Games are so often filled with death, and it's reached a point where we don't even really think about it. Not only do we kill countless baddies, we also die multiple times in the process -- sometimes, it's even part of the marketing. Prepare to die. Of course, not every game is like this, and Spiritfarer goes one better than just being a peaceful management sim. It uses this structure to focus on tough subject matter in a thoughtful and unique way.
You take up the titular role at the start of this adventure, and it's all about finding lost souls of the deceased and helping them to move on to the other side. Playing as a young girl named Stella, you quickly receive a large ship you'll sail across the open waters, accrue a cast of interesting characters, and work to help them find peace. In order to aid their passing, you'll need to make them happy by fulfilling any unfinished business -- and feeding them their favourite meals, of course.
It starts very simply, with just one or two spirits aboard your customisable vessel. However, this is a lengthy game that grows in complexity at a steady clip. New elements are added into the fold fairly fast, and before you know it, you're juggling cooking, farming, gardening, crafting, fishing, and more. Sometimes it can feel like there's too much going on, but there's really no pressure to do anything quickly. You're free to go at your own pace, and while there is a day/night cycle, there are no time limits. It's refreshingly relaxed.
You can explore the map as you see fit, too. It's pretty sizeable, though aside from an ocean full of fish, activities are confined to small islands, marked events, or your boat. You'll want to set sail for patches of land, as these areas often contain basic resources, shops, and more souls that can join your crew.
When someone does decide to hop aboard, their spirit manifests as an animal of some sort. Along with their unique personality traits, these forms mean everyone is recognisable. Some of these characters are better than others, but you'll come to care for the people you're helping. As you progress each spirit's line of quests, they'll open up to you about their life, their regrets, and their worries. Your relationship with each grows for as long as they remain on your boat, such that when they decide it's time to move on, it's bittersweet. Writing can be clumsy and awkward in places, but there's real heart to it all, and it doesn't shy away from its core themes of loss and grief.
Your chores aboard the ship are many, but they're all very straightforward. Crops and plants just need watering every now and then, cooking is just a timer (and you can't burn anything), and using the loom or sawmill are basic minigames. While it can feel like there's a lot vying for your attention, it's all easy to deal with, and again, there's no time pressure. The downside to these simple tasks is that they slowly become repetitive, and you may have to go through several steps to harvest the better resources later on.
You'll also be working to upgrade your ship in various ways. From aboard, you can build and improve a variety of buildings and rooms; spirits will eventually want a space of their own, and functional things like a foundry or a windmill let you craft all manner of supplies. You can also move every building where you want, even after construction, which is a useful touch. The ship itself can be upgraded to enhance its size, allow it to pass through new areas, offer you more building options, improve its speed, and more.
When you're not managing your vessel or ensuring your passengers are in a good mood, there are some interesting platforming elements dotted throughout. Events like mining the rock formations on a dragon or catching lightning in bottles are fun ways to gather resources but also to test your jumping skills. As you find more passengers, you'll earn a resource you can spend on platforming upgrades, like a double jump or a glide. As you become more empowered, it's worth revisiting old locations to explore previously unreachable areas.
This game is a real melting pot of disparate game types, and it works. Although some elements are very simple, everything hangs together rather well, and you've always got something to do or somewhere to be. That it also tackles tricky subjects with care is commendable; a game about guiding spirits to the other side could so easily be depressing, but Spiritfarer feels positive and comforting. It's a game you can also experience in local co-op, with player two controlling Stella's cat and helping out with minigames.
Spiritfarer is a game with a lot of moving parts, but most of its elements are well handled. Progression comes at a good pace as you upgrade Stella's ship, her abilities, and build relationships with a colourful crew. The crafting minigames are a weak spot, and the writing doesn't always land, but there's a lot to like about this maritime management title.