Spiritfarer, which is described by developer Thunder Lotus Games as a “cosy management game about dying,” came out yesterday for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. I’m only a few hours into this massive, striking game — it’s reportedly 30 to 40 hours long — but those words seem remarkably accurate so far. To play Spiritfarer is to light some candles, make a cup of Chamomile, and curl up under a cashmere throw. It’s more or less Hygge the Game.
In Spiritfarer you play as Stella, the titular Spiritfarer. At the start of the game, you take over Charon’s venerable soul-guiding duties, and are gifted a modest boat. (For those who skipped Mythology 101, Charon is a figure from the Greek mytheme who ferries the deceased, across the not-at-all-subtle River Styx, into the afterlife.) As you play, unique animal spirits move into your boat. They all have disparate needs, and it’s up to you to tend to them. Is Atul the frog hungry? Really, again? Does Gwen the deer need some emotional support? Has Summer the snake expressed a burning desire for a private sanctuary?
You fulfil these requests as in many other management games: by accruing and spending various resources as you see fit. Let’s say you want to help Summer out with that private sanctuary. You’ll need a dozen oak planks to build it — but wait! You first need to build a sawmill, which will turn any wooden logs you find into planks. To build a sawmill, you need linen thread. Linen thread obviously comes from linen seeds, so you need to construct a garden out of maple logs and a rare resource called Lightning in a Bottle. (It’s literally lightning that you catch in a bottle.) But even after you plant and grow enough linen, you still need to weave it in the loom, a structure you can build with some quartz and logs of maple wood. Complicating things is the fact that your boat only has so much space for all of these rooms, unless you want to spend even more resources on a larger deck.
You can see how Spiritfarer could quickly get complicated. Were this any other game — say, Frostpunk or Cities: Skylines — these incessant demands would, by design, cause your cortisol levels to spike. But Spiritfarer is smooth sailing through and through.
For starters, calling the demands “demands” is somewhat of a stretch. Yes, they all want things from you, and want them all the time, but failing to fulfil those desires, at least in the early goings, doesn’t result in negative ramifications. Rather, maintaining high spirits will grant you unique perks. Keep Atul fat with raspberries (and other, lesser snacks), and he’ll automatically repair the structures on your boat — without needing to be asked first. What more could a boss want?
You’ll also want to assist these spirits beyond a gamified yearning to succeed: Interacting with them is sincerely lovely. Despite the fact that each one is an animal, they’re all more human than most characters in most video games, with hopes, dreams, fears, tastes (except for Atul, who will eat literally anything), and illustrious histories of their own. Building a bigger boat may be the on-paper goal of Spiritfarer, but getting to know the spirits further is the real one.
There’s also a prompt to hug any spirit animals who are down in the dumps:
Gathering resources, too, is a delight. Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of opening up your sea chart, setting course to a shipwreck, and interacting with a wayward floating crate once you get there. Other times, a full-blown island is your destination, where you can sprint and double-jump your way to resource-hunting bliss. But the true gems are found in platformer-like mini-games, which are marked by anomalies on your sea chart.
The most fascinating one I’ve found involves sailing through the world’s various thunderstorms. Do so, and you’ll get a chance to catch, literally, lightning in a bottle, by sprinting across your boat’s deck with a glass bottle in your hand, trying to run across sporadic spots of glowing energy. Step on one, and thunder will crack, sending a bolt of lightning directly into your bottle. Each spot stays up for mere seconds. The more you cross, the more Lightning in a Bottle you’ll earn. Cross just a few? Hey, no sweat. There’s no “losing” in Spiritfarer’s mini-games, and that takes some of the stress out of the situation. You’ll always leave with something.
What a refreshing, relaxing ride.