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Game Review: Spiritfarer

I forgot to post this a few weeks ago, so here it is now.

This game gets a 10 out of 10 for me.

When I played the demo for Spiritfarer at PAX, what feels like ages ago now, I learned nothing I didn’t already know. Because from the moment the promotional materials were released for this game, I knew that Spiritfarer would be everything I wanted conceptually and stylistically. Those first few minutes at PAX, with the controller in-hand, only solidified those feelings more.

Spiritfarer is a game whose animation breathes the story with a feather touch that gives you a sense of otherworldliness, peace, and oblivion. The game opens with the main character, Stella, asleep on a small boat with their cat, Daffodil. The world feels empty and vast as the camera pans away from them. Contrasting colors play intentionally into this idea of the Everlight: “the last remaining hope of the departed”. Stark reds and browns create defined foreground and background that move independently of each other and bring out the softness of the white leaves and blooming sunset beyond. Even the idle animations are not forced or looped in a way that feels noticeably unnatural—most of it falls to Daffodil while they play with their own Everlight orb as if it were yarn.

The music in Spiritfarer works to invoke a sense of peace and calm, as well, as the holder of the Everlight helps ferry travelers to the end of their life’s journeys. The soundtrack reminds you of a spring breeze with hushed notes that float past you, almost missed because it blends so elegantly into the ambience. What minor chords are used never derail from the genteel intention of the compositions—each note fills you with a rising sense of elation that falls as gently as an autumn leaf to the ground. There is no crescendo that brings you up just to drop you like a rollercoaster. Even moments without music have birds chirping and atmospheric sounds that make the space feel lived in. There is life here, even if it isn’t what we typically consider to be “life”.

The track “At Sea”, in particular, is a soliloquy—the type of song that might be composed and inspired by joyful memories that bring a warm set of tears to your eyes. Then it pulls you into the open water and moves from an orchestral mixture of strings and wind instruments to a slow acoustic decrescendo that falls like dusk. Set to the occasional creak of your boat, and a bird or two flying overhead, its magic is palpable.

As you progress, the Spiritfarer realm reveals more vibrancy in its color choices—muted and blue-purple tones wash over the characters and scenery to depict nightfall, while the same whites and brightness from before light up the sky and world around in the day. Everything feels like a still from a painting or a beautifully crafted graphic novel, but the animation is seamless and never stilted. Hugs feel significant and physically warm. Gliding across islands and chasing after light creatures are thrilling. During piques of high-adventure, soft music is impacted by sound effects that add to the build without asking for a percussive disruption of the melody.

As you gain momentum in the game, building your boat into a finely-tuned ship is easy. The mechanics are simple, with a defined space to build within so you’re not overwhelmed by projects and goals that are difficult to reach. While many resource-management and building sims take hours to conceive large-scale projects, Spiritfarer doesn’t ask much of the player. It is, after all, secondary to a set of stories being told that far outweigh the goal of crafting the “ultimate” cruise experience. You're building what you need to get the job done, which feeds into the story directly, rather than on the side.

Movement and control in this game—for a side-scroller that requires very little—is fluid and slick. Stella is fast, but she feels as though she is gliding across the screen, rather than speeding across an oily terrain. Her speed allows the player just enough swiftness to get from point A to point B without being dragged down by heavy footfall. The contrast of her movements to a slower-aimed game gives the player the freedom to take control of requests and goals with ease. It’s an intentional choice, and a smart one. You have a job to do, after all.

Spiritfarer balances love and loss with such satisfaction that you come away relieved by each spirits’ end. Even if you are saddened to move on, you know it’s a blissful moment for them. Yours is not a selfish role as the Spiritfarer; yours is one of honor.

In a game that deals so specifically in loss and the failures and successes of one’s past, it would be easy to have a nihilistic message. Even when themes of doubt and regret are explored, you’re comforted in knowing that your job is to bring those stories to their resolve. Watching these characters come to understand the significance of their lives is a reminder that even the end of something can be beautiful. Hope is a regular message in Spiritfarer that never feels like the “toxic positivity” we often see that fill us with empty platitudes of feigned healing. Instead, these characters show you the final stage of grief: acceptance. And acceptance here isn’t a measure of defeat, rather it is a measure of consequential growth.

There’s so much more I could say about the tears I felt for each story I explored, the way the music carried me over every emotional hurdle, and the overwhelming sense of joy I was offered as the chance to play Stella. Spiritfarer is a rare treat of an aesthetically pleasing title that offers a story blossoming with emotional depth and charm. It’s a beautifully crafted game that outshines many in its genre with a carefully understood set of stories that intersect and run parallel to each other—a canvas of contrasting colors that can show range and movement with even the smallest palette.

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