Spiritfarer is the third game developed by the Canadian studio Thunder Lotus Games after Jotun (2015) and Sundered (2017). I haven't played Sundered but I did pick up Jotun when it was released. To tell the truth, Jotun annoyed the heck out of me and I thought it would be a great cartoon or a comic book but not a game. However, the potential of Thunder Lotus was undeniable and I've been waiting for a while for their next big beautiful project. And it is Spiritfarer.
In Spiritfarer you play as Stella and carry out Charon's duties of taking the souls of the departed to the Everdoor where they can proceed to the afterlife. You are accompanied by your cat Daffodil who can also be played by the second player in co-op. Your task is to travel the world, search for the lost souls and invite them aboard. Most likely you will discover that they are not really looking forward to their journey into the afterlife because they have some kind of unfinished business. After you help them achieve inner piece by completing their questlines, you can take them to the Everdoor so they can ascend. As Charon tells you at the very beginning, "You will have to help them fulfill their last requests, and be at their service until their last breath." Your journey in Spiritfarer also includes a fair bit of cooking, hugging, house-building, crafting, travelling - and tears. Quite a bit of those.
Initially I wanted this post to be much longer but the more I played the more there were things I really did not want to spoil or elaborate too much on so you can still start your game mostly blind. Instead I'll focus of what the game does best and what aspects of it could still use some work.
Spiritfarer is a gorgeous game. Its visual style brings out the purest and the softest side of you, it's like a cozy fairytale where you can actually live. Many people were rendered completely unable to analyze anything about Spiritfarer past its distinct artstyle because their hearts were melted in the best way. Every spirit has its own set of unique animations for hugs, receiving the food they like or don't like, being in a great mood or, on the contrary, being under the weather. They all climb up and down ladders in different ways, it's a marvel to just watch how they live on your ship and go about their everyday life. Oh, and you can also hug your cat Daffodil at any time, this animation is one of my favourites, it makes me want to just grab my cat and squeeze her. The game looks awesome: the lines are simple, nothing too elaborate but there is always enough details in every frame and the game looks magical at any moment.
The pinnacle of the Spiritfarer's design, undoubtedly, is the ship where you'll spend the majority of the game. You can upgrade it so you can access new areas and you can also make it bigger so it can accommodate all the spirit houses, garden, mill, chicken coop, forge and much, much more.
You can catch lightnings in a bottle, jump among green jellyfish and try to free the Quartz Dragon from its curse filling you pockets with quartz along the way. You can catch fallen stars during meteor showers and help little bug-children find their way back to their mama who will reward you with a rare crafting material you can loom into thread and then weave into fabric. The sheer number of special events in this game is astonishing and the spirits you welcome aboard will be happy to teach you how to play these mini-games to gather resources or just to have some fun on your way. If you are not in the mood to catch lightnings with your face - and occasionally into a glass bottle - you can just say so and continue your journey. The mini-games are beautiful, exciting, fast-paced and punctuate the flow of the game quite well. Since there are so many of them, you are not going to get tired quickly - if at all.
Crafting system in Spiritfarer is surprisingly diverse: you can spend your time cooking, trying to come up with new recipes of which there are dozens upon dozens, or you can spend it in your forge or in the garden. Almost every type of craft is done through a mini-game that requires enough of your attention to captivate you and pull you in but not so much you'll get tired. To turn logs into planks you need to follow a pattern with your saw, this way you'll get more planks per log. Looming also requires some dexterity on your part: every type of fabric has its own ruler with a marked middle, and the loom moves with different speed, so you need to be quick to get more thread and fabric. In the foundry you'll need to keep the temperature within the range defined by the metal you're trying to melt. It sounds complicated but it's really not. This game just loves you and wants you to succeed whatever you do: however poorly you follow the plank pattern or however often you miss the middle part of the ruler while looming, you will still get some material, and you'll get more than you invested. Just relax. In Spiritfarer crafting is for fun and pleasure, not for sweat and stress.
