This week, instead of telling you about fantastic shows and YouTube channels, we’re delving into what we’re playing. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent every spare moment lost in the world of Spiritfarer. The deeper I go, the more it makes me feel—pain, sorrow, loss, and the somber quiet of acceptance. It’s a story of saying goodbye, and I’m not ready for it to end.
Update, 6/10/22: As Spiritfarer is now coming to Netflix gaming, we’re republishing this article. The content remains, but after the original publication, Thunder Lotus released several updates adding new characters and a clearer ending.
In Spiritfarer, you control Stella and her feline companion Daffodil. Bad news, you died. Good news, this isn’t the end. The game takes place in a sort of purgatory, a small world filled with islands and villages populated by spirits. Upon reaching this stage of afterlife, you meet Charon (yes that one), the current “spiritfarer”—or ferryman. It’s the spiritfarer’s job to help guide spirits to closure so they can journey to the Everdoor and move onto the next afterlife, whatever that may be.
But Charon’s time is done, and you (as Stella) get to take over. After he gives you a brief explanation, he goes through the Everdoor, and the job is all yours. You’ll pilot a boat, find spirits in need of help, and guide them to closure. And eventually, you’ll take them to the Everdoor and move on. “Eventually” being the keyword because this is a resource management game.
Grow That, Build This, Cook Those
Resource management games task you with gathering supplies to build things, to gather supplies, to build things. Done right, they’re not tedious and add to the story of the game. I’m happy to say Spiritfarer mostly gets it right. As the spiritfarer, you pilot a boat to islands and meet spirits in need of guidance.
You’ll invite them on board to travel with you across the world. But they’ll need a place to stay. So you’ll build a guest house. And then personalized homes. And they’ll need food, so you make a kitchen, and learn to cook. That takes supplies, ingredients, recipes, and more.
Thankfully, it’s a cycle of events that starts to help itself. You’ll plant gardens to make food with, build shops to create fabric, wood planks, and metal pieces. Those, in turn, can lead to the very ingredients you need for the next step, and so on.
But it isn’t always easy. Take food, for example: despite being dead, everyone (except you) gets hungry. Each spirit on your boat has a favorite dish, a few styles of foods they like, and some they refuse to eat. And they won’t eat the same meal twice in a row. You’ll have to travel to find some of the ingredients to meet their demanding needs.
But keeping meals at the ready pays off; well-fed, happy spirits will do chores for you—like growing the garden, preparing wood planks, cooking, and fishing. The more you play, the more the game adds to your rotation of resource needs. But eventually, as you expand your ship with new facilities, it becomes a well-oiled machine that helps you keep up with what your spirit friends need.
And that’s what the game is really about—helping your spirit friends with what they need.
Learning to Say Goodbye, Again and Again
It’s difficult to talk about Spiritfarer without spoiling the story points, but I’ll try to keep it to light spoilers. In life, Stella was a palliative nurse who cared for the sick and dying. Your journey with her in this next stage of afterlife follows a similar trek. You will meet spirits, learn their stories, help them confront regrets, question choices, and come to terms with who they were.
When the spirit is ready, they’ll ask you to take them to the Everdoor, and you’ll say goodbye. Then you move on. Most games focus on death as a finality. Spiritfarer focuses on what happens next for those left behind.
I haven’t finished the game yet, but so far, I’ve said goodbye to six friends. Three have truly wrecked me. You see, you get to know each person, and they have complicated and difficult stories. Some bear the scars of war, some the trauma of neglect, others are soft and innocent souls who speak quietly into your life and leave too soon.
A Few Examples, Light Spoiler Warnings
Each passing is different and realistically mirrors actual death. I found myself shocked when a beloved and kind character lashed out at Stella suddenly. The next day they didn’t recognize Stella at all and became afraid. After that, they became convinced Stella was their daughter.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s can come without warning, and there are no easy answers for the person affected or the family struggling to cope. I’ve seen it in person, and the depiction is, though shortened, heart-achingly accurate.
Another character made me regret my decisions. I hated them because of their awful life choices and how they treated others on the boat (more than one character fits this description). So I rushed and rushed through their story; I wanted them off my boat.
When it happened, they expressed no regrets about their choices. But instead, they offered some of the kindest wisdom of any of the characters in the story. They thanked Stella for always being by their side, even when it was difficult. For having strength they didn’t. I felt like I failed the character and vowed not to repeat the mistake.
The hardest goodbye was an eight-year-old child. I have an eight-year-old, and that hit home. When the child hugs Stella, he jumps up and wraps his whole legs and arms around, just like my son.
He made me try things I would never have thought of, like smelting shoes—which made glue! He followed Stella everywhere, which I found incredibly annoying because dangit, sometimes you need space from your kids. But now he’s gone forever, and I wish he could follow Stella just one more time.
What We Leave Behind
Sometimes the hardest moments of Spiritfarer aren’t the goodbyes. It’s the moments just after them. Because when it’s said and done, and the person you’ve grown to care about and love is gone, you’re still here. And people depend on you. So you pick up and move on. Sometimes without enough time to grieve.
You’ll spend more time with some characters than others, and you won’t get every question answered. You’ll often feel robbed of just a little more time. If that sounds like life, it’s no accident.
If you buy the game, you can choose to spend extra on an art book that expands the story and backstory. You learn there’s a greater connection between Stella and these spirits than you might have thought. And you may question the entire story. Is Stella really a spiritfarer in a midstage afterlife? Or is this a fluttering dream as she dies?
The developers don’t answer that question, and I think it’s beside the point. Life isn’t about having all the answers but learning from success and failures, especially our failures. It’s about accepting who we are and who we will be. And in the end, our greatest accomplishment is the impact on those we leave behind.
Spiritfarer demonstrates that with care and respect. It never preaches, and it never yells its lessons. It presents life and lets you make of it what you will. And that’s what makes it worth your time.
Where to Buy ‘Spiritfarer’
You can purchase Spiritfarer on Steam, Microsoft Store, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch for $30. If you buy it on Steam, there’s a bundle option that includes a digital artbook with additional story and background for $39. And if you buy it elsewhere, you can buy the artbook separately on itch.io.
The best deal is through Xbox Game Pass, which includes Spiritfarer for Xbox or PC at no additional cost right now. The artbook isn’t necessary to enjoy the story, but it’s worth the money if you have it to spare.