Spiritfarer is a game that lets players take the place of Charon who ferries souls between the living and the spirit worlds. Players learn that each person has demons to confront before they reach the Everdoor, the portal to the afterlife. After playing through this charming and disheartening title, I feel relieved that the subject of death is handled with care, especially since I struggle with certain people’s passing.
We are introduced to Charon at the beginning and he is exactly what we expect. This is a surprise because all the other characters change forms where we do not. No matter, we are thrown into the thick of things with Charon’s boat, a special light granting us powers, and our first passenger kicks things off.
Before we can progress, we have to tidy up the boat. Getting rid of the boxes and leftover items serve to build a guest house for new passengers. Though, later on, each character will want their own.
Our next trip is to Albert’s Shipyard for boat upgrades, which includes everything from speed boosts, to light additions, and to enlarge the vessel. At this point, we know that each upgrade requires specific items collected from various locations in this world.
Spiritfarers’ gameplay is unique in that farming, cooking, logging, mining, and fishing are all required to succeed. First and foremost, the characters need food to survive. Then we have to cut logs into planks to construct or improve buildings. Finally, each character has objectives to complete before they can be brought to the Everdoor.
Early on, Gwen (the first passenger) introduces players to one of the mini-games. Most mini-games are initiated by individual characters while in certain areas of the map. For example, there are black circles on the map with a shooting star image. It contains bright jelly, an upgrade material for the kitchen. To activate the mini-game for bottled ectoplasm, players need to have discovered a different character. And should a player enter an area without having unlocked the event, they won’t be able to get the resource!
A Couple of Pros and Cons
One of my primary issues of Spiritfarer is the idea that in the late game, the pacing is off. I don’t mind the fact that players can take their time with different quests, but spending hours traveling the world without having the ability to get some of the resources is what slows its pacing. Notably, ectoplasm can’t be found unless players have discovered a particular character that is not found by normal means. Thus, Stanley did not come onto my ship until many weeks had passed in the game.
One of the best features of Spiritfarer is arguably the character’s stories. We learn that not all characters are proud of their choices in life. Others are content with themselves by the time they reach the end. We learn that characters are crass, or quick-witted, or fell in love with the wrong person. Each character has their charm which leads to our personal feelings about these people when we take them to the Everdoor. I laughed with Gwen’s dialogue because of lines like this: “People like you are the reason we have middle fingers.” (That biting wit… LOVE IT.) I cried with the departure of Alice. And I was shocked at the passing of another character.
All told, Spiritfarer is a fantastic game. Thunder Lotus not only brought a game to the market that positively sheds light on the subject of death, but they did something even more remarkable. They paid tribute to their staff by remembering friends and family members who had traits like the characters in the game. Talk about caring about your employees, their dedication to Spiritfarer surpasses many games because of what it means to their people. How can one not appreciate this kind of action?
Graphics and UI
Players can use a keyboard or controller for their experience. I opted to play on the controller since I used a TV for much of my playthrough. It’s easy to access the quest menu and the inventory because of the keybind layout. It took some getting used to holding up on the analog stick to catch a zipline.
The top right-hand side of the screen shows the day-night cycle. This is useful for knowing when Stella (your character) needs to wake up her guests. It’s also useful to know when players can set the boat to travel (for some reason, it isn’t allowed to travel at night.) Because of this, players can’t see the world map unless they are at a bus stop or able to access ship navigation – another minor nuisance.
I appreciate Spiritfarer’s graphics style. When Stella meets different characters, they look like a humanoid covered with a sheet. Upon arrival on the ship, they can transform into a frog, a hedgehog, a lion, a bird, or a snake. All characters are genderless and are defined by their dialogue and demeanor. This is because there is no voice acting. For some reason, I always thought of Atul, your uncle, to be a woman. He just had the enthusiasm and outlook on life that seemed more feminine. I don’t know why I assumed that considering he tells you he’s your Uncle.
Another element of the graphics that I enjoy is the attention to detail. When players are inside mines, there are visual indicators that there is a hidden pathway leading to collectibles or other characters. After a character passes through the Everdoor, they are commemorated in the sky as a constellation. Depending on where players are on their boat, at night time you can visibly see these constellations.
Music and Audio
The first thing to note about Spiritfarer is the fact that there is no voice acting, meaning that players have to read the dialogue. The most we get are small noises from the characters like a ‘hmm’ sound when interacting with them. However, what sells the game, other than the subject matter, is the music.
Max LL (Maxime Lacoste-Lebuis) is a Canadian composer who has been in the music industry for nearly a decade. His music has been played by the Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra and has been featured in games, films, and other projects around the world. Max LL is a long time composer for Thunder Lotus Games and has worked on other notable soundtracks like Jotun and Sundered. His experience with music and sound design is a brilliant addition to Spiritfarer and I’m here for it.
I found that his compositions never outshine the serious theme of the game yet it is fitting and beautiful. The music pops out during key moments like bringing characters to the Everdoor for maximum emotional effect. It’s no wonder that his compositions appear in several games developed by Thunder Lotus. Below, I’ve linked the soundtrack to Spiritfarer. Have a listen!
Spiriting Final Thoughts
I find that Spiritfarer is an amazing game that almost flew under my radar. It tackles the topic of death with care and this made me appreciate more because I’m still affected by a family members’ passing. I love that each character has a story and a personality, sucking you into their world. However, the greatest feature of Spiritfarer is the fact that the entire game is a tribute to their staff by modeling the characters after Thunder Lotus family and friends who’ve passed on.
Also, I’d like to add that Thunder Lotus took care of another aspect of game development, especially with a topic like death, and that is developing a game that is ambiguous about religious belief. Even though we take characters to the Everdoor, the game developers don’t assume what players believe exists about the afterlife. And as a person who doesn’t believe in the normally accepted vision of ‘God’, I appreciate the fact that the developers don’t make assumptions for its players.