Your passengers will help you to the best of their ability: not only will they teach you how to craft things but they also will craft themselves. You will notice that one spirit is looming thread while you are away and another one picks berries for your next cooking project. Some spirits will teach you unique skills and scout the islands with you, mining ore and gathering mushrooms. As in real life doing something together makes us closer with other people, here it does too.
A little guide section since this question pops up a lot. On the map you'll find spots marked with a tuna icon - you can catch a tuna there, one fish per spot. However, it's not that easy: you hold the button and start pulling the fishing line but it quickly starts glowing red. You let go, it cools down, you start pulling the line and it's red again so you can't really catch the fish. Shetani to the rescue!
How to catch tuna - when the fishing line starts glowing red, don't hold the button - release it and start tapping it: tap-tap-tap. The fishing line will cool down and you'll be able to hold the button again. When it turns red, let go and start tapping again: tap-tap-tap-tap. This way, more sooner than later, you'll pull the tuna out of the water.
I can't imagine why the tuna would be so different from other fish mechanically and why nobody seems to have a tutorial for it but we have what we have. Good luck!
The world map in Spiritfarer is surprisingly big; parts of it are blocked until you accumulate enough resources to upgrade your ship so it can navigate through mist and traverse ice up in the north. The islands' design varies in different parts of the world: there are islands with shrines and spiritual places inspired by Japan, there are industrial cities or islands-mines. Because the map is so big you are allowed to fast travel between major hubs so you don't spend days swinging your oar. Sometimes the only thing you have for navigation is a set of coordinates - I highly approve of that, feels really adventurous. The game always gives you a wonderful sense of discovery: when you see a new island you want to drop everything and just go there. Who knows what awaits you? A shop? A chest? A new passenger? Maybe a blueprint for that chicken coop upgrade? This world is full of most wondrous things.
Unfortunately - or maybe to its own fortune - the game is not perfect. I've seen many reviewers slamming that 10/10 OHMYGOD button and listing zero downsides except for that overly sweet "the only downside of this game is that it ends". Of course, the game has some aspects that are not as polished and well-executed as they could've been and it's unwise to deny their existence. Flaws mean that there is room for improvement and growth; claiming that something is "perfect" when it's not is ushering developers into stagnation and killing the critical thinking of your audience.
It's quite possible that nonlinearity of Spiritfarer causes more troubles than it procures benefits.
I often caught myself thinking ahead trying to predict softlocks: for example, there is a quest "invite spirits to an event" but in theory you can close all personal quests of invited spirits before doing this one, thus nobody will show up. Then there is a quest "ask spirits about the event" - who am I to ask? So I consciously let one spirit hang out on the ship despite the fact that his personal quest was done, not to screw up that questline because the game does not support several save files and I wasn't really keen on starting from scratch after 25 hours of playing.
The same goes for building something on your ship but not knowing what to do about that construction because you haven't yet found the spirit who'd teach you. The crafting mini-game either won't start (but you can still craft the materials for some reason) or it will but you'll have no clue what to do. The discrepancies between building a new craft station and finding the tutorial for it might mess up the gameplay on more than one occasion.
Fortunately, you don't have to help all spirits on their journey to the afterlife to complete the game so if someone got softlocked you can still finish it. I played on launch so many problems were unresolved at that time but now I expect the wikis and forums have already emerged and you can find solutions to any of your problems. I didn't personally experience any soflocks apart from that one described above that I avoided but I read on forums that people got periodically stuck on spirit quest progression.
I encountered one bug when two events coincided and started weirdly merging into one another, I thought it was the end of my save file. Luckily, the error handling turned out to be really good and the world state got back to normal after some time. I also hope they've already fixed the black textures that appear when you go inside buildings on your ship.
