Cozy games have been experiencing a bit of a renaissance lately, and our Spirittea Review should make it pretty clear that they’re here to stay. If you haven’t heard already, Spirittea is a cozy life sim game about running a bathhouse for spirits, though it’s a bit too meta to compare to Spirited Away.
Spirittea Review - Once More, With Spirit
Spirittea is a life-sim/bathhouse management game from developer Cheesemaster Game, whose only previous work is a little-known pixel-art adventure from 2019 called Fables of Talumos. With the might of publisher No More Robots behind them, it seems likely that Spirittea will draw much more attention.
As with many life sim games, you’re moving yourself out to the countryside to get away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life at home. In this specific instance, you’re moving to a rural town to work on your book as an aspiring fantasy author.
The particular town you’ve chosen to make your own is a rural town plagued by troublesome spirits. Within a few days of moving in, you discover a magic teapot and, after drinking tea from it, find you can see and interact with the spirits.
Before long you find yourself having to stop lost spirits from causing havoc and invite them to your newly reopened bathhouse for some R&R, as well as to help you make money. Along the way you’re accompanied by Wonyan, a flying cat who uses a giant coin to brain spirits it doesn't like. Fun.
Life Sim Gameplay But Not As We Know It
If you’ve played other life sims before then you’ll probably be pretty familiar with certain aspects of Spirittea. The gameplay is split up into days with saving done automatically anytime you use your bed to advance time. You also have the typical four seasons with 28 days each that you’d find in games like Stardew Valley. The social aspects also bear many marked similarities, with the player needing to constantly interact with the townsfolk to become closer to them over time.
That’s about in terms of similarities. Spirittea’s main gameplay focus is on running the Spirit Bathhouse, not on growing food or various other random miscellaneous tasks. Anything else you do in the game is basically to facilitate this, such as solving townsfolk problems to unlock more spirits for the bathhouse, or making friends so those friends will work at the bathhouse for free.
So it should be relatively simple from this point to summarise the game. It’s a life sim where you take care of a bathhouse full of spirits. Done and dusted. However, Spirittea has various elements that do help it to stand out against other, similar titles.
The biggest differences are found in the mechanics of the bathhouse. Rather than being a demand on your time each and every day, you’re free to open it up as often, or as infrequently, as you’d like. Of course, you won’t make money on days you don’t open the bath, but it’s at least nice to have the option.
In terms of what you’re actually doing at the bathhouse, it’s a relatively interesting mix of stuff, and it’ll certainly keep you busy. You need to keep the fire stocked to ensure you have warm water, wash towels to ensure you have enough for new guests, and personally seat each guest in the bath with other spirits they actually get on with.
Each spirit in the game is assigned a season, and spirits don’t like to sit next to a Spirit of the opposite season to them. At the start, this is pretty simple since you’ll only have to worry about 2 or 3 different types of spirits, but it can become maddening once you’ve got 10 or more to work with.
On top of that, you also have almost no way of knowing which spirit is from which season early on. The only way to know other than through guesswork is to find each spirit’s Spirit Tome. These books are buried out in the game world at complete random, and they can be almost impossible to find sometimes, but they’re also the only way to learn what season each spirit is associated with, as well as their “bathing style.”
Things in the bathhouse get even more complicated at this stage. Beyond the earliest spirits, each new one you discover will have a specific set of behaviors in the bath, as well as food preferences and/or elixir needs. All of these pieces of information are revealed by finding the spirit tomes, and you’ll need to know this stuff if you plan on getting the most amount of money out of your clients.
All that aside, it’s not worth stressing yourself over too early on. Sure, you’re likely to make less money if you annoy your guests, but in truth, the game is incredibly forgiving. It’s entirely possible to just keep placing guests together at random until you’ve figured everything out without needing the buried books. Either way, the bathing offers a decent level of complexity which is probably good as it’s the main crux of the gameplay.
It's Nice To Have Goals
There’s also something of a definitive goal and story to the game, rather than being completely free and easy. As an aspiring author, your character’s main focus is on writing a book, but to do that, you need to get inspiration by helping townspeople and spirits solve their mutual issues. As you do, you get more and more material for your fantasy novel.
The missions that you get to unlock new spirits for more inspiration are a great collection of activities too. Sometimes it’ll be as simple as being in the right place at the right time, but various problems require some creative solutions or are very ‘meta’ for want of a better term.
Characters speak to you, the player, rather than the character. Spirits will occasionally interact with the UI elements in ways that they shouldn’t be able to do. It all goes towards making the main gameplay more interesting, and it stops you from being able to simply blitz your way through the days by abusing the sleeping/time-skipping mechanics of the game.
Speaking of characters and relationships, there are some pretty stark differences here too. There are no gifting mechanics where you can just throw the right items at someone until they love you, something our Stardew Valley guides make clear is prolific in that game. The only way to become friends with a character in the game is to actually talk to them and hang out with them regularly, which is a nice change of pace compared with most modern life sims.
There also don’t seem to be any romance mechanics, which is another thing that the game doesn't exactly feel like it’s wanting for. Spirittea is a cozy, solitary adventure, and shoehorning in relationship mechanics just because other games in the genre have them would have made it a worse experience overall.
Visual, Musical, Bug(ual?)
Visually and musically, Spirittea doesn’t offer much to write home about. The pixel art and music are both well put together, but they’ve also been done a million different and more interesting ways over the years. They do the job more than well enough, and it’s clear that the focus has been on the gameplay over the presentation in many places, much to the game’s credit, honestly.
That all said, it’s not like the game is totally without issues. Several bugs have cropped up during my time with the game, including one fatal crash, and one fatal instance of being stuck forever fishing without end. There’s also something to be said for a few gameplay elements, such as hunting for dig spots being a pain, and the lack of information on new spirits early on making the game more challenging, but both complaints are relatively minor ones.
Spirittea might not be about to start an international craze, but it’s easily one of the most interesting life sims to come out over the past few years. Far from being content with doing the same things that others in the genre have done, Cheesemaster Games have produced a truly unique life sim that might actually have something to offer to fans beyond surface-level changes that we’ve all seen trotted out to sell generic garbage before.
Aside from minor bugs and gameplay frustrations, Spiritea is a charming, funny, and novel (literally) adventure that makes you realize there’s life left in the Life Sim genre, even after Stardew Valley basically chewed it up and spat it back out again. Just be on the lookout for pre-owned panties.
Spirittea was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the Developer over the course of 50 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Unique take on life sim gameplay
- Meta humor and puzzles keep things interesting
- No forced mechanics or pointless inclusions
- Bugs have hampered progress occassionally
- Spirit attributes and behaviours are a bit too hard to figure out