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Backlog Impressions | Spiritfarer

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When it comes to the topic of death and the afterlife our minds generally go to a very dark place, and that’s totally understandable! The older we get the more we are faced with examining our own mortality, how much of it we have left, and if we’ve chosen the best ways to spend the time we have been given. This is a very strong theme in Spiritfarer, an indie, management sim created by the genius minds at Thunder Lotus. They’ve taken the dark and depressing shadow of death and shone a beautiful light upon it. While it still may bring tears to your eyes, more often than not they are happy tears of love and acceptance.

The main character Stella has been chosen by Charon, the current courier of souls, to take his place and become the new Spiritfarer to the recently deceased. Stella and her cat Dandelion are granted a boat and a mission to help these souls transition to the next step in their afterlife. It’s a heartwarming adventure filled with love, laughter, and letting go.

I fondly remember seeing the upcoming release announcement for Spiritfarer and I recall being enthralled by what I saw. It looked so gorgeous in every way and the premise seemed very unique, albeit a little depressing.  I knew this was a game I would need to pick up eventually.

I surprisingly hadn’t seen many people playing or talking about it once it was released however, so I will admit it fell off my radar for a few months, but once I stumbled upon it in the Nintendo eShop I scooped it up immediately!

Maintenance sims are my absolute comfort games and the fact that this one in particular seemed to deal with some very heavy subject matter made it all the more appealing. There are plenty of Stardew Valley, Story of Seasons, MInecraft type games out there but Spiritfarer was different and that made me very excited to finally play it!

Stacking Spiritfarer up against other maintenance/sim games is actually a bit tougher than I expected it to be. It really was a wholly unique experience that I’d never really encountered before. Sure there’s still material collecting, fishing, building, crafting, cooking, and the like, but it was all so interwoven within the gameplay and story that it was easy to forget you were grinding for these things. Which is not to say there weren’t points in the game where I had to sail around the map to visit every island that had a certain material, but the grind, if you can even call it that, was very minimal and there were plenty of mechanisms in place to help you collect the more precious resources.

Truly it’s the emotional investment that sets Spiritfarer apart from all other games in this genre. The entire game really encapsulates one of those rare feelings that a piece of media can evoke where the audience already has a good idea of how things are going to end and you spend your time anticipating it. 

You are responsible for the emotional well being of every passenger that temporarily resides on your boat. Each spirit will not only ask for help with their leftover baggage, so to speak, but also their moods can quickly decline if you don’t regularly offer them meals they like, or if they are without their own living space for too long, or even if they are around other spirits they don’t get along with. I found myself drawn to each of the characters, even the ones I disliked, wanting to know their stories and learn about what they prized and what they detested. This was one of the mechanics that really made Spiritfarer a unique experience unto itself.

Much like one of my other favorite sim games, Graveyard Keeper, I really appreciate that Spiritfarer had a definitive end. Typically with these types of games I just have to kind of decide for myself when I’m feeling “done” and then wrestle with the guilt of feeling like I’m just dropping the game. On the other hand, Spiritfarer is truly a game about learning how to say goodbye even if you aren’t exactly feeling ready. The ending really hammered that point home and even though I felt sad to see those credits roll, I was incredibly grateful for the time I had been given.

The only complaints I really have to offer are about simple quality of life type features. The fact that you couldn’t get rid of sheep or trees, without just deleting their enclosures was a bit annoying. Also, it seems like the ability to meditate at specific rocks was introduced, but never utilized, which was confusing and disappointing. You could find the other meditation rocks around the map but you couldn’t use them at all. Perhaps this was a feature that was forgotten about or merely cut for time/budget purposes – I have no idea. It was an odd omission nonetheless.

Without question Spiritfarer is a game I would recommend to anyone. I think even people who aren’t a fan of sim/management games would find themselves pleasantly engaged. It was genuinely a game that delivered a very wholesome message worth experiencing. Spiritfarer is one of those titles that I will forever use as the perfect example of not only how far independent developers have come, but also just how important their contributions are to the gaming community. And I think that says it all.

If you would like to tackle this heartwarming tale for yourself it can be found on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia, and Steam.