Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop Download
Category: Indie, Adventure, Simulation
No. of Players: 1-2 players
Release Date: August 18th, 2020 (Worldwide)
Price: $29.99 USD
Canadian video game developer and publisher Thunder Lotus Games is known for their games that combine rich storyline and engaging gameplay with a stunning hand-drawn art style. Such games created by Thunder Lotus Games include Jotun and Sundered.
Spiritfarer is the latest game from Thunder Lotus Games. It was announced earlier this year in a Wholesome Game Direct. It was also showcased during an Indie World Showcase on August 18th and made a surprise worldwide release on PC and consoles (including the Nintendo Switch) the very same day.
In Spiritfarer, you play as a young woman named Stella who is the newly appointed Spiritfarer tasked with ferrying the souls of the deceased onto the next plane. The previous Spiritfarer called Charon, gave Stella the role, as well as her faithful cat companion Daffodil. He also left them both in possession of a powerful object called the Everlight that has many uses and will protect Stella and Daffodil from the darkness.
The role of the Spiritfarer is straightforward but the execution not so much. As you sail across the vast ocean, you will encounter and befriend spirits who will join you onboard your vessel. It is your duty to tend to their needs and fulfill their requests until they are ready to make their final journey to the Everdoor.
Each spirit that joins you on your vessel has their own story to tell and some of them even have a connection to the protagonist Stella. As you progress through the game, the story arc for each character further unfolds. You learn of their joyful memories from when they were alive as well as their regrets. The more time that you spend with them and listening to their stories, the more invested you become with them emotionally.
While I could talk more about each particular character and their own stories, I would rather leave that as a surprise. It is better to experience the smaller story arcs for yourself and make your own judgment on them rather than have me generally explain them for the sake of the review. I will say though, that there is a genuine sense of loss as you say your farewells to each spirit that makes each moment bittersweet.
Spiritfarer is an open world Management Sim game that has you farm and create resources so you can cater to your passengers’ needs. You start off by scouring resources off of the nearby islands so you can create buildings on your vessel. Such buildings serve to merely accommodate your passengers, others are required so you can grow crops or craft other resources, that are in turn, needed to construct more buildings.
Your passengers will stay with you for an indefinite period of time until you can meet their needs. As well as a place to sleep, they also require furniture for their houses and have requests that you will need to fulfill (not to mention feeding them as well). These requests can have you travel all over the map and visiting the many islands of the vast ocean. Some islands are quite rural and others have a very urban feel to them. Most of them are inhabited and some of these inhabitants even have a couple of requests of their own.
Resource management is your main concern. Though most resources are in fact quite abundant, it can take some time for them to replenish. You will find yourself in the beginning sailing from island to island to scavenge everything you can get in order to make the next house or building so you can fulfill the needs of your passengers.
Not all resources can be scavenged either. Some can be purchased in the form of seeds to be grown in your field and garden from Tanooki-looking merchants that have set up shop on certain islands. Once your crops have grown, you can use them in the kitchen to create dishes for your guests to eat. Most of them are very picky about what they eat too so you will have to prepare a lot of different meals just to please them all.
To make purchases, you will require the in-game currency called Glims. Glims can be found by taking part in events (more on that later), being found in bottles whilst fishing, or in exchange for selling unwanted items. If you find yourself in a bind, you can sell resources but you are better off trading unnecessary items like valuable rings, Mint condition trading cards, and other miscellaneous goods.
The onion-faced Francis is a sailing merchant that loves buying that kind of junk and will buy it from you at a reasonable price. He also has errands that you can help with that can reward you with Glims and other items that can be difficult to find elsewhere. He only has a few errands at the beginning but he will have more for you as you progress through the game.
When you begin playing, you will usually plant buildings where you see fit. However, should you find yourself not liking your general building layout or feel it looks too clustered, you can move buildings around on your vessel as if you are packing the trunk of your car for a vacation (or playing Tetris). Eventually, you will lack space for more buildings and will find yourself in need of a bigger boat.
By visiting Albert the Shipwright, you can spend some of your hard-earned Glims on upgrading your boat’s size as well as purchase blueprints so you can construct more buildings that will be required at some point. Albert also has upgrades that will allow your boat to travel through ice or rocks, or even make it go faster. These upgrades as well as the blueprints require certain resources before they can be purchased so you may have to farm and craft the necessary materials first before you can upgrade.
When the time comes and you have fulfilled a passenger’s last request, you will be tasked with taking them to the Everdoor near the center of the map. Going to the Everdoor is the final part of their spiritual journey. It means that there is nothing more to hold them back and it is time for them to move on to the next plane.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
When it comes to content and features, there are some things to help flesh out the main game. In some areas of the map, you can trigger events that act like mini-games. The events allow you to obtain rare materials that are also required to craft certain items and buildings. In order to collect them though, you will need to scurry frantically all over the boat before you miss them or they disappear.
