PAX WEST: Spiritfarer hands-on impressions
Death is a difficult subject and doesn’t find much discussion and for many, death is a finality. When a loved one or a friend is gone from life, never to return. It is a crushing weight upon the living as they fondly remember those that will never return. With their existence now left to the memories held in their hearts, and pieces of themselves left behind in messages and pictures, it is up to the living to make sure they are remembered. Throughout the annals of ancient history however, death has been viewed in unique ways in many different cultural customs and beliefs. The most common trait in all these observations of death is that it is not the end, but simply a celebration. A celebration of a life well-lived and how that life has impacted so many others. Thunder Lotus, the makers of Sundered, has embarked on a quest to give more clarity to the death process and what it means to us with their newest game, Spiritfarer. Filled with colorful characters in a whimsical world and a unique take on the subject matter, Spiritfarer is shaping to be one of the most profound titles of the new year. At PAX WEST, I had time to play a short demo of the game alongside a member of the development team who guided me through their mystical world.
Thunder Lotus is a studio known for creating beautiful larger-than-life experiences from the titanic battles of Jotun to the desperate darkness of Sundered. The team has put players in a battle for their lives with the fate of the world on their shoulders. A battle where death is a hair away and destruction lies all around them. Following these critically and commercially acclaimed action adventures, the team decided to focus on different subject while only slightly dialing down their scope. Inspired by the viewpoints of life after death, Spiritfarer puts players in the role of Stella, a young boat Captain of her own vessel. She is tasked with completing the final wishes of the recently deceased and guiding them towards their final destination. The recently deceased become spirits in this realm many of which are anthropomorphic. Each spirit adjusts in their own ways to this new reality. Some are terrified at their new forms or shocked at the realization that they are deceased. Others still believe they are human and are in denial. Somehow, deep within themselves, they know what wishes to fulfill and what comes next to make the final journey in crossing over.
Spiritfarer was inspired by various subjects of the afterlife, but the main inspiration came from the Divine Comedy, Dante’s Inferno. Charon who is known as the Ferryman of Hades, guides souls into the fires of Hell to be judged and sentenced. Ferrymen are often found in just about every interpretation of the afterlife in ancient civilizations, but Charon is the most recognized in this role because of the strong Greek history. Of course, Spiritfarer is a much more lighthearted approach foregoing fire and brimstone for a wide ocean and dream-like landscapes. Stella, the main character of Spiritfarer, is a young girl who uses her skills and kindness to help the recently deceased cross into the other side.
Spiritfarer, at its core, plays as an adventure game with ship management mechanics. Players manage their magical vessel that has the power to construct homes, gardens, kitchens, and much more. The spirits all have requests that Stella can accomplish. From retrieving specific food to retrieving special items, players are in command of their vessel and have a plethora of activities to do. Players can expect to trek across many different locations in this beautiful world on their quest to help the dead.
The task that I had to complete in the demo was to help a woman who has taken the form of a snake. She is ready for her final venture into Heaven but wants to retrieve one last item. She requests to venture to an island that contains her home and a heirloom she wishes to bring with her. As Stella, I constructed a home for her on the vessel, using a simple responsive UI.
As we sailed, the other spirits that inhabit the vessel encouraged Stella to learn other tasks, such as cooking, fishing, and collecting items. Sailing to the island took place in real-time, with no load screens. The ship would take as long as it was necessary to reach its destination, but journey was enjoyable. To pass the time on my journey, I collected energy from lightning strikes, planted a garden and fished off the stern of the boat.
Once we arrived, the aging spirit addressed Stella informing her of a special sphere that collected a toll when spirits arrive. The toll must be a small token that is to be held until the time arrives. Ready to let go the spirit gives Stella the special power to double jump retrieve her heirloom above. With her Heirloom back under her ownership, the snake spirit is ready for her final journey.
I plotted the course to the edge of the ocean. Day turned to night, and the stars illuminated. The ship stood silent
As the demo ended, I stood in awe and was also almost overcome with emotion. I’d be lying if I didn’t want to shed a tear following my time with Spiritfarer. Visually, Spiritfarer is sublime, with visuals that greatly embrace inspiration from legendary animator, Don Bluth. The illustrations and colors, and the world depicted in Spiritfarer truly feels sacred. The heartfelt feelings of love, warmth, and kindness are woven into each thread of the Spiritfarer. Most importantly, it is a game about life. Thunder Lotus isn’t just making a game about death but a game about celebrating life and all the fulfillment we have had and I can’t wait to buy the game and play it out in its full glory.
Be on the lookout for Spiritfarer to hit the steam store later this year.