Release date: August 18, 2020
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Music: Max LL
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, mobile (Netflix)
Genres: Management, Metroidvania, light platforming elements
Modes: Single player with local co-op option
Categories: Tragic and Heavy, Death, (Ill-)Fated Quest
Spiritfarer is a “cozy management game”  bursting at the seams with warmth, whimsy, and light—and yet, it’s quite possibly the most death-centric game you’ll ever encounter.
You play as Stella (the titular Spiritfarer), who is tasked with locating, sheltering, and caring for souls of the deceased and eventually escorting them to the gateway to the afterlife. Accompanied by her adorable cat Daffodil, she sails from island to island, gathering supplies to improve her boat, activating shrines that grant her new abilities, and fulfilling her passengers’ final requests. A personalized dwelling for each spirit, as well as various stations for processing materials (e.g. a kitchen, garden, loom, sawmill, smelter, chicken coop, and more), can be constructed and stacked on the deck of the ship, creating a jungle gym of buildings that functions as a platform for additional resource-harvesting minigames.
Although collecting and crafting are necessary components of advancing Spiritfarer’s storyline, one of the biggest mistakes a new player can make is adopting the “preemptive grinding” mindset that’s often advantageous in other farming/management simulation games. Tasks like weaving thread into cloth, watering plants, and shearing sheep are soothing and enjoyable in small doses, but they can easily become tedious and overwhelming if you’re attempting to be as productive as possible. If your average in-game day is dominated by these chores, there’s a good chance that you’ll end your save file with hundreds of unused items.
The game boasts “beautiful hand-drawn art and animation”  defined by quirky yet clean character designs and vivid storybook landscapes. The layout of individual islands can sometimes feel minimal or underwhelming for players accustomed to massive open-world games or more extensive platforming maps, but there’s a definite charm to the constellation of small discoveries to be made on Spiritfarer’s sea. The soundtrack is perfectly suited to the gameplay, with the wistful and bittersweet themes balanced by a handful of jaunty tracks that still manage to maintain a certain softness.
The spirits, many of whom were inspired by the development team’s loved ones , are carefully crafted characters with unique anthropomorphic appearances and distinct preferences, personalities, and stories. As a game largely focused on providing compassionate service and care, one of Spiritfarer’s greatest joys is presenting a spirit you’re fond of with some of their favorite things—discovering their preferred meal and cooking it for them, improving their house with furniture and decorative elements suited to their style, etc.
Though there’s no shortage of these gratifying interactions, tending to the spirits isn’t always a feelgood experience. A couple of Stella’s passengers suffer from the mental degeneration that all too often occurs during older age, and conversations with them grow progressively more disquieting as their narratives draw to a close. Other spirits have vexing personality traits that have the potential to evoke frustration and disdain, perhaps to the point where you find yourself actively disliking them. Nevertheless, Stella treats each character with the same gentle kindness, coaxing out tender moments from even those who are initially difficult to love.
The most emotional scenes in Spiritfarer are, naturally, they ones in which you must say goodbye. Some spirits are afraid of passing on, others are filled with relief, and others don’t fully grasp what’s happening. Some are fully satisfied with the lives they led, and others spend their last moments musing on regrets or struggling to find meaning in their existence. Some impart sage advice to Stella, and others don’t have much to say at all. All arrive at some form of acceptance and are sent off with a final hug.
In Spiritfarer, death is not a grandiose event meant to shake the story to its core. It is quiet, expected, and ultimately rather ordinary—and perhaps that’s what makes it so poignant.
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