As you wait for a particular crop to grow, you can get out your guitar by holding X. A musical score will display itself and you can then press the A, B, & X buttons when the button prompts come into contact with the line. While you strum away on the guitar, the plants that you are standing on will grow quicker.
On the stern of the boat, there is a seat that you can sit on and cast a fishing rod out into the sea. From here, you can catch fish, mollusks, and shellfish as you sail from one place to the next. Some critters are harder to catch than others and can break your rod, losing you the catch. Knowing when to reel and when to pause, differs from catch to catch.
The ocean that you sail on is vast and takes time to travel from one area to the next. As you travel from one place to the next, your trajectory will be gauged in the top left corner of the screen. On the right side of the screen, you will find a dial that indicates the time of day. This is important to keep an eye on as the boat stops moving at night. You will then have to decide whether to work through the night or go to sleep, as the boat will only move again come morning.
Dotting all over the map in certain areas are bus stops that are managed by Alex the Seal. When you find two or more, you can use them as fast travel points. It makes it much easier to get from on point of the map to the other but much like boat travel, you can’t use the bus stops at night.
A rather handy feature is two-player co-op play. By handing a controller to another player, they can take control of Daffodil the cat. They can do pretty much anything that Stella can, like watering plants, use the kitchen, craft materials, and so on. It is kind of like “drop-in/drop-out” play but there is no in-game option to choose whether a second player can join or not. If a second controller is synced, that controller will automatically control Daffodil until it is unsynced from the console.
The music in Spiritfarer is nothing short of magical. Its soft, orchestral sounds manage to penetrate your soul and make you feel emotions that you may not have felt before. It is truly powerful and very moving at times, especially when you take a spirit to the Everdoor. I can’t remember when music in a videogame has moved me as much as Spiritfarer’s OST has.
To me, the OST is near perfection but there is one track that hits a bum note. The track I referring to is the background music to Alex the Seal at the bus stop. It doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the soundtrack that ranges from soft and soothing to powerful and impactful. I get that it is supposed to be abrupt and circus-like to play on Alex’s form of a performing seal. However, it just didn’t gel with me like the other tracks in the game.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
I really love the art style of Spiritfarer. Much like in their other games, Thunder Lotus has used a hand-drawn art style to bring the game to life. It is a very colorful and vibrant game that makes the game feel warm and safe, even though it is focused on death and the afterlife. The attention to detail is commendable as the developers have put a lot of thought and effort into making sure every small detail stands out as much as its surroundings.
When it comes to performance, Spiritfarer is not flawless. It does have a couple of game-breaking bugs. I have witnessed a few glitches where sprites haven’t rendered properly. It has also crashed on me at random at least 5 times during my playthrough. This is a great shame because when it runs well, it is absolutely amazing. You get completely drawn into the game and out of nowhere, you are snapped back to reality because “software closed unexpectedly”.
I will be honest with you. When I first heard about Spiritfarer and saw the gameplay, I wasn’t too impressed. I am not a big fan of resource management games as there is far too much grinding for materials. I find that to be a time-wasting mechanic to help the devs buff up the game completion time.
To be fair to Spiritfarer, the resource management wasn’t so much as a means to prolong the gameplay as to work as a stop gate. It helped maintain the flow of the game without speeding through it too quickly. While there was a kind of tutorial in the game provided in the guise of Gwen, the first passenger, There isn’t too much handholding after that in regards to finding resources.
What I will say is, imagine my surprise when I started playing the game that I immediately became hooked. The story of the game gripped me and wouldn’t let me go until I finished. I fell in love with the characters and their life stories that it was so saddening to see them go when it came to saying farewell. I was invested in a way that I had never invested in a game before and was actually brought to tears at the end.
What I loved most of all is that the stories of the characters are inspired by real-life people that the developers knew themselves. They also pay homage to their own loved ones in the end game credits. So much love and care went into making the game that I have profound respect for Thunder Lotus Games and the work that they do.
The bugs and crashes did dampen my experience somewhat but fortunately, a patch update has been made available and almost all of the issues I found with the game have been fixed. For anyone who decides to get the game now, be sure to update directly to version 1.2 so you won’t have to experience the bugs and the crashes that I did.
Spiritfarer is one of the most endearing yet emotional games I have ever played. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. The colorful characters, charming art style and compelling story make this game a must buy.
THE VERDICT: 10/10
*A download key was provided by Publisher for the purposes of this review
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