The concept of death usually isn’t a comfortable one. In real life, it evokes less than pleasant thoughts. In video games, it often marks failure. Spiritfarer puts a more heartwarming spin on the concept. You play as Stella and command a giant boat where wayward souls gather. You must shepherd them into the next life in what developer Thunder Lotus Games calls “a cozy management game about dying.”
Spiritfarer: A Visual Delight
Looking at Thunder Lotus’ previous work, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Spiritfarer came out of left field. Jotun makes players kill giants to appease the gods. Meanwhile, Sundered uses the words “eldritch” and “inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft” in its marketing.
Spiritfarer, on the other hand, features a more serene feel. While the studio’s previous work also featured compelling art styles, something about the vibrant colors and crisp lines of Spiritfarer spoke to me. Furthermore, the way light plays with the environments is unreal, and it breathes life to the hand-drawn art.
To be clear though, the star of Spiritfarer isn’t the world itself. Despite how great that all looks, the character models stand out in this 2D style. The various inhabitants of the ship all have intricate designs. When you see them in motion, you can pick up hints about their personalities.
That might be most true of Stella and her trusty feline companion, Daffodil. In action, Stella seems very animated (pun intended) and energetic. She can also hug all the spirits on the ship, which contributes to 20% of the cuteness. Daffodil, on the other hand, is responsible for about 80% of the cuteness. Exhibit A: When watering plants, Daffodil gets on her back and summons a watering can above her, angling it properly with her four legs.
I played Spiritfarer with Art Director Jo-Annie Gauthier next to me, and she showed off arguably the most important milestone in cat-based animation: Daffodil’s glide. Both playable characters can glide as part of the platforming, and Stella’s is reminiscent of Link’s from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Daffodil, though, becomes a balloon and ever so slowly releases air. The animation comes with the sound of a balloon slowly, squeakily losing air, and honestly, it sold me on the entire vibe of Spiritfarer.
Playing as a Spiritfarer
So what does it mean to actually be a Spiritfarer? Well, it’s a lot, honestly. Spiritfarer offers all sorts of avenues of gameplay. For example, during a thunderstorm, a minigame started where I had to catch the lightning and harvest the energy. That’s right, in this “cozy management game about dying,” one of your goals is to get struck by lightning—repeatedly.
Another mechanic I got to see a bit of involved building rooms on the ship itself. You can build more vertically than you’d expect, stacking various rooms atop each other. I had to do this to help a spirit pass on. Since your goal is to help many spirits, I’m curious to see what the ship could look like further into the game.
It also seems like being a Spiritfarer involves a lot of farming, fishing, and cooking. For the record, I’m not complaining. In a way, this all reminds me of the gameplay loop of titles like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, and I’m more than eager to see more. Additionally, you’ll dock your ship on various islands throughout the game. In the demo, I had to stop somewhere to pick up an item for a spirit. Based on the trailer, you can also stop by islands to mine, as well.
All of this management makes me think Spiritfarer will be a fairly relaxed experience, although I’m expecting it to take me to emotional places along the way. While the half-hour I spent with it wasn’t long enough to impact me emotionally, I could see it happening across the many hours the final game will offer. I, for one, very much look forward to seeing more of what Thunder Lotus has to offer.
Spiritfarer will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam some time in 2020.