Listen, Animal Crossing is great and all but there comes a time — particularly with recent addition New Horizons — where you’ve heard everything your villagers have to say. They just walk around repeating dialogue and behaviours that you’ve seen before and it becomes clearer than ever to you that these funny little furballs aren’t your real friends, but actually just walking piles of code.
Enter 2020’s Spiritfarer. A similarly relaxing management game/life SIM with a focus on endings. You manage a boat, on which you ferry lost souls through to the afterlife — but not before getting to know them and catering to their every need so that they can pass on satisfied, and with closure. In every sense; musically, artistically and thematically, Spiritfarer is beautiful.
You live alongside these colourful characters in a similar way to the villagers in Animal Crossing. You build structures like gardens, farms and kitchens to appease them, you use those facilities alongside them and you chat to them at your leisure. But the difference is that every character here has a genuine narrative arc. A beginning, middle and end wherein you learn about their lives, watch them ruminate on them and come to some often heart-wrenching conclusions at their end as they finally pass over. Do you think Ricky The Squirrel would ever have the dignity to consider his own mortality or the meaning of life? No. He’s too busy hounding you for Monarch Butterflies every day.
Beyond its profound themes and character moments, Spiritfarer has some real meat on its bones too. Often these more artsy, narrative games lack in the gameplay department, but not so here. Spiritfarer is carefully adorned with numerous satisfying gameplay loops and free exploration out in the open sea which will lead you to gorgeous new settlements (that take clear inspiration from European, Japanese and American cultures) and even the occasional mine or mountain that constitutes a nifty little platforming challenge! There’s a lot more explicit fun to be had in this game’s world than its tender disposition may imply. Just jumping around, hovering all over your ship with your magical hat feels great!
In this age of instant gratification, Twitter billionaires and Ubisoft games I — like most gamers, have become quite cynical. No piece of media in a long time has been able to make me particularly emotional, let alone shed a tear. Spiritfarer was the first thing in years to do that, to even begin to thaw my icy gamer heart. This game’s ending sequence presents an emotional crescendo so beautiful that it actively encouraged me to check up on my Mum right after the credits rolled, just to see how she was doing.
I’ve got a lot of love for my man Tom Nook, but he could never.
I would recommend Spiritfarer to anyone who:
- Likes games that end at the right time and don’t insist on themselves. (It’s about 16-20 hours.)
- Craves more depth in their interactions in the likes of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley.
- Enjoys serene management games where you can take things at your own pace.
I would not recommend Spiritfarer to anyone who:
- Fears death. Because damn, that shit be everywhere in this game,
Spiritfarer is available on Steam, Switch and last generation consoles (Xbox One/PS4)