience is ultimately tied to helping the spirits out, with each giving you different objectives to complete that come with their own rewards. This could be teaching new crafting tricks, granting you new abilities, or simply lifting the mood on your ship – each character you encounter will go through different moods that’ll need to be improved, so having a helping hand with this goes a long way in making your life easier.
There’s also an element of management to the experience too, with the player having to maintain the ship, build new rooms, and ensure everything is kept in ship-shape for everyone. There’ll often be instances where you’ll need specific items in order to progress or keep someone happy, which is where resource gathering comes into play. A lot of this is tied into the in-game exploration, with plenty of different islands to visit during your journey. Other times, it’ll be tied to a mini-game, with a variety of creative endeavours to dive into that ensure Spiritfarer is about more than just picking up items willy-nilly. You can expect to perform the likes of fishing and cooking along the way, which are always neat tasks to dive into that grow more and more addictive as you play.
It adds a fun twist to the genre-mashing antics of Spiritfarer, with no task in the game ever feeling menial. You’re constantly kept busy with things to do, but it never grows boring – sure, it can get a little stressful balancing out all of your different tasks on your ever-expanding ship, but you’ll always feel like you’re able to work at your own pace. Ultimately, it makes for a very satisfying gameplay loop and one that’ll certainly keep players enthralled during its twenty-five-hour plus runtime.
Add to that the satisfying sense of progression where you’re constantly getting new skills, new methods of crafting, and new spirits to help out, and you’ll quickly find that Spiritfarer is a very rewarding experience. You’ll also have plenty of bittersweet moments where you’ll finally see the spirits you help move on to the Everdoor, which make for some very emotional and captivating sequences. And hey, there’s even a sense of intrigue going on in the background about your own role in things, so there’s certainly a bit of mystery in place that ties everything together. It just genuinely makes for an engrossing gameplay experience and it kept me hooked in until the very end.
In true Thunder Lotus Games fashion, Spiritfarer is also a beautiful game to look at. The character animations are sublime and flow together flawlessly, the landscapes you explore are full to the brim with colour and creativity, whilst the cast of characters you encounter are all imaginative and feel befitting of the wonderful world you’re a part of. Add to that a beautiful soundtrack and you’ll find that the game feels magically presented throughout. Bravo, Thunder Lotus Games, you’ve got something particularly special on your hands here.
Spiritfarer offers a memorable emotionally-driven journey that’s complimented by some brilliantly varied gameplay mechanics and a stunning world to explore. It really is a fascinating title that’ll keep players completely hooked in throughout thanks to its engaging gameplay mechanics, whilst helping folk in need reach the end of their mortality was as bittersweet as it was beautiful.
It’s just a really special and unique title and one that resonated with me throughout the entirety of the experience. I can’t WAIT to go through it all again… I’ll just remember to keep a stock of tissues on hand the next time around.
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: thunder Lotus Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC