Wednesday, October 7, 2020

REVIEW: Spiritfarer

Life simulators have been getting a nice renaissance lately. Indie games like Stardew Valley are outselling Triple A franchises, Animal Crossing has overtaken the internet, and the once mocked concepts of farming and dressing up a room have risen as one of the modern staples of video games. Spiritfarer is a very different take on the subgenre. It's not exactly a life simulator. It's an afterlife simulator.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Spiritfarer courtesy of Thunder Lotus Games.
Opinions are my own.

Spiritfarer is a cozy management game about dying. You play Stella, ferrymaster to the deceased - a Spiritfarer. Build a boat to explore the world, then befriend and care for spirits before finally releasing them into the afterlife. Farm, mine, fish, harvest, cook, and craft your way across mystical seas. Join the adventure as Daffodil the cat, in two-player cooperative play. Spend relaxing quality time with your spirit passengers, create lasting memories, and, ultimately, learn how to say goodbye to your cherished friends. What will you leave behind?

In Spiritfarer, you take control of Stella, ferrymaster to the deceased. Throughout the adventure, you'll build and upgrade a boat to explore the colorful, hand-drawn afterlife. As you make your way through the world beyond, you'll befriend and care for spirits who will aid you on your adventure by helping to unlock upgrades to your vessel.

The game utilizes a unique open world system. Players chose a destination and the boat makes its way there in real time giving you plenty of time to work on your chores. As you sail across the mystical sea, you'll farm fruits and vegetables, cook delicious meals, and craft items from various materials.

I am a big fan of the way this game handles its "boring chores." Other games involving crafting require you to run items through multiple machines to get the exact result you want. First you gotta plant, water, and harvest an apple then you gotta put in the juicer for 5 hours to get a pureee then put it in the mixer with water for 10 hours to get a soda then after putting it in the blender for 12 hours you finally get a juice. Spiritfarer cuts most of that fluff out to focus on the real experience of the game.

While you can spend hours in the game exploring islands and creating items, the meat of the story unfolds as you get to know the spirits you've befriended along the way. Each character brings their own emotional back story to the adventure sending the players on an equally heartwarming and bittersweet journey. After each spirit reaches the end of their story you will guide them to their final destination and watch as they fade away forever.

While it can be devastating the first time it happens, that is the true mission of the Spiritfarer. You're not there to make friends, get married, or build a perfect farm. Your goal in the afterlife is to usher the fallen to their final resting place, no matter how much it hurts.

As much as Spiritfarer is a game about building, crafting, and managing a boat, it's also a game about saying goodbye. After a spirit crosses over, the house that you built and upgraded for them stays behind as a constant remind of the adventure you shared.

This is an experience that I could easily see hitting a lot of players harder than others. And while it's very much part of the premise of the game, the way it's executed is still well done. It's a similar feeling to the first time I played Link's Awakening. It says right on the box that you're in a dream world, but it's still a wll-done surprise when that's revealed in-game.

While Spiritfarer is a wholesome concept set in a unique world with original takes on established gameplay, it's far from perfect. The had-drawn art style is gorgeous to look at, however certain animations play a few seconds too many which makes cutting wood and smelting metals more annoying than they should be. All of the animations were cute and impressive the first time I saw them, but when you have to do them all a hundred times watchem them starts to feel more like a chore than the actual chore you're doing in the game.

My biggest problem occurred when I had no idea where to go or how to advance. Multiple sidequests tried to send me beyond dangerous walls of ice or shark rocks and I had no idea how to obtain the items needed to upgrade the ship so you can traverse those areas. Also, even though the crafting is a bit streamlined, I still collected dozens of items I had no idea what to do with, usually before I unlocked the machine needed to craft them.

Similarly, I build multiple crafting machines and had to look up how they worked online only to realize the game let me build them before I was supposed to, forcing me to sit through a tutorial for something I already figured out on my own.

A few gameplay gripes aside, Spiritfarer is original and beautiful and easily the kind of game I could sink  hundred hours into. Even if it gets a little sad from time to time, it's still a lot of fun. It's available now on Steam and the Nintendo Switch.