Most Impressive: Spiritfarer
It’s rare that I’ll come across a game that leaves me breathless. Staggered, silent in the face of the skill and artistry at display. Spiritfarer is one such title, both beautiful to look at and incredibly comforting to play. It has charm in spades, oozing out of every mini-game and activity, pouring from every character.
Allow me to offer you a little background, first.
I have eagerly awaited the release of Spiritfarer over the last few months and when I saw it was on Xbox Game Pass for PC, I was overjoyed. I’ve played one of developer Thunder Lotus’ previous games, Jotun – which incidentally was among the very first short-form video essays I did when I decided I wanted to examine games through a more critical perspective, several years ago. It was no cozy game, that one, offering instead tense combat against enormous elemental god-like entities inspired by Norse mythology (pictured left is a frost giant who is not happy to see you).
After spending a few hours on Spiritfarer over the last few days, I am, in a word, awed. The animation is staggeringly beautiful, the music touches on your heartstrings, the gameplay is an absolute joy to experience, even if this isn’t the kind of game you could play for five hours straight. And the characters…I have little doubt that our protagonist, Stella, will be remembered as one of the most charming protagonists in gaming for many years to come. As for Daffodil? He might be the most delightful cat I’ve seen yet, and in our cat-centric society, that’s saying something. If you look at the animations in the video, you’ll see how much they tell you about Daffodil, about what his personality is like. This game is a phenomenal case of “Show, don’t tell,” that all-important adage for writers and artists of all creeds. Other game developers should take notes.
The coolest character I’ve come across so far might be Gwen, a stylish deer spirit who has a deep connection to Stella, seems to be her best friend from childhood in the previous. Her personality is so well presented through animation, as well as of course, the dialogue, which is always good fun.
Spiritfarer is all about taking care of others, making their passing into the afterlife a pleasant affair, helping them move on. And I suspect I am only scratching the surface of the sorts of minigame-like activities available inside the game. The last thing I did before taking a short pause to make this video was mining an ore that had grown all over the body of a great sea serpent, turning it feral or
This game is my happy place right now. It brings me comfort, and at the core of it lies this concept of coziness, which is something we can all use a little more of, especially in 2020. Just take a look at all these hugs, and tell me you don’t feel your heart swelling an extra few sizes, and not because your arteries are plugged up by all the coffee and popcorn you’ve had over the last five months.
Spiritfarer taps into the sort of energy that very few games manage to, embracing a snug feeling that falls over you like a weighted blanket. Some of it is because this title is much more successful at creating characters you care about and want to take care of, than, for example, something like Animal Crossing; and though there might be little comparison there at first glance, I would make the argument that this is an innovative spin on the social simulator genre, which large corporations such as Nintendo could learn plenty. Namely, a lot of heart, and the tools necessary to accomplish resource-gathering tasks in ways that do not come across as artificially extending playtime ad infinitum. What Spiritfrarer tells is a beautiful story about a girl tasked with great responsibility, and the kindness with which she takes to it.
These first few hours are a remarkable opening to what has every promise of being one of the most wonderful gaming experiences of the year. I’m eager to continue playing it — and I hope you’ll explore it, too.