In a year that has blown all the chunks all over the place AND has thus far had nary a word from FromSoft on Elden Ring, Spiritfarer by Thunder Lotus Game has blown into my life like a breath of fresh air. I tried the demo which was fifteen minutes long, and I immediately fell in love with the game. It’s bittersweet, lovely, charming, and very emotional. Last week, I wrote about my issues with the game, but emphasized that they did not take away from the game overall.
I will note that there’s one additional issue I have with the game and this was a rather big one. There were two passengers whom I could not stand. I realize that it’s part of the bigger picture–not everyone in our lives is someone we like. Also, there’s a reason Stella has run into this wide array of people (something I found out in a newsletter but was not made clear in the game). While I understand it on an intellectual level, I still reacted to these two characters with a visceral dislike.
The first was one of two brothers. Bruce and Mickey. Mickey was a water buffalo who didn’t talk. It became clear that he was comatose and his brother, a hummingbird, was caretaking for him. Bruce was a huge asshole, and I actively avoided him as much as I could. In addition, the rest of the passengers’ moods were negatively affected by the brothers as they all ‘felt bullied (ha)’ by Mickey. His story was really sad, but it didn’t balance out how incredibly unpleasant Bruce was. When I took them to the EverDoor, I was so relieved to get rid of them. I felt some sorrow for them because of their story, but I was happy to see the back of them.
The other was Elena, a dog. I think a greyhound or something similar. Something lithe and sleek. She’s an ascetic who is very monk-like in her Spartan attitude. She’s also a complete asshole. She was a teacher in life, and she took pleasure in breaking her students who she viewed as beneath her. She’s the one who assigns you timed events, and if you don’t do them to her specifications, she berates you. I felt bullied by her, and I stayed away from her as much as possible. Yes, there was a poignant reason why she was the way she was, but at that point in the game, I didn’t care. She’s the passenger who didn’t like to be hugged, by the way, not to anyone’s surprise.
Again, this isn’t enough for me to ding the game, but it did lessen my enjoyment to a small degree. If I had to give a numerical rating to the game, my heart would give it a 10 and my head would give it a 9. So, overall, between a 9.25 and 9.5.
Oh! I went back and found all the secret chests and talked to NPCs again and found additional dialogue. The only thing I didn’t do was find the favorite dish of all the passengers, but is that enough to go back and play again? I do want to play again, but I don’t want to erase my current game in order to do so. I can’t find the answer as to whether I can start a new game without messing with the current one. I think it’s no, which is a shame.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about why it’s my GOTY thus far. One, the graphics are just gorgeous. The scenes are hand-drawn and so vibrant. Each area has a distinct flavor to it, and I love the block figures with their capes. Each passenger is immediately recognizable and distinct, and I like that they are animals while Stella is human. I like that they have starkly different personalities, and each one elicits a certain mood.
My favorite passenger was my first: Gwen. A disaffected, chain-smoking, well-to-do deer. I felt an immediate affinity because she WAS me. She held people at a distance, having been affected by an abusive father growing up. She viewed everything through a jaded lens, but it was because she was afraid of being vulnerable. When I took her to the EverDoor, and she told me (Stella) that she loved me as much as she was able to love anyone, well, I lost it. That’s how I feel about my ability to love. There are a few people whom I love as much as I’m able, but I know I’m broken in this area. I’m not able to tell people that I love them with all my heart. I suck at romantic relationships, and now I’d rather just not try. There are many reasons for it, but a large part is because I’m just not equipped to deal well with a romantic relationship thanks in large part to my relationship with my parents. I cried the hardest at spiritfaring Gwen, and I missed her throughout the game.
Another of my favorite passengers was Atul, my uncle. He’s a big, gregarious frog who just looooooves to eat. He’s handy with his tools, and he loves to just, well, live large. His last request before moving on (and each passenger has one) was to have a big dinner with a few friends. I got it done, and it was a lovely time. I steeled myself to take him to the EverDoor, but it was too late at night to travel. I woke up in the morning, and he was gone. His spirit flower was on his door, but he was nowhere to be found. What??? Huh?? I went to an earlier save and tried something different, but it ended up the same.
He was the third or fourth passenger to move on, and I can’t tell you how bereft I felt in not being able to spiritfare him. I used his spirit flower to upgrade my boat (which is a weird mechanic, by the way), but I still felt an emptiness as I moved forward. I know what the game was trying to say, though. We can’t always say goodbye on our own terms. Sometimes, people leave us suddenly, and there isn’t anything we can do about it. I think it’s a great inclusion even though I did not care for it at the time.
One of the best things about the game is that it gives a safe space to deal with death in a way that is both allegorical and personal. Death in most videos games is removed and, frankly, unrealistic. You know I love me the Souls games, but death is very fanciful for lack of better word in the games. Yes, dying is an integral part of the series, but the consequences are practical–not emotional.
In Spiritfarer, it’s real. The passengers react differently to their final journey, ranging from determined acceptance to fear. I cried every time, and it was for different reasons. With Gwen, it was because I was genuinely sad to see her go. With another passenger, it’s because she was in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s and no longer recognized me as myself.
When we talk about games, we tend to discuss if they’re fun or not. It’s an anathema to me because most of the games I play aren’t ones I would call fun. The Souls series, for example. I don’t enjoy playing them in the traditional sense, but they are the most rewarding games I’ve played, bar none. The feeling I get when I beat a difficult boss is unlike any other, and the apex is beating the final boss of Sekiro. Before that, it was beating O & S from the first game, which was three or four years prior (in my gaming career). The Biggie & Small boss fight is still one of my proudest moments in gaming ever, and it’s one of the reasons I love the Souls games so much.
Spiritfarer is similar in that I wouldn’t say it’s fun to play, though I definitely enjoyed it. It’s deeply engaging and intensely emotional, which means it’s rewarding on a different level. It’s rare when I say that a game has stuck with me emotionally after I’ve finished it, and it’s the highest compliment I can pay to Spiritfarer.