A cozy management game about death is a fitting companion for 2020.
How are you feeling about death? These days, it’s hard to avoid the subject in one way or another. While a lot of coping mechanisms may recommend finding ways to take your mind off of it, might I suggest, instead, diving headfirst into Spiritfater, a beautiful game devoted entirely to life after death?
Spiritfarer, from Jotun and Sundered developer Thunder Lotus Games, masterfully weaves the heavy topic into an immensely rich game full of beautiful visuals and three-dimensional characters. You play as Stella, a spirit guide who has just awoken with her cat Daffodil to her first day on the job. The convention here is that she is learning the job at the same time you are learning the game mechanics, and Thunder Lotus pulls it off in elegant fashion. Your job is to find spirits and travel with them across the seas until they are ready to move on to the Everdoor. Think of it as Purgatory, but where everyone is a ghost animal and everything is gorgeous. You are quickly told that your boat can and needs to be improved in order to finish your quests, and you do this by finding resources and money as you travel the ocean.
Talking to more spirits unlocks more quests for you to seek out and complete. Some of these spirits are regular background characters, but others are ones that will join you on your boat. Both kinds can offer you quests, but the spirits on your boat are the ones you’ll need to please. The happier they are, the more helpful they’ll be, plus some of them have experience with the craft shops you’ll be making on your boat, like a loom, foundry, or smithy. Their mood does fluctuate, and you need to try and improve it day to day. Also, getting spirits on your boat allows you to learn more advanced moves, like a double jump, which are needed for new areas later on in the game.
Practically everything you encounter in Spiritfarer will come back to be useful at some point. Thunder Lotus does a great job of letting you do what you want, but also making it clear that there are some things you’ll have to do if you want to continue certain stories or complete specific quests. It’s a nice balance of “do what you want” with “do all these things” that allows you to shape the story organically based on your choices and what you prioritize.
The characters on your boat help shape this as well. You play friend, cohort, counsellor, and occasionally enforcer to the guests on your journey, and a lot of them know you from back when you were all alive. Some of them are more serious than others, and each one is dealing with their death differently. Through these characters, you are shown multiple ways of coming to terms with your mortality, and how everyone handles it differently. Sometimes people want constant support while they go through it, and others just want to be left alone. Eventually you do see your characters to the Everdoor one at a time. I found those to be some of the most impactful moments, because I could actually feel the bond between these characters.
But the other amazing thing about your boat is all the crafting you can do. Spiritfarer surprised me with how much farming and forging I found myself doing, and how much I enjoyed it. Though my personal favorite was the loom, each of the craft buildings were very intriguing. The way you operate each one is different and feels pretty intuitive to how you would actually use those machines. It much different from something like Stardew, where you stick in the raw material and get the finished product later, you actually have to operate the machines and create the products, and the better you did it, the more products you would get. I really liked this hands on approach.
One of my biggest issues was the way time passed. There is a time tracker that tells you the time of day while you are moving through the game. When you stop to either look at your inventory and quests, or buy things, time is still moving. You have to literally pause the game to freeze time. As a very indecisive person, this occasionally, and very minimally, stressed me out. The reason being that when you get to nighttime, your boat stops moving, and I would try to run around and get all the things I needed for the next quest before night hit. Sometimes it would work, but a lot of times I got stuck right before getting to the next island I needed. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a convention that makes you learn to take advantage of the time you have each day. It also helps that your character doesn’t need to sleep. While you can sleep if you want to skip right to the morning, I eventually would start crafting during the night hours to get the full use of my day. It plays into the time management aspect of this game, so I don’t think of this as a huge detriment, more so a personal pet peeve.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last thing. While you are helping spirits move on to the Everdoor, you will occasionally find yourself in a twilight where you see memories of your past, accompanied by an Owl Spirit that seems to know you better than you know yourself. I don’t want to get delve too deep into this, but it adds a layer of mysticism to the game that I really appreciated. You get the sense that something even bigger is happening while you are on your journey, and I really enjoyed this additional layer to the game.
Overall, I really enjoyed this game and all the time I spent devouring it. I came into Spiritfarer very excited, and it did not disappoint. It even surprised me with how much I loved it. Spiritfarer has everything relevant to my interests: the afterlife, crafting, crystals, making friends, getting up in other people’s business, fixing (?) problems, and a cat best friend. If you are looking for a beautiful game with some more serious, and sometimes mystical, subject matter, I highly suggest giving Spiritfarer a try.