Every life has to come to an end at some point and in this new game from Thunder Lotus, we learn how to say goodbye.
After Jotun and Sundered, the team at Thunder Lotus Games is trying to get their heads around life and death itself in a narrative adventure called Spiritfarer, which is essentially a story-driven management simulation. It's delivered in the well-known hand-drawn art-style that the developers are known for, which to me has a resemblance to the work of Supergiant Games, at least from a visual point of view. However, despite a positive first impression and although the premise intrigued me, the studio's current title didn't resonate with me as strongly as I'd hoped.
In Spiritfarer you are the proverbial ferrywoman and you accompany restless souls on their last journey. Caring for the dying is an immense challenge for heroine Stella, even if you can't necessarily read that from her happy and serene facial expression. Thunder Lotus decided that she will be a silent protagonist, which might have been the best decision with regards to this sombre subject. In Spiritfarer we bid farewell to all kinds of different people and Stella treats everyone with the same love and care. It is not her place to judge someone else's legacy, since this is a journey about respect for life itself.
You have to decide how intensely such farewells will hit you, but the developer shines lots of positive rays of light into the story and thanks to that the mood never becomes too dark and depressed. However, the path to acceptance is a long and exhausting one and therefore you should prepare yourself for a sad journey, albeit one that is enriched with beautiful, bittersweet memories, as well as a few painful insights. Before we say goodbye to someone, we welcome them on our boat as a guest. In our little boat, which grows as the game progresses, we travel the oceans, find more companions and experience little adventures along the way.
Spiritfarer is a management game in which our primary objective is to take care of the well-being of our guests. Every character has their own requirements, from needing their favourite meal through to furnishing their room. Sometimes our passengers have a positive influence on each other, sometimes they cause havoc - which is also part of life after all. Stella welcomes them all with open arms (which these ghosts can also refuse if they don't feel like it) and lends an ear if something is on their mind. The support does not end there, though, because every person has to work through a few things before entering the realm of the dead.
In order to bring about these events, we somehow have to deal with their associated memories, and as one could expect, that is no easy task. Sometimes all you need is one meal that brings out a thought buried deep in the past, but if you don't already have the right ingredients with you (or if you don't know the recipe), shopping alone can turn into a real challenge. This is because Spiritfarer fails to give players enough assistance along the way. We can ask different people about a problem and often get valuable information from them, but at the same time, at least in my experience, this can still leave you a long way from solving someone's problem.
In Spiritfarer, progress is generally tied to two things: skills and resources. Stella has to help various people on certain islands in order to get what is essentially a skill point, which are needed so that she can eventually deal with special platforming sequences. The second, much more difficult part of the game is finding a suitable item. We have to cook up a specific dish on deck, give someone a unique snack, and regularly upgrade our ship to access new buildings or areas of the map. Although only a few tasks can be actively followed in the quest log at any given time, many objectives can be found there after a few hours, thus it can be difficult to keep track of things.
This is a big problem due to the structure of the game because there is a lot to do and I felt constantly pressed for time. For example, the ship only sails as long as the sun is out in the sky, and your guests want to eat something once a day. The preparation takes up a bit of time and we have to grow, buy, or produce the food required. I didn't get to bed some nights because I was chopping up ingredients, cutting wood, melting ore or weaving fabric - all while my guests were snoring away with relish. Of course, that would all be okay if all of this activity had an end, but there are notifications that appear on the screen all the time, constantly reminding us that we have less time to complete our core task. Between weeding my gardens, feeding the chickens, and completing regional mini-games, someone always wants to grab a bite or remind us about on-going tasks that we haven't got around to finishing yet. After a while, I stopped paying too much attention to this idle chitchat and soon after I even found myself skipping conversations so as not to lose my current train of thought.
Also, there is a second problem that comes with having so many tasks. Spiritfarer is a game that will easily occupy you for 40 hours or more, and the main part of the experience is centred about repeating the same mini-games and daily tasks over and over again. I was quite efficient in my playthrough, but yet I could have done more and in the end, I couldn't even afford to cover the last upgrades for my ship. Most of these activities are animated and visualised in a very cute way, but after 20 hours that doesn't hide the fact that you've seen it all many times before. All the while you can cruise haphazardly across the sea for hours because there is no progress in any current quest.
Beyond that, though, I have little more to complain about in Spiritfarer. From a technical point of view, the game runs solidly and thanks to its modest requirements I was even able to play it on my work notebook. There are small losses in performance here and there and I noticed a few display errors, too, but the game runs pretty well overall. In terms of music, there could have been a little more variety and some of the jingles are a bit too repetitive.
All in all, though, I am quite satisfied with Spiritfarer, even if I had hoped for a little more. The game succeeds in making an impact when you have to say goodbye to your confidants, but I don't think the writing is always sharp as it could have been, and I was left with more than a few questions from stories that weren't concluded satisfactorily.
What is particularly cute is that two people can play together on one system because Stella is not alone on her journey - her brave cat Daffodil is always by her side. Much of this game is very charming, but in the end, the studio's most convincing quality is once more the game's visual style. However, Spiritfarer definitely has the potential to make a big impression if you take the necessary time to explore the characters and their world. That will be much easier for players if Thunder Lotus can introduce a few quality-of-life improvements that better respect the time you spend on this journey.
7 / 10
Teaches us to have respect for the lives of others, lovingly and charming presentation give way to the topic of caring for the dying, local two-player mode.
Animations and mini-games are repeated very often, solutions to problems are not always clear.