An occasionally rocky voyage across the sea…
As a welcomed amalgamation of Metroidvania style progression, intuitive platforming, and an Animal Crossing-like management system, Spiritfarer is an engaging piece of time management and organized structure, all of which is fostered in an impressively fulfilling sense of progression. With an impeccably crisp and vibrant visual pallet and an orchestral score that is exceptionally potent and serene, Spiritfarer is a presentation marvel that rivals the pristine beauty of the generation’s best. Its subject matter can be notably bleak and grounded, pushing the narrative into a realm of tangibility and self-reflection, a thematic tone that is that is seldom found with this artistic style and calibre. Its these profound elements of self-actualization and closure that elevate Spiritfarer’s innate ability to stand out amongst the competition. However, while these imperative vignettes are undoubtedly alluring, Spiritfarer is unable to reach the full potential of its craft, resulting in a transcending journey that lacks a required sense of depth and substance. Its perpetual management systems are residually developed at an impressive rate, in a manner that is never overbearing. Granted, Spiritfarer quickly overstays its welcome due to conspicuous repetition and a lack of notable extrinsic gratification. While its sense of progression is palpable and instills the remarkable promise of greatness, it eventually loses steam and cannot maintain its gargantuan momentum. Despite my subjective qualms, Spiritfarer is an engrossing journey that is filled with rewarding exploration, an invigorating display of discovery, and a tantalizing definition of gratifying progression. It is an impeccable embodiment of blissful tranquility and wholesome levity; Thunder Lotus Games has arguably crafted the most soothing and mesmerizing game of the generation. A journey that is meticulously deliberate and profoundly heartwarming, Spiritfarer will lure you in with its remarkable subject matter and alluring sense of discovery but will keep you invested with its rewarding mechanics and intuitive management systems.
Throughout the notably long journey, you play as Stella, the newly appointed and titular Spiritfarer. As the Spiritfarer, your job is to traverse the vast sea in search for lost spirits and assist them with granting their final wishes, before taking them to the Everdoor, the gateway to the afterlife. What is presented as a sense of fulfilment for unfinished business is rendered to menial tasks that serve the spirit’s ego, with an ounce of reflection and observation seldom found. While hints of self-reflection and growth are emanated through impertinent discussions on the Spirit’s past endeavors, rarely do they display any semblance of development. They simply state their regret, inexplicably overcome it, and are ready to be taken to the Everdoor. This sense of character growth is inherently jarring and lacks any emotive weight as their self-actualization is never earned, in an abhorrent tell don’t show mentality. There are some minor exceptions to this rule, but overall, majority of Spirits lack an established bond with Stella and any form of character development. The lack of a dynamic relationship system is a detriment to any promise of poignant character interaction and tangible empathy, while also failing to capitalize on another enthralling management system. Spirits also show their true form aboard your ship, which is exemplified in the form of various animals. The Spirits themselves are not particularly interesting; while they each have idiosyncratic personalities, different mannerisms, and particular affinities, the notable lack of an emotional investment and developed connection to their persona and affiliated affairs fosters an apathetic aura that’s simply never dissipates. On top of their overtly extraneous dialogue and exposition heavy conversations, character interactions are shallow from both a gameplay mechanic and narrative component. Despite its thematic shortcomings and wasted potential, what it lacks in emotional depth and quality it makes up for in its unparalleled serenity and levity. With its combination of gorgeous scenery, impeccable art design, poignant musical score, and its central essence of tranquility, Spiritfarer is a remarkably therapeutic and almost meditative experience that serves as a brilliant pallet cleanser in a medium saturated in gratuitous violence. From its storybook-like artistic style, boasting lavish colours and exceptionally crisp design, to a level of pathetic fallacy discovered with its orchestral pieces, Spiritfarer is a beautiful harmonization of the visual and auditory senses, rivaling the pristine beauty of other fantastic indie gems such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps or Hades. While it falls short on its thematic promises and emotional potential, Spiritfarer’s gorgeous presentation and encompassing structure results in an experience of unparalleled tranquility that is absolutely worth embarking.
