Bottom line: The game provides a beautiful experience for those who enjoy thought-provoking themes, adorned with gorgeous colors and incredible music. If you enjoy great writing, crafting, and building relationships with other characters, it's a great buy.
Gorgeous art style
Story context hidden behind an art book
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Spiritfarer is a magical game dressed in an adorable art style that also really knows how to punch my feels in the gut. I got to play as the adorable Stella, whose task is to guide spirits into the afterlife as the new Spiritfarer. It made me think about my life, my regrets, my dreams — and I pondered on who I may have had to guide were I in Stella's position.
For a cute game, it delves into some surprisingly adult topics about morals, ethics and dealing with illness. As someone who enjoys psychology and the things that make people tick, Spiritfarer was a grand time. The relaxing, simple gamplay loop made this perfect for playing on my Nintendo Switch.
Spiritfarer review What I like
Spiritfarer plays out similarly to one of my favourite genres: the life-simulator, though it's more aptly described as a "management simulator." I got to manage the moods of the spirits through feeding them, talking to them, completing quests when asked and — most importantly — hugging them.
The art style An interactive fairytale
|Developer||Thunder Lotus Games|
|Publisher||Thunder Lotus Games|
|Genre||Management simulator, Action platformer|
Spiritfarer boasts a gorgeous, hand-drawn art style that has often been compared to the style of Studio Ghibli films. As someone who isn't a huge fan of dark, monotone color palettes in games (such as Hollow Knight), the use of pastels and brilliant blues is a breath of fresh air. For a game that takes place mostly on the ocean, this game's style never got boring to me. The various islands strewn throughout the map are also distinct, with Asian-inspired themes, dark mining caves, and even contemporary towns with a Parisian flair to them.
The important part of art styles, to me, is also the way in which themes are conveyed through art. Upon moving to Stella's ship, spirits change from their former rectangular, faceless form to an animal form that best represents their personality. Gwen is an elegant, quiet deer; Atul is a boisterous, cheerful frog; and Alice is a meek, reserved hedgehog. Eventually, I began to infer the mannerisms of certain spirits just by seeing their animal forms — although I ended up being surprised throughout my journey with that spirit. After building homes for each spirit on my ship, I gained even more insight into what their personal, intimate Good Place would be, without the disruptions of their past lives.
The writing Hits almost too close to home
The art style and writing blend into each other effortlessly. The use of theming is strong, which is something I found refreshing as someone who enjoys literature. The spirits that Stella encounters all bring their own emotional baggage with them, and the writers shaped these characters in a way that made me see people in my own life. The strict, emotionally abusive teacher who believes their methods bring out the best in their students; the naïve, joyous child who idolizes you and follows you around; the demure housewife whose life revolves around putting everyone before herself; and your dear friend whose parents couldn't love them the way they needed — it's all there. We all, in some shape or form, have met at least one of these spirits in our lives.
For some of us, we are some of these spirits. It fosters a great deal of introspection, long after I've stopped playing.
The music Incredibly touching
You know a game's music is special when it blends so seamlessly into the gameplay that you find yourself feeling emotions, only to realize that the music was affecting you. The music that plays while you sail, as you're in different towns, and when you bring spirits to the end of their lives is always appropriate, using string instruments to tug at my own heart's strings (pun intended).
My favorite piece of the game's music is a little tune I like to call The Plant Song. Growing crops in the game can be a slow process, having to check in to water plants and just be patient. But… what if I can't be patient? I play The Plant Song! Stella can use her guitar to play for the plants, which prompts a rhythm minigame where you press buttons to the beat of the amazing song. That's not all, though. Your adorable cat companion, Daffodil, SINGS WITH YOU. At first, I didn't understand where the mewling was coming from, only to look at Daffodil and find her proudly puffing her chest out and serenading the heck outta my carrots.
Crafting Bringing meaning to metal
Crafting is a large, if not the largest, part of the game. Stella can craft thread, cloth, wooden planks, metal ingots and metal sheets. However, I was pleased to discover that crafting is more than just pressing a button. Each crafting area lets me start a minigame where my skill determines how much material I can make. I am never punished for doing poorly, which thankfully removes any frustration that might come after crafting for the vast majority of quests. Crafting is meaningful, and I feel like each building and upgrade was made by my own hands. As the game progresses, crafting evolves — I can use ore to make metal ingots, which are later used to make metal sheets. Each stage of crafting a material introduces a new skill that makes me feel excited to craft at night when the spirits are asleep.
Quality-of-life Respectful of the player's time
Spiritfarer is a game centered around small, mundane tasks to achieve several larger goals. Fortunately, it does its best to make sure that I never feel like my time is being wasted. Players are rewarded for collecting all 89 recipes, the different types of fish and wildlife, gemstones and other materials. There were also areas that allowed for me to farm harder-to-get items, like through the traveling turtles, and I could fast-travel using the bus stops manned by a charming sea lion.
Despite the day-night-cycle, I never felt like time was running out, as you're never punished for taking your time to complete tasks. My second spirit, Atul, asked me to make him some fried chicken. I had to jump through an incredible number of hoops to get chicken to for him. But I wasn't rushed, my relationship with him didn't suffer, and he was incredibly grateful once he got it. A lot of games with an artificial day-night-cycle, like some farming games, can be stressful for me, but Spiritfarer lets you unravel everything at your own pace.
Spiritfarer review What I don't like
Hidden story Punishment for digital adopters
I was disappointed to discover that a lot of important context to Stella's story and her relationship with the spirits was hidden within an art book. This information gives insight into how Stella came to know these spirits when they were alive. This story didn't have to be hidden, it could have been incorporated by hiding it away within the world, and it seems like a bit of a slight against people who did not purchase physical merchandise.
Performance issues It all comes crashing down
I'm not sure if this was the way the game was intended to be played, but I binged this game. I couldn't put it down and my sessions lasted several hours at a time — to the point of having to take a break due to carpal tunnel issues. While playing on the Nintendo Switch, I encountered several game crashes. Thankfully, the game does manage to auto-save when entering certain environments, so I didn't lose too much progress when it happened. The game also chugged a bit when I had a lot of buildings on the boat, despite playing the whole game in docked mode. Given that the spirit residences could not be removed, it meant that I had no way to reduce the number of seldom-used spirit buildings on the ship, which was a bit annoying.
Spiritfarer review Should you buy it?
Spiritfarer is an incredibly touching experience that provoked me to think about death, loss, grief and living your life to the fullest. The art style, writing, satisfying crafting mechanics and the quality-of-life features made me not want to put it down. Even with the missing story elements and infrequent performance issues, I never got tired of it. It was beautiful, heart-breaking, and most of all, enjoyable. I would say that it's one of the best games I've played on the Nintendo Switch, hands down.
Spiritfarer combines the calming gameplay loop of crafting and relationship building with the hard-hitting questions about life and what it means. For anyone who enjoys life simulation games, this is a must buy.
Nadine is a freelance writer for iMore with a specialty in all things Nintendo, often working on news, guides, reviews, and editorials. She's been a huge Nintendo fan ever since she got to pet her very own Nintendog, and enjoys looking at Nintendo's place in the video game industry. Writing is her passion, but she mostly does it so that she can pay off her ever-growing debt to Tom Nook. Her favorite genres are simulation games, rhythm games, visual novels, and platformers. You can find her at @stopthenadness on Twitter, where she'll more than likely be reposting cute Animal Crossing content.