I did play a fair few indie games this year, and while there were some fun ones in the mix, such as West of Dead and the latest Shante game, none of them really left too strong an impression on me, this game was the sole exception, something I couldn’t help but have at the back of my mind for months after finishing it. The more I think about the games I didn’t play this year, the more I wonder how many little gems like this one I ended up missing out on.
Played on Xbox One X | Released 18th August | Developed by Thunder Lotus Games
While I’ve already said that I didn’t play that many new games this year, a lot of the time I did spend one video games in 2020 came from the staggeringly good value proposition that is a subscription to Game Pass. Allowing me to pick up games like Indivisible and Doom Eternal, although one game from 2020 did come out on game pass that did manage to make an impression on me; that’s Spiritfarer.
I reviewed the game back at the end of September after finishing it, talking about the story in the game being a deeply personal one, so much so that it felt like the intentional gaps in each character’s story were pieces of information meant for someone closer to the creators of this game to fill with personal information.
Not that I feel like that was the intent of the creators, but after looking up some background on the game’s development, all of the characters within Spiritfarer were based on real people, family members of the developers who had since passed. The game dealt with the character’s different ways of dealing with their own and their loved one’s mortality. These stories did seem so real, so based reality that I couldn’t help but feel like I was someone sat on a train, overhearing one side of a deeply personal conversation someone close to me was having on their phone.
It seems like a strange reaction to have, but it’s really how it made me feel, and how it made me feel unfulfilled and left wanted by the time I had finished it from a narrative point of view. I understand that part of the message of the game is that death does leave people with unanswered questions, but as a constructed narrative, it left me feeling a little hollow and wanting a more concrete resolution.
As mixed as I was on the narrative of the game though, where it didn’t leave me wanting was the gameplay loop of the whole thing. To play Spiritfarer is a nice, easy-going experience. Taking cues from things like Harvest Moon, farming and crafting are the main tasks given to the player. Slowly building up their spirit ferry, adding homes, kitchens, farms and a ton of other workshops all with their own purposes.
The result makes Spiritfarer a nice, slow-paced game where you sail around the ocean, gathering resources and executing some simple platforming while learning new abilities and gaining new ways to make use of your resources to further expand your range of exploration in the world and gain access to even more resources. It might seem a little too slow paced for some people, but at the time I played it, it was the perfect thing I needed to curl up and play something to relax me.
If I had one criticism of the game’s loop, it would be that it does feel like you hit roadblocks every so often, artificial barriers constructed by the narrative while certain characters you’re ferrying on your boat have to “think about something”.
I get the idea of actually trying to make these characters a little more real, in that they do need time to digest and think about the things they need to come to terms with in order to move on. But at times, it ended up holding me back from the aspects of the game I ended up enjoying more; the gameplay loop of creating and exploration.
Spiritfarer is a very nice game. One that you can spend your time within leisurely chunks of time, exploring the sea at your own pace and learning about the kind animal people you pick up along the way. While the story of the game ended up being lost on me by the time it was over, I still appreciate the time I spent with it and have recommended it to several other people since as something to play to unwind.
God knows we’ve needed more of that kind of game this year.