Death is a normal part of life. People you hate, people you love, and even you will eventually pass on, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. It sucks. Every single time. Spiritfarer is a game about confronting this fact. As Stella, the new soul tasked with fulfilling others last wishes and taking them to their final rest, you’ll get to know each of your passengers and learn about their life. You may like some spirits, you may dislike others, but know that seeing them off on their final voyage never gets easier.
As the new Spiritarer, you’ll sail the seas of the afterlife picking up spirits, gather materials, and build facilities to improve your vessel. You start with a tiny boat littered with trash, but you’ll slowly discover blueprints to build homes for your passengers and buildings like a sawmill or forge to refine the raw materials you’ll find on various islands. You can then use those materials to build new things, upgrade your ship, and explore further parts of the ocean that were previously blocked. It’s a simple gameplay loop, but incredibly addictive and always leaves you with something to do. You may want to shuffle some buildings around to make room for another or play one of the various minigames, like catching lightning in a bottle or “defeating” cardboard cutouts of orcs, you constantly have a goal you’re working towards and probably getting even more along the way. This can make the non-linear adventure overwhelming, especially around the middle of the game, but there’s no real punishment for forgetting to do something aside from, for example, your crops not growing after you forget to water them or a passenger criticising how you run the ship when unhappy.
Outside of managing your ship, you’ll be exploring islands and taking care of spirits’ requests. They may occasionally ask you for food, improve their home, take them somewhere, or finally to the Everdoor where they can pass on. When exploring an island, you can take on more requests from nameless NPCs, harvest materials by cutting down trees and mining, and find shrines that grant you and your cat Daffodil (Who serves as your co-op partner whom you can pet, by the way) new platforming abilities like a double jump or a glide. To sum up, it’s like a management sim and Metroid-vania in one, which is extremely my jam.
What’s also extremely my jam are the visuals. The game is entirely 2D animated and, this cannot be overstated, it is gorgeous. Every character is lovingly detailed in their aesthetics and movements – you can learn more about someone in how they react to a hug than anything they could ever say in dialogue. Special attention should be given to the lighting, which interacts with the already beautiful environment in stunning ways like light shafts only coming through holes in a fence or just… the sunsets in general. While the game looks amazing in screenshots, it looks even better in motion.
The incredible visuals are accompanied by a minimalistic yet impactful soundtrack that, much like No Straight Roads, I need on vinyl as soon as possible. From the energetic tune when helping a sea dragon to the quiet and sad piano piece that plays when seeing a spirit off, it’s all a joy to listen to. The writing is equally excellent. It’s witty when it needs to be, but heartfelt and human when it counts. I don’t think I’ll forget any of these characters anytime soon, but Stella herself is a standout. During gameplay, she appears constantly optimistic and cheerful while the quest log, written in a first person perspective, reveals her more cynical side. She treats everyone with kindness, even if they ask her to do something stupid.
Having lost my grandfather last year, Spiritfarer’s themes resonated with me in a way that other games or books about death haven’t. It presents you with cold, uncomfortable truths, but tells you it’s OK to feel sad or angry, to be scared of the unknown, and to move on. It’s a deeply frightening game, but also comforting and warm. This is a beautiful and haunting experience that no one should miss out on.
Spiritfarer excels in every genre it dips its toes in. It’s a joy to see what’s in every corner of the game’s ocean, explore every nook and cranny of the various islands, and play various minigames all while managing your ship and making sure your passengers are happy before you see them off. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and feel terrified all at the same time. It’s one of those games that, after finishing, you immediately want to play again.