Spiritfarer’s gameplay is an impressive hodgepodge of management simulation, resource management, sandbox exploration, and Metroidvania style progression – while juggling multiple different requests, participating in diverse gameplay events, and learning/discovering the preferences of your crew members. It is a substantial amount of refined content that is presented and delivered to the player in an impressively gradual manner. Surprisingly, nothing feels overwhelming or overbearing, each element is efficiently placed and deliberately introduced with impeccable timing. Through traversing the open seas in your upgradeable boat, you will discover new islands and points of interest with various resources to excavate, hidden treasures to uncover, and Spirits to recruit. With Stella’s illustrious Everlight, a versatile tool that transforms based on the task at hand, you can chop down trees for logs, create a pickaxe to mine ores and rocks, or use it as a zipline to ride along wires and cables in gratifyingly swift traversal. Hidden shrines can be discovered throughout your explorative travels and provide platforming upgrades for your Everlight, allowing Stella to traverse previously unreachable areas, in true Metrioidvania fashion. Resources gathered during your escapades are used to build and upgrade facilities on your boat. From a sawmill used to create wooden planks from your gathered logs to a foundry that melts ores into ingots, each facility procures necessary resources and is accompanied by a unique gameplay mechanic that adds a welcomed level of input and variety to a menial task. You can also purchase seeds and grains from different vendors throughout the world, planting them in constructed gardens, orchards, and fields atop your vessel. These fruits of labor can be used as ingredients for recipe combinations that create a delectable array of consumable dishes. With an exceptional number of different combinations and the gratifying encouragement of recipe experimentation, cooking in Spiritfarer is such a therapeutic joy that is wholesomely satisfying and whimsically unpredictable. Fishing is an engaging resource procurement mini-game, one that is not hindered by the concept of time and provides different rewards based on location and weather condition. Your aquatic spoils can be combined with a minutia of different ingredients to craft illustrious seafood dishes. It is notably enjoyable experimenting and determining the preferences of your crew members when satiating their hunger. Different ingredients and facilities become available closer to the end game and provide a litany of new possibilities for delicious ingredients and recipes. From the windmill used to process grains into flour to a Loom used to weave threads and craft fabrics, there are so many different facilities used to produce different tiers of resources and ingredients, all of which are used for further developing and constructing. There are a number of exotic materials that are gathered in a more unconventional fashion. There are certain world events that trigger on specific areas on the map and are generally tied to a specific Spirit onboard. From the bombastic thrill of catching lightning in a bottle to mining exotic ores off of a colossal dragon, these events are undeniably thrilling and revolve around a unique mechanic that provides a notable level of gameplay variety. On top of their conventional use for facility and upgrade construction, resources are also used to further enhance the overall capabilities of your boat. Further expanding the number of facility blueprints in your possession, increasing the size of your boat, and fortifying its structure – allowing you to traverse through more treacherous and previously inaccessible waters, resource management and allocation is pertinent in Spiritfarer, especially given their universal value and the labor of procurement. Your boat is also unable to travel late night, enforcing an added layer of time management to the equation. Juggling accessible tasks, events, and activities is part of the habitual experience and while its implementation of time restriction is never overbearing, punishing, or particularly novel, it is still a delightful change to the cadence of flow.
While Spiritfarer bears many similarities to the most popular management sim of 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, its notable differences separates itself from the popularized standard for better and for worse. Spiritfarer is a far more focused and structured game, with clear cut objectives and organized goals. Animal Crossing: New Horizons encouraged copious creativity, a sense of self-developed purpose, and non-linear structure. You set your own goals and objectives in Animal Crossing, in a sense of self-development and creative objective. Spiritfarer is a far more calculated and predictable title, it is more accessible for the creatively challenged like me. With a lack of organic imagination and unfiltered creativity, Spiritfarer relies on the developers to continuously propel the player forward with a sense of residual purpose and reward. Spiritfarer’s range from the simple fodder of fetch quests to multifaceted layered requirement for building them specific facilities/buildings. Each task lacks a prominent sense of ingenuity and creativity, all of which quickly become notably trite and banal. With an absence of player self-input, creativity, and imaginative development, quests quickly become repetitive and overstay their welcome. My major complaint with Spiritfarer is the pacing of its final act; Spiritfarer spends so much time meticulously developing and teaching the player its bevy of different mechanics and gameplay systems in such an impeccably paced manner. However, you will eventually unlock and construct all facilities, learn every single recipe, locate and board all Spirits, and discover most – if not all – places of interest on your map. Spiritfarer implores a profound sense of exploration, discovery, and experimentation and because of this, players will undoubtedly traverse and excavate every nook and cranny that is accessible to them. While there is a large variety and number of different activities to take part in and locations to discover, there is simply not enough variation and tantalization to fully grasp your attention for the duration of the journey. After the 30 hour mark, I quickly became fatigued by the residual repetition and its final 5-10 hours were rendered to menial tasks to finally end the journey. Spiritfarer is unable to sustain the momentum it fosters throughout its momentous highpoints and inaugural sense of wonderment. Spirtfarer’s more traditional structure is undoubtedly easier to digest and its early game definitely benefits from its meticulously deliberate nature, but its longevity is ultimately hindered by its lack of ingenuity and fostered sense of repetition. Additionally, Spiritfarer has a lite multiplayer inclusion, allowing a second player to take control of Daffodil, Stella’s feline companion. Daffodil also has access to her own Everlight and can perform the same actions as Stella, aside from interacting with NPCs. It’s a welcomed level of cooperation but is ultimately nothing to write off about.
Spiritfarer is a remarkably dense experience that unfortunately cannot carry its own momentum nor achieve its true potential. Its level of variety within its core activities and systems is notably impressive and strike promising early impressions, but an aura of fatigue and repetition eventually settles in. Despite its inability to sustain its inaugural sense of invigoration, its core set of activities, events, and management systems are undeniably engaging and unique. Each system is layered with an idiosyncratic element that enforces engaging player input. Spiritfarer also does not fully capitalize on its thematic promise and emotive weight, constructing a shallow façade of poignant turning points and interactions. This lack in character development and self-actualization is an undeniable disappointment, especially given the profoundly touching subject matter. Despite its thematic and mechanical shortcomings, Spiritfarer still manages to transcend its disappointments with its unparalleled delivery in melodic tranquility and therapeutic serenity. Its idyllic notes of auditory bliss are sublime and its lavish colour pallet is beautifully taken from imaginative storybooks, Spiritfarer’s presentation quality is second to none and further cements the indie scene’s creative ingenuity. Spiritfarer lures you in with a promise of emotive weight and tangibility, but you will ultimately stay for its layered systems, moment-to-moment gameplay, and perceptive aura of tranquility. It lacks the imaginative scope and creative ingenuity displayed with other titles in the market, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons or Stardew Valey, but its centralized structure and clear-cut focus is a nice departure for the realm of ambiguity that typically saturates the genre. Spiritfarer is therapeutically soothing, undeniably delightful, and remarkably paced for the most part. It’s an engaging voyage across the sea that occasionally hits a few bumpy waves.