Spiritfarer Review – An Ocean of Emotion

    Title: Spiritfarer
    Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
    Release Date: August 18, 2020
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
    Genre: Simulation, Adventure

It is incredibly rare for a game to take me by surprise nowadays. Almost every time I boot up one of my consoles, I know exactly what I’m getting into. Spiritfarer, the newest title from developer Thunder Lotus Games, was an experience that I genuinely can’t say I’ve ever had in a game before. Sure, I’ve played management games and farming sims before, but nothing that hit on the deep emotional level that Spiritfarer did time and time again.

Spiritfarer follows Stella, a newly deceased girl, tasked with taking over the position of ferry master to the dead. As she travels the seas of purgatory, she encounters several lost souls that she must guide to the afterlife. Surprisingly enough, however, many of these souls happen to be people from Stella’s own life.

Spiritfarer really got to me. While it may seem like a simple resource management game, it is so much more. One could technically spend the entire game just going from place to place, upgrading your boat, and collecting resources. However, you’d be missing out on what makes this adventure so grand.

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It’s rare to find a story in a game that hits me on the emotional level that Spiritfarer does. Each passenger of Stella’s boat feels fully fleshed out and realized instead of cardboard cutouts of familiar tropes.

You won’t be able to find out each characters’ full story unless you take the time to nourish your relationship with them. Every passenger has particular likes and dislikes, and, by catering to these, you can ensure that everyone stays happy and healthy. Small interactions between big story moments are where you’ll find the best character interactions as they reveal more about their former lives.

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Unlike other character-driven games, Spiritfarer forces players to build relationships and grow attached to characters before sending them away forever. Just about every time I had to, I felt the emotional impact thanks to fantastic writing from the team at Thunder Lotus Games.

At the end of the day, however, Spiritfarer is still a game, meaning it has to be fun to play. How much enjoyment you’ll get from it really rests on how much you enjoy management games with a slow burn.

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Players will most likely spend most of their time with Spiritfarer doing the same main tasks every day: wake up, check on your passengers, check your resources, gather resources, attempt to build, go to sleep, rinse and repeat. Personally, I found the grind to be extremely satisfying, but during long play sessions, the monotony can get to be a bit much.

The main reason to grind for resources in Spiritfarer is to upgrade Stella and her boat. When Stella first takes on the role of spiritfarer, her boat is puny and filled with nothing but trash. As you begin to travel from island to island, however, you find resources and a spiritual currency known as glims that can be used to enlarge the ship. The bigger your ship, the more opportunities you’ll have to refine raw resources and build more items for your passengers.

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Stella also has several requests she can tackle for each passenger. Upon completing specific requests, she is awarded coins known as Obols that can be used to upgrade Stella herself. By gaining the ability to double jump, glide, climb ropes, and more, players can return to islands they had previously visited to find hidden secrets and items.

Progression in Spiritfarer feels incredibly rewarding. Each new upgrade you acquire leads to something bigger and better. Watching Stella’s boat and abilities grow throughout the game is satisfying and always made me want to keep upgrading.

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This isn’t a perfect game, however. Like I mentioned earlier, if you happen to play it for longer than an hour at a time, the tedium of the resource grind can make Spiritfarer lose some of its better qualities. While infrequent, I also ran into a couple of glitches that forced me to restart the game and lose progress if I hadn’t saved recently, which was incredibly annoying.

Spiritfarer features an art style most akin to a Saturday morning cartoon.  While I can’t say any one-shot or area particularly blew me away, the entire game is visually pleasing. Similarly, while none of the songs on its soundtrack stood out to me, they all fit the atmosphere and tone, so I can’t complain.

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Thunder Lotus Games clearly put a lot of love and heart into Spiritfarer. The whole experience is dripping with emotion, thanks to the engaging and memorable cast of character met throughout this adventure. While its main gameplay loop may become grindy over time, Spiritfarer‘s plot and rewarding upgrade system make the experience feel worthwhile. If you’re in the mood for a good cry or looking for an unforgettable voyage, you can’t go wrong raising the anchor and setting sail on Stella’s ship.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jake Yoder

Lover of all things gaming, anime, film and theatre. Shonen anime/manga enthusiast.