PAX East 2020: Spiritfarer | A journey to the end of the line

PAX East 2020 preview Spiritfarer Thunder Lotus Games

We’re finally coming to the end of our PAX East 2020 coverage. We’ve made Hideki Kamiya laugh, guided a two-headed dog through colorful puzzles, and spent so much time with the remake of a 25-year-old classic. I wanted to save one of our most powerful experiences for the end though, so without further ado, allow me to present Spiritfarer from Thunder Lotus Games.

A touching tale

Spiritfarer is a heartstring-tugging adventure starring Stella, a young navigator who helps the spirits of the deceased find peace and move on. It’s a cozy game about death — a novel concept in this field. The protagonist loves her job, as it allows her to help out and spend a little bit more time with her loved ones. Unlike the dreary Grim Reaper or gloomy Charon, she exudes joy in every hand-drawn animation, and the backgrounds are stunning.

The spirits are also beautifully rendered, taking the form of an animal that represents their personality the best. For example, we helped a motherly old woman who became a kindly hedgehog when she boarded the boat. Each character in Spiritfarer is based on a real-life person who has departed — the loved ones of the development team.

PAX East 2020 preview Spiritfarer Thunder Lotus Games

Moving mechanics

At its mechanical core, Spiritfarer is a resource management game with a touching story. You gather resources on the various islands, make them into other resources using work rooms on the ship, and use those to fulfill various tasks. Refining raw materials involves a variety of minigames, some we were good at and some we weren’t. Sometimes this is done in service of helping a person accept their death, and other times it’s done to help them move on. Sometimes it’s to make dinner. No matter the reason, you’ll be juggling various tasks, chores, and quests to try to optimize your time between ports.

A powerful presentation

We got a tour of the beautiful world of Spiritfarer in a cozy, curtained-off space adjoining the main Thunder Lotus booth. “Grief is very personal and very specific,” said Creative Director Jo-Annie Gauthier. This is evident throughout the game. The aforementioned hedgehog was only able to accept her death when she realized her journey wouldn’t be a burden on Stella. To prove this to her, we had to collect wood to make boards to build a house for that spirit on our boat. Compared to another spirit we met, Ms. Hedgehog was a piece of cake. Other characters included a snake who was trying to walk like a person, a regal lion, and a fabulous reindeer, each with their own stories.

PAX East 2020 preview Spiritfarer Thunder Lotus Games

In that place, with the comfortable sofa, the television set on the old dresser, and the din of the convention kept out by thick curtains, it was hard not to let my mind wander to my own relatives who have passed on. I wondered what kind of animal forms my grandmothers would take (a badger and an owl, I later decided). I wondered what it would have taken to get them to accept their fates, and what it would be like to spend a few extra weeks with them, or a couple of extra days, or even mere minutes. Spiritfarer isn’t therapy, but it comes damn close.

Notably, much like the remake of A Boy and his Blob, Spiritfarer has a dedicated hug button. You can attempt to hug anyone, and it will usually cheer them up. However, the spirits won’t always want a second hug, or even reciprocate. Details like this help the game bring these characters to life, as it shows their transition into death and beyond.

PAX East 2020 preview Spiritfarer Thunder Lotus Games

If you want to give your tear ducts a workout, Thunder Lotus Games’ Spiritfarer launches on the Switch later this year.

Dominick Ashtear