Pacing has always been of the utmost importance for me when it comes to videogames, books and movies. In Spiritfarer it's very uneven: at the start you are bombarded with tutorials and explanations (not a bad thing at all), then you get a really well-paced and overall great section with the first spirits when you're still figuring out the game, and after that your ship gets flooded with passengers. The ship has no passenger limit so you can invite all spirits you manage to find on the islands. I invited everybody because I'm hospitable like that, and then realized that I simply can't manage all of them at once :D They are all hungry, their mood plummets if they go unhugged for too long, they shower me with their quests while I'm trying to craft necessary materials to upgrade my ship and fulfill other tasks. For a considerable period of time my Stella was just crunching non-stop with no sleep at all because the only time you can spare for crafting, cooking and fishing is the night time when everyone else is asleep. Then, all of a sudden, almost all spirits reached the end of their stories simultaneously, although earlier I was able to release only one spirit in 2-3 gaming sessions. The ship fell silent but then I got access to milk and oil at the same time which opened the floodgates for what felt like a thousand new recipes because you can combine milk and oil basically with anything.
The problems of uneven pacing sprout from nonlinearity. Spiritfarer just can't have a more or less stable rhythm. You either have a million of things to do - or next to nothing. Your ship it either choke full of spirits and you struggle to give your attention to every one of them - or you sail them all away at the same time and chill with a couple newly arrived. Maybe there should've been a limit, for example, no more than 3 spirits at once. You work with them, do their quests, give them all the time and hugs they need, then send them to the Everdoor and get another passenger. I deeply regret that I missed a number of story-related dialogues and events just because my ship was consumed by management chaos.
The uneven pacing leads us to another issue:
The beginning of the game is really well-paced and the characters you meet are fleshed out with long interesting questlines that uncover their personal stories and tragedies. Alas, I couldn't ignore the fact that the more I played the more the quality of these stories seemed to decline. The spirits you take on your ship closer to the end are very different from those you meet at the start: their questlines are considerably shorter, you run a couple of errands and they say, "Okay, I'm ready, take me to the Everdoor". Maybe the game should've been a couple spirits shorter. The endgame doesn't have anything new in store for you, there's just in general nothing to do except for going from point A to point B and then to the Everdoor. When compared to the awesome quests the first spirits give you, you can't shake the feeling that the design of the later spirits might have been a little rushed.
You shouldn't think that this game is just about hugs and cats since it looks so precious and adorable. Spiritfarer is a game about the tragedy of death, about loss and introspection. You can easily miss all of this by dedicating yourself to fishing, cooking and playing guitar to fruit trees but if you take time to talk to your passengers and learn who they were when they lived, who they were to Stella personally, what are the things they regret the most - your heart will be breaking ad infinitum. Every goodbye is a mix of hope and sharp sadness especially when you've travelled for so long and have a history together. And then you get into a thunderstorm and there is nobody to play the flute and only a small icon indicates the start of the event - oh, it brings pain. Empty houses on your ship left behind by your friends - it brings pain too. Don't think that all these stories are happy stories and when you bring spirits to the Everdoor they'll tell you they have no regrets and are ready to go. Some of them will be ready because they are tired and just can't continue like that anymore. Some just understood the futility of existence. On your little boat on your way to the Everdoor you will hear revelations that will keep you up at night. And yet this is not only excruciatingly sad, but also beautiful because such is the human life.
Despite all its issues: pacing problems, technical mishaps and nonlinearity that sometimes does more harm than good, Spiritfarer is a phenomenal game. It's way longer than I supposed it would be: hard to imagine that a game about cooking and talking to cute animals has 30 hours of content. Maybe it's five hours longer than it needed to be but who knows. The game miraculously blends comfort gameplay where you can live day after day doing whatever you like the most, be it fishing or catching meteorites, and intense emotional experience that you'll inevitably get. Spiritfarer is a long journey to the acceptance of death, to the realization that the pain will never fully subside but it's not necessarily bad.
The credits start with "In memory of" and then there's a list of names. Spiritfarer was probably created as an attempt to comprehend death and loss by those who remained on this side. At no point does the game try to squeeze a tear out of you, which is especially great when we're talking about such things as death and loss. It's way more important to make the player feel than to tell them what they should feel. And Spiritfarer does it stunningly well.
If you're in doubt and want to try the game before buying, Spiritfarer has a perfect little demo here.
Playtime - 30hrs