Spiritfarer Review: Don’t Fear the Reaper

Maybe you aren’t an emotional masochist like me. If you aren’t, you probably won’t like Spiritfarer, because hoo boy. It’ll get ya. This gorgeously animated 2D resource management game centers around one thing — dying. This subject matter can be handled in a variety of ways, but the only word I can describe the ways Spiritfarer tackles it is “masterfully.” In my Spiritfarer review, I saw how to artfully handle the grim topic of death in a way that gives the player hope and tranquility.

I’ve often said that video games are the ultimate narrative medium. The level of interaction inherent allows the player to be a part of the story rather than simply a consumer. This involvement results in much deeper investments in the story and characters than in other mediums. Well, this theory certainly rings true in the case of Spiritfarer. This story-driven indie masterpiece made me feel things. Both for the story and for the characters involved. And at the end of the day, that’s what a successful story should do — make the participant feel something. So join me as we take a look at the Spiritfarer review. As always, if you feel like missing out on the whole experience, pop on down to the verdict at the bottom.

A Narrative Like No Other

With a subject as bleak as death, it takes a lot to make it feel cozy and warm. Nonetheless, Spiritfarer does just this. From the moment you boot the game, Spiritfarer just exudes warmth and peacefulness — from the music, all the way down to the walk cycles. Seriously, you can’t find coziness of such a caliber this side of my wife’s tiny house board on Pinterest.

The art style goes a long way in allowing the narrative to speak. In the opening moments of the game, our hero Stella and her trusty feline sidekick Daffodil inherit the powers of Charon, of the river Sticks. Charon is going on an extended sabbatical and needs a replacement. Without revealing too much of the story, Stella possesses the right soul and kindness to ensure the wellbeing of those that are passing to the afterlife.

Throughout the story, Stella takes on the task of ferrying various people’s spirits to the afterlife. This is more than just a quick boat ride, as Stella must ensure the comfort of every passenger so as to ensure each one can come to terms with their own passing. The characters that Spiritfarer presents to us, do not adopt their “true form” until they step foot on Stella’s ship, in which they adopt the form of an animal that embodies the nature of their soul.

The Lifeblood of the Game is Its Characters

Character building is foremost in Spiritfarer. Each new addition is a joy to witness. Watching their story unfold through missions and environmental storytelling is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. Spiritfarer does not present the player with direct narrative exposition — rather, the player must uncover the origins of each spirit through missions and conversations.

Spiritfarer tackles some very dark issues. However, it artfully portrays topics like infidelity, cancer, childhood trauma, and dementia. Often, the cause of death of a spirit is not readily apparent and the story leaves specifics up to interpretation. However, when the spirit’s story is revealed, the issues that lead up to death are handled with grace. Poetic analogies for things like cancer and dementia are artfully presented and are incredibly heart wrenching. The use of symbolism is refreshing. I have often grown tired of direct narrative exposition, so it’s nice to have an experience that doesn’t hold your hand through the story.

Overall, the narrative that is presented in Spiritfarer is one of the best I have seen in recent years and is definitely one you don’t want to pass up.

Stress-Free Resource Management

Often, when I boot a resource management game, I can feel the cortisol coursing through my veins. If I play Tropico 4 for 3 more hours, I will definitely have a stroke. However, this is not the case with Spiritfarer. Throughout my experience with the game, I felt at peace. Much in the way the titular Spiritfarer makes her passengers feel at peace with themselves, being a part of that process is incredibly stress-relieving.

The various tasks placed before you in the game are presented in terms of “Requests.” In many games, some of these tasks may feel like chores, but the premise of Spiritfarer lends a sense of duty to the gameplay. I felt the need to take care of the passengers. To give them the most comfort possible in their last days and moments.

Gameplay That Enhances the Story

In my Spiritfarer review, I found that the gameplay is often relegated to the task of narrative exposition. Finishing requests expands our knowledge of the spirits and allows us to continue the game. Finding out more about Atul’s troubled family life is more than enough reason to find him some fried chicken. However, while ferrying the story is the job of the gameplay, it does so quite enjoyably. Many methods of gathering resources involve playing various minigames — collecting fallen comet fragments is a favorite of mine. One of the simplest, albeit most satisfying activities is cooking. My wife – who co-oped the game with me – took it upon herself to uncover all of the recipes possible.

Spiritfarer could have gone the easy route and neglected the gameplay. However, developer Thunder Lotus managed to pull off a narrative that is enhanced rather than entirely driven by its satisfying gameplay. There are a few hiccups and bugs when it comes to movement. Sometimes jumps don’t land quite right, and for some reason, the second player is unable to enter urban buildings. Thankfully, none of these issues are game-breaking, however, they can break the immersion a bit.

Stunning Visuals

From the moment I glimpsed the thumbnail artwork, I had a feeling my eyeballs were in for a treat. Spiritfarer is easy to look at. The colors swirl in all the right ways, and the overall art style lends volumes to the game’s cozy aesthetic.

The character models in Spiritfarer are particularly compelling. Upon entry to the ferry, Spirits adopt their true animalistic form. While not outright explained, these true forms are complementary to their personality and individual needs. Beyond character design, the rendering of buildings and environments is incredibly well done.

Throughout Spiritfarer, I found myself continually captivated by the animations in the game. From the movement of distant clouds to the hugging animations (yes, you can even hug the cat), the hand-drawn feel of the game piled on to the mountain of tranquil vibes.

Stunning Sound Design

With each new location uncovered in Spiritfarer, beautiful visuals are also uncovered. The same is true of the music and sound design. Each region on the map feels wholly unique, and I believe that sound has a profound effect on this. Seedy urban areas have an accompanying film noir score. Francis, the wandering merchant is always recognizable by his funky Far Eastern melody.

Beyond music, the sound effects in Spiritfarer are excellent. I loved hearing the joy when Atul gets his beloved pork chops. Or the soothed sigh of a sad soul that’s being hugged. They need to sell an album of all of the sounds in Spiritfarer. There would be no more insomnia.

Local Co-op: The Only Way To Play

I’ve often lamented the slow death of local multiplayer. Luckily, Spiritfarer allows a friend to tag along on your soul-ferrying adventures. Player number two plays as feline companion Daffodil. While Daffodil may not be able to initiate conversations (understandably), player two is never left behind. Daffodil can cook, harvest, feed passengers, dole out hugs, and sing songs to the plants just as Stella can.

In Spiritfarer the co-op didn’t feel like an afterthought. It truly felt like Thunder Lotus designed the game with cooperation in mind. Honestly, the game would have been a much more difficult experience without my wife (in real life I’m not married to a cat) handling various resources while I spoke with passengers and navigated. Moreover, the emotional journey would have certainly been lessened without a fitting partner along the ride with me. Also, I needed someone to hand me tissues.

No Reason Not to Try it

With all there is to love about Spiritfarer, the only drawback I can see is the length. It is surprisingly long for an indie title, clocking in at anywhere from 30-40 hours depending on if you stop for sightseeing. Even if you’re more commitment-averse, you should definitely give this indie gem a try. If you subscribe to Game Pass (you should), you can download it for free, so you actually have no excuses.

Spiritfarer Review Verdict

Spiritfarer is an indie resource management and 5 stages of grief simulator. It places the player in the role of the mythical ferryman and tasks them with caring for passing spirits and taking them to the afterlife when their time draws near. Spiritfarer is an excellent and artful experience, and an emotional journey I won’t be forgetting. The journey is far better when enjoyed with a friend and is available for the low cost of nothing on Xbox Game Pass.

Check out more on Spiritfarer on the Microsoft Store, and check out Thunder Lotus on Twitter.

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