Spiritfarer describes itself as a cozy management game about dying. You play as Stella, a young girl whose job is to bring spirits aboard her ship and tend to them until they’re ready for their final destination – the Everdoor. Each spirit is a well-written character, designed as a beautiful anthropomorphic representation of their personality. As you fulfill their quests, you get to know them well enough to make your duty a hard one. Prepare to be emotionally obliterated by the cutest game you’ve ever seen.
Build the Biggest Best Boat
The main gameplay loop centres around collecting resources from islands and using them to build rooms aboard your ship. Each spirit will need a unique house and there are various crafting and farming stations which will be needed to progress through your various spiritfaring shenanigans. The game gently introduces you to each system, with your passenger spirits acting as friendly-faced tutorials. A frog named Atul can show you the proper technique on the sawmill, while the owl Gustav will vaguely handwave how to use the smithy (it’s really not his sort of thing, but he’s confident you’ll figure it out).
There’s also the ship itself to upgrade. Aside from making it bigger – and you’ll want to make it huge for all the buildings you’ll be able to make by the endgame – you’ll also want certain upgrades that let you access different regions on the map. These will allow you to clear obstacles such as ice, rocks and thick fog.
Even though much of the game is ‘gather resources and build’, I never thought it grindy. The spirits give you plenty of destinations to explore in their quests and while I sailed to these, hitting islands on the way usually gave me just enough resources for my objectives. I liked this method so much that I eschewed the fast travel system until I was doing my final clean-up of tasks at the end of the game.
Hug Them While You Can
Naturally, Stella’s main motivation is ensuring the happiness of her passengers. I’d like to minimise spoilers about the wonderful characters you’ll meet on your journey, but know they are all imperfect, lovable beings. Some spirits may be harder to like than others, but I found it touching that through the game’s encouragement of using hugs to brighten spirits’ moods, Stella would hug these difficult passengers just as well as any other.
You may think it’s repetitive in its formula of ‘find spirit, build home, do quests and send them to the afterlife’ but that’s all just to lull you into a false sense of emotional security. These spirits will absolutely blindside you. It could be a small fact of their history, or a tragedy that occurs in front of your eyes. The best moments are when their stories are not just told, but are blended into the gameplay. Helping a spirit, whose strength was deteriorating, walk to the front of the ship for some fresh air was a slow, poignant moment.
Pulling further on your heart strings is the knowledge that most of these spirits were inspired by family and friends of the development team who are no longer with us.
Explore the Bizarre Pre-Afterlife
Some of the islands you can go to will be straight up resource islands to chop trees or mine ore, but there are also populated towns to side-scroll through. The world of Spiritfarer runs on a kind of dream logic. The spirits never act like they’re dead. They get jobs. Form unions. Visit parks. They’re basically living their lives.
Talking to the average, anonymous blob sometimes gives you some humorous dialogue about their backstory. It took me a while to warm up to wading through their nonsense, but occasionally it was worth it. I loved meeting the Dice Boys, a small rapper group, and the self-proclaimed Lizard King who stood on top of a building. Of course, there was that random dude who only said to me, “Oh. I thought you were going to say something interesting.” I liked him a lot.
The reuse of assets on some islands did give me a sense of déjà vu at times, but there is enough variety to make me excited about discovering a new island. Will I find the blueprint for a building upgrade at the end of a platforming challenge? A new shrine to unlock a new ability? A new personality to bring back to the boat? More importantly – will I find another sheep to corral?
Play Local Co-op with your Cat
It’s amazing that I could get so far without mentioning the deuteragonist of the story, because you see, there are two spiritfarers. Stella is accompanied by her cat, Daffodil, and this is who Player Two will control. As always, having a friend playing with you on the couch instantly makes a great game better, so I’m extremely thankful to Thunder Lotus Games for including this feature.
Daffodil can do anything Stella can do, except talk. So other than starting conversations with spirits, he can do it all. This makes running a ship extremely efficient. My Player Two and I naturally fell into a division of labour where she looked after all farming and cooking, while I specialised in the pure industry of building and crafting.
A second player also helps with the minigames which usually have you dashing about the ship collecting various shinies. The platforming sections of some islands may become a pain however, as the camera doesn’t always zoom out far enough if one of you has fallen too far.
Also, Daffodil has ridiculously cute animations as he works around the ship.
I am crazy about this game. I love it and I loved all my spirits. Each one of their theme songs haunt me with cozy memories of hugs and silly moments. Alternating between relaxing, comedic and heart-wrenching, this is something you just have to experience.
Spiritfarer can be played through your Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch and Stadia consoles and can also be played on PC through Steam, the Epic Games Store and GOG.com.