Stella is the captain of a very special ship. It has a garden, a kitchen, and it ferries lingering spirits into the afterlife. This house boat is the central hub of Spiritfarer, a serene management game that juggles both the somber idea of embracing death and remembering to harvest those carrots you've been growing. It's all about taking your time: time to cook, fish, expand your impressive house boat. And, eventually, taking the time to help your spirit friends leave the living world behind them.
That might sound a bit tragic, but losing friends in Spiritfarer is about doing them favors and hugging them, not literally watching them die. These themes of love and loss aren't just fiction, either. I'm told that every one of Spiritfarer's animal spirits is based on the developers' actual loved ones. Each one of these real-life inspirations has an animal form chosen to reflect their personality.
In the demo I played from PAX West last week, I was able to see how Spiritfarer's crafting, fishing, gardening, and cooking came together as I sought to help a snake named Summer enter the afterlife. Her form was chosen as a snake in part to reflect the down to earth qualities of her human inspiration. Another character is a hedgehog who has difficulty walking, based on another team member's late grandmother. Each one will ask for help from the protagonist Stella before she sends their spirit into the afterlife.
Before she's ready to be ferried to the other side, for example, Summer asks Stella to build her a meditation room. In the demo, maple logs and iron are provided to me so that I can build it immediately. In the final version, I'll need to collect these resources by travelling to other locations and manually harvesting them. After entering a build menu and choosing a place on my ferry to place it, Summer is thrilled. She only wants one more thing before she's ready to head to the other side: a family heirloom that she lost in another village.
I find the spot marked on my sea chart map, far off in the distance in territory I've not charted before. After I choose the location, our ferry takes off. Spiritfarer does not have a fast travel system. Instead, it will take a certain amount of time to arrive at our new location. Fortunately, the ferry drives itself and I'm free to explore different facilities on the ferry while we travel. At the rear of the ship, I throw a fishing line over the edge and catch myself a fish and some seeds for my garden. The seeds will grow in real time, just the same way that the fish I throw in the oven takes time to bake. It's these relaxing chores that keep me occupied during the journey.
About that time, we arrive in the village where Stella, Summer, and Stella's cat companion (who can transition from NPC to co-op partner), all disembark to search for Summer's lost heirloom. It's on top of a house in town, Summer tells us, and unfortunately she can't jump up to get it. Neither can I, but she gives me a coin to toss in a nearby shrine which, conveniently, bestows upon Stella the ability to double jump. I bound up to the rooftop easily enough, grab the necklace out of a golden pedestal, and deliver it to Summer back on the ground.
When we return to the ship, Summer tells Stella that she's finally ready to leave this realm and directs us to a new location on the map. I set a course on my map and, oh would you look at that, my carrots have grown. I'll harvest those another time, though, as it feels like doing so would intrude on Summer's moment. Stella holds up a golden lantern, lighting the way at the prow of the ferry, when a giant white spirit appears out in the water accompanied by a swell in string music. That marks both the end of Summer's journey and the demo.
Spiritfarer's style of management game isn't one that confines you to a set number of daylight hours and an energy bar. Instead it encourages finding a rhythm of crafting, choring, and socializing while headed to various destinations. Unlike previous Thunder Lotus games (looking at you, Jotun) and even other, more challenging, management games, Spiritfarer lets you kick back to enjoy a pleasant soundtrack, colorful environments, and hugs between departing friends.
Spiritfarer is planned for release sometime in 2020. You can wishlist it on Steam now.