The year 2020 has let us see a lot of good indies already, but today, we are talking about what seems to have easily become my favorite game of the year. We are taking a trip through the sea of the dead, with Spiritfarer.
You can find this review in video format as well.
I do not usually start a review saying that this is my favorite game of the year and I have to emphasize here that I do not say this lightly for just about any game. Spiritfarer managed to impress me on so many levels and I would gladly write another thousand words for it if I had to tell someone just how good of a gaming experience it is.
The game is made and published by none other than Thunder Lotus Games, the lovely developers behind the also really good games, Jotun and Sundered. I spent a lot of time playing both of those games for review purposes in the past and also just because they were so much fun. For Sundered, I was even one of the first in the world to finish on its hardest difficulty, a game that to this day I commend the developers for making so challenging in a fun way.
Knowing the developers and their games so well already, I knew I was going to enjoy Spiritfarer, no matter what kind of game it was going to be. I just had trust in what I was going to get my hands on and I was not surprised to find out that this was indeed the case. The game was in the spotlight during multiple instances in the past, with its trailer playing on big screens like that of E3 and Gamescom. All the hype was escalating, even after its release.
Spiritfarer is a very different kind of game from what we’re used to with Thunder Lotus’s previous titles. This game is all about sitting back and relaxing. It is all about enjoying all the small parts of the gameplay. There is no stress in doing anything in the game and every single part of it tries to push that sort of vibe even further. Spiritfarer is all about you.
Before I even get deeper into what this title is all about, I have to mention that I spend a good ten hours in the game before I even felt comfortable talking about the game in a review kind of manner. There is so much to it that it is too difficult to actually tell anyone just through words on a blank page. Every time I would write a paragraph, I would feel like it is not enough, since I knew the game had so much more to offer that I had not experienced yet. So I played another thirty hours of it. Yes, that many and there is still stuff I want to do once I get back to it, after the review.
I just had to share this with you first.
If I were to describe Spiritfarer in comparison to other games, just to give you a good idea of what it is all about, I would describe it as Stardew Valley on a boat and with more narrative than most of the adventure games you’ve probably played. The game excels at bringing forward the narrative of you being the person responsible for helping lost souls pass on to the afterlife. It excels at doing that through all the gameplay mechanics and the characters it has. It excels at it in a rather captivating way.
Why do I say captivating? Because, once you pick up Spiritfarer, you will not want to stop playing. There is always something to do, a person’s request to progress, a certain material to gather and a new place to explore. There is always something and you are always on the move. But you are also not, because, you could just relax and take it easy. The game does well at allowing progression to flow nicely.
The basic premise of the game is that we are in control of Stella, a girl that has been given the Everlight, the magical symbol that signifies who is the Spiritfarer. Using this magical thingy, we get to do, pretty much everything. It can transform to all sorts of tools and it also powers up a bunch of things around us, including our boat. Our goal is to find as many lost spirits as we can by travelling with our boat in the spirit world and bring them on board with us. From there onwards, we are tasked with fulfilling some of their last wishes before each one of those souls are ready to move on and literally pass on.
A simple idea and a very simple story, but it gets very intricate and interesting the more we dwell deeper into each individual character’s backstory. Most of the passengers actually know Stella in some way or another and all of them end up telling us a lot about themselves through all the interactions and the little errands we run for them. The spirit world is way more complicated than what it looks like at first. There are a lot of characters with different personalities and it is up to us to figure out how to navigate through this emotional mess that they have found themselves in.
Other than our interactions with all the characters in the game, which I would say is the main part of the title, we also get to do a lot of farming and boat managing. We get to travel to islands, harvest and collect all sorts of materials and then slowly upgrade our ship so that it can sail to new places. Those new places are for example locked by ice or stone walls and serve as a way to gatekeep us from going too far out of where we need to be. Other than that, we spend a lot of time on our ship, constructing all sorts of buildings on it through our blueprint table. These can be cabins for the passengers or more utility based stuff like a garden, a loom or even a windmill.
Once we have the buildings, we begin harvesting and collecting things by doing all sorts of activities on our boat. Gardening, fishing, working the loom or cooking just to name a few, are all things we will need to do in order to progress further in the game. The cooking and its recipes alone will take hours of your time before you even reach the very end of what they have to offer.
It’s worth noting though, that despite the game’s immense amount of farming needed in order to get anywhere, everything feels natural. The progression, as I mentioned earlier, flows so nicely and steadily towards where you need to be. It does so in such a way that it never allows you to feel stressed about doing something or completing a certain task. It makes the gathering of resources feel very relaxing and something you want to do now and then. All the activities in the game are fun in their own way and always feel rewarding no matter what you are doing.
Very worth noting are also some of the activities that play somewhat like mini games. Despite them becoming somewhat repetitive as a concept the further you progress into the game, they are once again not the main focus of the gameplay and are therefore never too boring to repeat. If anything is too repetitive though, it is most definitely the fishing.
In this regard, Spiritfarer has managed to master the resource management gameplay that many other games struggle to balance in ways that it will make the player want to come back and spend hours doing the same things over and over again. Well done Thunder Lotus, you really outdid yourself on this part.
You can actually even play the game in co-op with the second player taking control of Daffodil the cat. There is really not much left you can ask of Spiritfarer that it hasn’t already delivered on.
It would be remiss of me to not mention how stunning the game’s visuals are though. Jotun and Sundered were already very good looking in all regards to their visuals but Spiritfarer has really taken it a huge step further. It is the attention to detail that actually captivated me in my first hour with the game. The fluid and unique animations of pretty much everything in the game are so well done that you do not want to take your eyes off the game. Even when you are repeating some of the things that you’ve done a dozen times before, it is still very satisfying to observe. Cutting trees, cropping your corn or mining ore, everything has its own special animation that is so pretty, you just want to keep going.
A fine detail I noticed was actually the fact that even standing idle has Stella and her cat Daphodil doing their own beautifully animated gimmick. Last but not least for the visuals, every character in the game shows themselves to us in a form of an animal which basically allowed the artists of the game to impress us with even more well made character animations.
The game also sounds amazing. Unlike most indies that I played for that many hours before reviewing them, I actually enjoyed the music so much that I ended up listening to the soundtrack while writing this review. The music accompanies most of the things that are going on in our adventures perfectly. Most characters actually have their own theme playing in the background when we meet them and with the exception of just a few that got annoying after meeting them for the 100th time, everything else sounds great.
This is a game that looks great, sounds great and promises to deliver a captivating story. It needs to be said though that, despite its very cute visuals, the game actually adeptly hides its serious theme in a very interesting way. Every character, who has obviously died, has a very touching story to tell and if you spend time to understand who they were and what happened to them before they died, you’ll understand why I mention the words “serious theme.”
Spiritfarer is most definitely a game that I can see most people enjoying. It may tire those that want short and fast games that end before you hit the 5 hours of gameplay mark, but it will treat everyone else with heaps of content that does not get boring at any time.
If you are looking for something to play over the course of several weeks or months, something with a very casual and relaxing tone but at the same time a strong and captivating narrative or something to help you forget your worries while you’re farming away resources in a beautiful spirit world, then Spiritfarer is for you.
Spiritfarer is most definitely the best game I have played in 2020 thus far.
You can follow the development of the game on the studio’s discord channel.
Find Spiritfarer on Steam.
Watch the game’s trailer here.
~Konstantinos “Kelfecil” Christakis
We would like to thank the developers/publishers for providing us with a copy of this game for coverage purposes. As a non-commercial press team, it is our honor and our delight to be able to provide our opinion on it.