So Spiritfarer, the latest game from Thunder Lotus, came out just the other day.
It’s an absolutely beautiful sidescroller with hand-drawn animation and art and it’s just a wonder to look at. The music is an exceptional composition by Max LL, who scored their last game Sundered (which I also loved).
It’s got some light Metroidvania elements where you need to unlock new abilities to get to new areas and collect new resources. It has a crafting loop of collecting resources and building new things to go to new areas and collect even newer resources.
It’s about, as per the title, the one last journey of your passengers before they pass to the afterlife. You are the titular Spiritfarer, successor of Charon, and you are the guide on their journey of letting go.
It’s such a wonderfully heartwarming game of getting to know these people, their foibles, and helping them deal with the things that have wormed into their heart and held them back.
And so, we Sail
The core gameplay is not talking to your passengers, it’s doing tasks for them. From cooking food to building (and improving) their houses and giving them hugs, you are making all the accomodations and doing all the work. Selflessly. There is no reward for making these accomodations.
The result is the game has a lot of tedium and downtime. You sail slowly around the world, fish from the back of your vessel, listen when you can, find the occasional resource encounters, and, just, sail.
I don’t think there’s a way to automate the crafting tasks or the resource collection or the cooking. It’s just you running around and making sure it all happens smoothly, managing other peoples’ feelings while unable to express your own.
It’s frustrating to have to deal with your passengers because they take up space and have demands and needs and keep reminding you about them, sometimes in very passive-aggressive ways LOOKING AT YOU ASTRID OH MY GOD JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT.
Those Small, Quiet Moments
I think that needing to do these tasks by hand is possibly the most valuable part of Spiritfarer. By making you drive around and collect items, deal with these people taking up space and being irritating in their own ways and listening to them and just being present for them, you make space for them. Not just mechanically in terms of deck space, but emotionally in terms of how you change yourself in the gameplay loop, emotionally in yourself. You collect ingredients because you know your passenger loves that one recipe, and you want to make sure you can make it for them because they’re just so happy when you do, the animation and the text absolutely selling that delight.
But you get annoyed when they’ve eaten it too recently and you went to all this effort to make it and you’re just quietly fuming because, Summer, come on, you love this, why are you doing this to me. I made this food and now I have to make something else because you’re being picky. And you know you’re being picky!
But you go and make something else, and you keep making space for them.
You improve their house because it makes them happier, even though it took 20 minutes to sail back across the map to collect more maple logs and limestone.
You grow Odd Seeds so you can afford to buy those rarer ingredients.
You make the space for them and they make the space for you, opening up about their story and asking for your help in finding peace and closure. They give you access to new crafting materials or workstations, helping you make those spaces for others.
Those irritations stop being frustrations and start being the eyeroll and loving sigh and remembering that they deserve a nice dessert this time instead of the meal they love.
You made the space for them, and they filled it.
At the End of Everything
they’re gone. Just like that.
And that space you made for them is so very empty.
Gwen, my first passenger, absolutely loved coffee. It was her favourite dish, and I made it for her as often as I could. I kept buying coffee beans so I could grow coffee and make sure that, when I needed it, when she’d had a hard time, I could provide.
When Gwen left the space was just … gone. Empty. Horribly and relentlessly empty. I have all these coffee beans and I can make coffee for my other passengers but they don’t love it the way she did. It’s not the same, and it will never be the same.
That sudden hole meant that the hours of tedium I went through for her suddenly didn’t feel like enough time, that I could have dawdled more and been with her more and sat in her house more and just been more. I could have listened more. I could have sailed more.
I have all these pork chops, for Atul. He is so intensely and relentlessly excited when I make him pork chops. He told me his story of why they matter so much to him, and it’s deeply touching and important and means so much that he shared that.
So I make sure I have pork chops for him. They’re expensive, so I don’t always make them for him, but I’m his favourite niece and I make the effort.
I sail to islands with berries because he’s so excited when I pick them. It’s infectious, and I want to see that excitement and know that I’m making this last voyage easier.
I’ve made space, and when Atul is ready to go no one will ever be as delightful to be around as Atul is when I serve pork chops. No one will ever make me feel that way. All those pork chops I have left will be that … reminder that it’ll never be the same again.
In terms of raw mechanics, you have to let go. There’s an upgrade resource that’s only available after a passenger has departed, letting you access new areas or build new workshops to help others on their journeys.
But I want so badly to hold on and go through that tedium longer and keep having them fill that space and be just present with me in that eternal moment together.
But if I do I can’t help anyone else. We all become stuck in that moment, unable to change or grow or move on.
Instead of being the guide that has given the space and understanding they needed to resolve themselves, I am now the block in their progress. Can I do that to them? To prevent them from taking that last step they worked so hard to achieve?
Can I call myself their friend and do that to them? Can I force them to stop because my feelings matter more than theirs?
There’s only one destination left. One final small ceremony of goodbyes and one, final, tear-stained hug as they take that final step through the Everdoor.
Their house becomes so empty. The place they filled becomes so hollow. I grieve.
To distract myself and process that grief and try to just … deal with the new hole inside me, there’s resources I can collect and fruit I can pick and maybe I’ll just fish from the back of my ship for a while.
But I can’t stay here forever and be that block to anyone’s journey, can I?
I can’t. I’m the Spiritfarer, and I’m here to be the guide they need, make space for them and help them on their one last journey.
And so, we sail.