I was optimistic about Spiritfarer because it seemed like something I should love: a deep subject and easy mechanics. Spiritfarer, if our intrepid readers do not know, is a game by Thunder Lotus Games that came out last August, about death and letting go. It has rave reviews that, unfortunately, I must disagree with.
The game is very sweet and simple, but the writing is rarely good and the play quickly begins to feel like a chore. There were some standout moments: Stanley’s play, Atul’s character in general, Gustav’s comment about art on his way out. I wanted to love it, and indeed, the final scenes are lovely, but the game itself fell flat for me.
I believe the problem stems from the fact that the dialog was supposed to be functional and reflective simultaneously. It was “here, do this task,” and “thinking about what I need to do before I go forever,” at the same time — it didn’t work. The tasks themselves, with just a couple exceptions, were equally bland for me.
Rather than dwell on the overall disappointment of the game, I will mention a few of the best things.
1) Stanley’s play, as I mentioned earlier is a delight – it was extremely believable that a little boy would want to put on a play for the grownups and that the play would reflect his hopes and fears in a very straightforward way. The guests for me were Atul and Gustav, which were frankly perfect.
2) Atul’s final dinner, followed by the way he goes, both spoke to me. It felt to me exactly how he would explain his idea of the perfect way to go if he were alive and telling his family and friends at a party.
3) For some reason, I absolutely loved the sound effects associated with the character Summer- I loved her voice, and the tune she played to make the plants grow.
4) Albert’s jokes!
I also noticed and appreciated the fact that nobody leaves fully certain. Spiritfarer as a game is about helping the dead accomplish what they need to in order to move on. But when they do move on, none of them are sure that they have accomplished it; they only know it’s time to go.
Absolute certainty, especially moral certainty, is almost always a product of delusion or something even more nefarious – even scientists will tell you that science is in the business of evidence, not proof. The fact that this uncertainty is true of every character makes me think it’s intentional on the part of the writers.
The art is lovely, and I think this game would have been better as a game if it were a true platformer, even though I would have a hard time playing it. It seems like it would be easier for this dev team to make a good platformer than it would be for them to write complex characters (not a jab – plenty of excellent games have approached heavy topics through game mechanics instead of writing). But if they wanted, they could go in the other direction and substantially limit the “task” mechanic and instead, spend more time on character interaction and development. Either way, this game needs to choose a path.
As I’m sure you know, not every game is gonna be a winner for me. I would have played this one with or without games club, too; it just seemed like an obvious pick since we were both picking it up.
A game that also takes on endings and death that I love, love, love is The First Tree. It’s much shorter and simpler in design, but the play and the text are very well connected. I would love to hear what you thought about them in comparison — maybe I can convince you to play The First Tree after you’re settled around the corner from me :).
PS: were you a completionist that went and got Buck? Or did you skip the lighthouse spirit?
[Dylan’s first reply here: http://www.augmented-vision.net/2021/06/25/games-club-spiritfarer-letter-2/
My reply to Dylan here: https://joannatovaprice.com/wp/index.php/2021/06/25/spiritfarer-pc-game-open-letter-series-3/
Dylan’s final reply: http://www.augmented-vision.net/2021/06/25/game-club-spiritfarer-letter-4/]