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658361957_Spiritfarerlogo.thumb.jpg.3f445b19f91bd40468c4fabcd97bae3d.jpgDeveloper Thunder Lotus Games already has two games under its belt, but aside from the beautiful hand-drawn visuals you wouldn't expect those action-heavy games to be related to this quiet, pensive management game focused on dying. Spiritfarer takes players on a thoughtful journey of reflection wrapped up in a tidy gameplay loop of crafting, collecting, and completing quests for your passengers. It's an utterly charming experience that only makes it all the more difficult to say goodbye when it ends.
You play as Stella, the new Spiritfarer who takes over for Charon as the ferrymaster to the deceased. Accompanied by her cat Daffodil, Stella sails the seas of the afterlife where she meets spirits, aids them with whatever final business they need to complete, and ultimately ushers them to the Everdoor for a final goodbye. The writing in this game has an incredible ability to transition between sweet and silly moments to truly heart-wrenching scenes in a perfectly smooth, natural way. It's safe to say that you'll feel tears bubbling up at least once throughout the game, and more likely that you'll get emotional with each and every goodbye. Spiritfarer isn't overly stuffed with dialogue and details about each of the spirits you meet, but there's enough to make your time with them feel meaningful and unique as each character deals with their death in different ways. Most importantly, the game handles its heavy subjects with a maturity that never diminishes its positivity and charm—each character has their own hug animation, how do you get more adorable than that?
The actual gameplay in Spiritfarer is a familiar but satisfying mix of management sim tasks, sprinkled with some light platforming elements. You'll need to visit multiple islands spread throughout the sea to gather the resources necessary to build structures on the ferry, including homes for the spirits as well as other amenities like a field to grow crops, a kitchen to cook food for the ever-hungry spirits, or a sawmill to cut logs into usable planks. Management games tend to have a simple, satisfying gameplay loop and Spiritfarer is no different. It has a bit of a slow start, which is not unexpected, but once you get going there are constantly little tasks that need doing, and since you spend so much of your time sailing from one island to another you always have free time to fill.
The game finds a great balance of always giving you something to do without making your work feel too overwhelming. There are fish to catch, recipes to discover, islands to explore, and spirits that need a steady supply of food and hugs. The ferrymaster's work is never done, which makes Spiritfarer awfully addictive to anyone that enjoys ticking off tasks and keeping a tight ship. It also helps that a lot of the tasks involve fun little mini-games, such as making thread and fabric on the loom, or literally catching lightning in a bottle. Some tasks are always a chore, like watering the crops, but the variety keeps things interesting, and there's always something new to discover as you progress. Thankfully Stella herself doesn't actually need to eat or sleep—though you can sleep through the night to pass time, which is helpful since the ferry doesn't move at night—so you can focus on monitoring the spirits' and the ferry's needs.
I only have two minor gripes with the game, one being the odd button mapping that just takes a bit of time to get used to. The other issue is a bit more frustrating: even with the recent 1.4 patch the game has some stability issues, and crashed on me pretty regularly after a few hours of playing. Thankfully there is an autosave feature so at most I lost a minute or two of progress, but it's still obnoxious to deal with crashing on such a frequent basis.
There's no ignoring the fact that Spiritfarer is an absolutely gorgeous game. The hand-drawn graphics are stunning on their own, but when you add in the fluid animation it brings to life the characters and this ethereal environment they're inhabiting in a truly beautiful way. Everything about the game's visual design exudes a sweet, soft, and cozy feeling that just makes you feel good to be a part of. Even when you're busy with tasks, the atmosphere of the game is wonderfully tranquil, which can also be said of the soundtrack. The music is colorful and serene and delightfully soothing. All of this visual and aural design perfectly complements the tone of the game and further heightens its emotional moments.
Spiritfarer is longer than you might think, but it'll still be over before you know it. Once you're in the thick of things, juggling all the aspects of keeping the ferry running, it's hard to put the game down, and the 25 hours or so that it takes to finish can fly by. Of course, you don't have to do every little side quest you come across, but you'll always be rewarded for your time and sometimes just sailing around is enjoyable. You can also bring a friend along for the ride—player two controls Daffodil the cat—which can be helpful when you have a lot of tasks to complete on the ferry.
Spiritfarer takes a hard look at death and dying and puts them in an eminently pleasant setting that is equally charming and heartfelt. The real accomplishment of the game is in not just touching upon these topics but melding them with management sim gameplay that is engaging, addictive and oddly appropriate for the narrative's themes. It's an affecting experience, and one that no Switch owner should miss out on.
Rating: 9 out of 10 Spirits
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