Spiritfarer is magic. It’s a luxurious sort of game that taps into emotions and gives people a world to explore and people to connect to, all without pushing you too quickly or holding you back. It’s a visual delight. It tells the sort of story and offers the kinds of connections that are a poultice for the soul. It’s extraordinary and one of the best things to come out of 2020.
You are the new ferryperson for the dead. Charon has moved on, leaving Everlights to Stella and Daffodil (a cat who can be controlled by a second player in co-op) as they assume his former role. You’ll go around the world, collecting lost souls who have final objectives to complete before passing through the Everdoor and on to the next big adventure. This means connecting to different people who can have both heartwarming and heartbreaking backstories while managing the new boat carrying the dead.
Spiritfarer constantly encourages you to play at your own pace. Stella never needs to rush anywhere, the spirits on your boat are content to hang around and spend time with you, so long as you’re usually willing to spare some food and a hug or two. (Though, not everyone enjoys physical affection.) You’re managing your charges’ needs and building up your boat, sure, but doing so in a way that suits you.
I’d describe the whole process as feeling like playing through a Studio Ghibli movie. Spiritfarer is all about going through a slice of Stella’s life. You wake up after a night’s sleep and check what your next destination will be on the map. (If you unlocked Bus Stops, you might fast travel, even.) Maybe you check some wrecked crates or an island for supplies to build up new lodgings or improve elements of your ship. Perhaps you head to a mission-centric location for one of your guests or get into some Shenanigans. (Yes, some side quests are actually called shenanigans.)
Once you set course, you can start going about your daily routine on the boat. This means ringing the bell to wake the people traveling with you up, checking your farm to water and collect crops, looking over your sheep for wool, making food, and checking in with the people around you to make sure they’re fed, hugged, and generally doing okay. If you go through some jellyfish, you might do some mild platforming on your boat to collect glim, the in-game currency. (Daffodil can help with some tasks, if you have a second player, but obviously can’t talk to people.)
After you get through your daily tasks and maybe visit some islands, the sun is probably setting. Which means it might be a good time to do some fishing. Maybe take part in a little extra cooking. Tie up any loose ends before Stella hits the hay and starts it all over again. It’s the same sense of routine that makes games like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and Story of Seasons so compelling. You have touchpoints and gradually keep doing better, improving your boat, helping people, and building relationships in such a way that you feel like you need to keep going for multiple in-game days one after another.
Only A+ hugs in Spiritfarer. pic.twitter.com/yVrdULVwvq
— Jenni Lada (@JMariye) August 21, 2020
And oh, are those relationships special. While this isn’t a traditional sort of game where you form bonds, working to elevate the moods of your guests and make them comfortable as they prepare to move on is the best. Every character is so well realized. Gwen is haughty in the best sort of way and puts that attitude to good use. Alice and Stanley’s stories are absolutely heartbreaking. Even though Bruce and Mickey are jerks to everyone initially, there’s this sense of growth as you get to know them.
And the art really helps sell all of it. You can feel the love that went into Spiritfarer in every line. Every animation is so crisp, smooth, and filled with personality. You can tell what a character is going to be like before you even really get to know them, because the artistry and their forms of expression are just that extraordinary. There’s a definite vibe emphasized throughout the adventurer, and you feel it build in the same way you constantly build new resources and spaces on your boat.
Perhaps the best thing of all is how Spiritfarer builds, grows, and ends. Not only are the souls you helping growing and accepting and your boat building, but Stella herself is developing. The story creeps up around you while life is happening, which is incredibly apt. There are highs and lows, as these moments will constantly hit you and make you chuckle or perhaps cry. You’ll move forward, even when you aren’t ready to say goodbye to your newfound friends, but at least have the luxury of setting your pace and arranging things to your liking. It’s a masterpiece.
Spiritfarer is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia.