Games never really ask you to think about death, it is just something that seems to happen with no consequences. You die in a shooter, you can press a button and come back as if nothing happened. You never have to think about it, it’s just something that happens. Over and over again. If just about any game has a death state, it is never really severe or asks you to think about the implications of death. What it is, what it means. It’s just something that can break the pacing of a game and annoy the player. Spiritfarer asks the player to think about it and demands them to face it.
[A brief content warning, obviously this post will deal with death. Also, it is a topic I have a lot of trouble discussing and if at some points my writing is worse than it normally is then that is why. I’ll do my best to make sure it isn’t terrible.]
I remember first seeing Spiritfarer at the Xbox E3 event in 2019 and being immediately enchanted by it. It didn’t really seem like anything I’d seen before in terms of what it was about. It was a game about learning how to say goodbye, to people you knew already or had the opportunity to meet on your travels. It became the game I wanted to play ever since seeing it that day, I was so sure when the time did come to play it’d become one of my favourites. On the 18th of August, the game was revealed to be coming out that day during a Nintendo Indie Showcase. I was shocked it’d be revealed to coming that day because I was so sure it’d be coming in October or November if it didn’t get delayed, but no. It came much earlier. I was so excited to play it and had that slight worry in my mind it wouldn’t reach the expectations I set for it; however, it managed to reach those expectations and surpass them in every way.
In Spiritfarer you play Stella, the new Spiritfarer. One who guides spirits to their final destination, the Everdoor. You’re given a boat to travel the world as most of it is water, as you play you’ll be able to expand that boat. Increase the size, add new buildings, upgrade those buildings, build homes for spirits and decorate those homes too. It is nothing new if you’ve played other games such as Animal Crossing, as many people have compared the two (2). Spiritfarer streamlines the game and cuts the annoying aspects that other games have with resources. You instantly have a saw to cut down trees, a pickaxe to dig into rocks, a watering can for crops. None of them break if you use them and you’ll instantly gain new abilities when you get the chance, no need to craft a hammer and have it break after 5 minutes of use. There is no weight limit or inventory space that is taken up by resources. It creates a much more relaxing and calm experience, not having to worry about having enough space in my inventory was a major upside and wish more games would incorporate that.
Spiritfarer to me was always a calm game to play, nothing made me feel rushed or nervous, I could always go at my own pace and take the time I needed. The game is about taking time to appreciate the world around you, the people around you. It exceeds so incredibly well in those aspects as to what the core of the game’s themes are, time and what it takes.
In every form of media, revealing the death of someone is major and considered a spoiler if revealed before. That death is a plot point to a story, in media characters aren’t expected to die as they are characters and can surpass it. It is not something to be expected the same way it is in life, Spiritfarer is different. It isn’t a spoiler to say characters come to the end of their life in this game as, just like in life, it is something that is bound to happen. It is the extremely sad reality, you can go against that and just never take them to the Everdoor; however, you will not be able to progress. It is a sad reality, but not one that doesn’t have it’s meaning. Saying goodbye is an incredibly hard thing to do, the knowing that it will most likely be the last time you will say is something that never gets easier and you can never prepare yourself for it. The game asks you to face that sadness, to see people you have grown to care for and understand go away. To understand it that it is something that cannot be stopped and stand by that person’s side along the way, always.
With the knowledge that everyone you come across will eventually pass is an immensely hard thing to come to terms with. For the years that I have thought about that, staying up at night because the thought makes me wake up screaming, I still haven’t come to terms with it. But it does make me want to give my friends and family the best time I can give to them during that time. That is also what Spiritfarer is about at its core, games so rarely ask you to give characters their best life and it is such a breath of fresh air. You come to understand people, their flaws, their sadness, their happiness, who they are. Bad and good. How they view life, their life and their perception of death. From that comes a real understanding of each spirit you meet and from that you can help them the best be happy. There are tasks you must complete to push their story forward, such as building them a home and improving it and other specific tasks. It is all for them and to make them happier. You learn characters favourite activities so you can go to specific islands and in turn they will give you resources, their favourite types of food and favourite food. You begin to prepare their favourite meals to make their time with you all the better with the aim to raise their happiness to the maximum. It is a game that is selfless at its core, you can take the time you need to do activities that please you, such as fishing, but the objectives to you are for the good of other people.
It is a very endearing in those aspects, which makes it all the harder when you do have to say goodbye. As in life, it doesn’t become easier as you play to see the characters you’ve grown to understand go. Not like in a movie or other games where death is meaningless as characters tend to never actually die or a spin off of that character appears. You can no longer talk to them, give them their favourite food or take them to a shop, they’re very much gone in those aspects. However, what they taught you is never gone, so in a way they are still there. When a spirit passes on, they appear in the stars as a constellation and whenever you come across an event that was related to that spirit you’ll have to go to their door to initiate it now. Showing that whilst they’re gone in mind and body, they’re still there, guiding you. Whenever one passes you will be given unique spirit flowers that will be used to upgrade your boat so you can travel to new destinations. So in turn they are apart of your boat and with you always, while I wished I could still give them their favourite cup of coffee or a hug it was easier knowing I could still go along taking what they shown me.
I always try to take my mind away from the concept of death, writing this was already hard enough but Spiritfarer is an incredibly important game for me. I got me to look at it, think about it differently and that is important to give myself and others the best time possible instead of letting it constantly dwell over me. Restrict me, that it is okay to be scared by it, but it can be a lot less scary when you’re with the ones you love and care for. For me, Spiritfarer doesn’t just stand beside the best games of this year, it stands above them. Games can be used to help people, make them see things they don’t really want to see, a lot of games run away from that responsibility or ignore it, Spiritfarer doesn’t. It made me face those fears and whilst it’s still very hard to, I feel a lot more comfortable to talk about it and deal with it.