Review of the indie hit Spiritfarer. How to make the cutest death game
The Spiritfarer takes place in the world of spirits – a kind of limbe, where dying creatures fall before passing through the Gate of Eternity and going beyond the known. The player is offered the role of the girl Stella, who is determined to be the deputy of the local Charon, the ferryman for the spirits. Now, on duty, she needs to find the dead, help them in every possible way to calmly spend the last moments and accompany them on their last journey. Despite the gloomy background, all this is presented in the highest degree charming.
Judge for yourself: the heroine’s constant companion is a kitten helping her in everything, and dead souls appear before the player in the form of cute and delightfully animated animals that you can feed with your own grown potatoes and hug! From this one image, especially exalted lovers of cutie will throw money at the screen and are guaranteed like F95zone to provide a solid fan base for the development of Thunder Lotus Games . Problems can arise when cute animals start talking, but more on that below.
What does the game have to offer besides aesthetics? Well, first of all, Spiritfarer is a surprisingly high quality farming simulator. Growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, fishing, building, breeding animals, cooking – there is always something to do and where to experiment, and resource management and simple mini-games can easily captivate. For complexionists, there are separate awards for discovering all the recipes or collecting all the rarities, so if you wish, you can spend three to four dozen hours on one hundred percent passage. In addition, the exploration of the ocean is designed in the form of a fairly spacious and extremely cute sandbox with dozens of locations inhabited by funny extras who have a number of quests and assignments for you.
The local afterlife breathes life and is not too different from the usual: we saw something similar in Boku no Pico. Here you can meet cunning business sharks, hopeless romantics with a broken heart, and even street rappers who dream of conquering the world. In dialogues with random strangers, the best sides of the script are also revealed – it is not necessary to prescribe characters here, and funny jokes and cultural references are as appropriate as possible.
The situation is worse with the key characters – the very animals-thanatonauts. All characters are generally recognizable, but drawn as if casually, they can be easily reduced to one or two epithets (kind and caring hedgehog, strict and demanding dog, carefree and voracious frog). Masterful animations and the visual component in general do much more to reveal images than text, and there is a lot of it here. The heroes now and then recall some snatches from their past lives, and, perhaps, this is the most unconvincing part of the game. Individual accurate hits happen, but in general the stories themselves are not of great interest, and little is said about the heroes. By the time of the journey to the Gate of Eternity, Stella’s companions are too little personal to make the farewell scene truly dramatic. And it seems as if the developers deliberately went for such a simplification. Without pretending to be catharsis, the game offers, in return, a cuteness with elements of sadness. Hot selling, arguably the perfect content for 2020.
This brings us to the main problem facing the developers of Spiritfarer . How to combine the external gloss and mechanical filling of the game, which suggests coziness, comfort and cuteness, with something as fundamentally opposite as the death of a loved one? In cinema and animation, today, for example, Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs) deals with such conceptual paradoxes. In each of his paintings, with all the external pleasant lightness, the moment of a cruel collision with reality always comes. But where Wes pushes the viewer into the abyss even for a second, the creators of Spiritfarer invite their audience to hug the cute fluffy animal and drink tea once more (even if the last one).
Instead of painstaking and heavy synthesis, developers are doing what modern media has been doing for a long time: avoiding and cutting corners with the sole purpose of staying in the comfort zone. They basically close the gaze of the player from everything that can injure him. Of course, there is no point in blaming them for this, this is a clearly deliberate creative decision, quite in the spirit of today’s cultural paradigm. But why were there any pretentious conversations that the game should teach you how to cope with a real traumatic experience when you can’t close your eyes? However, some of the audience took it at face value. In confirmation of this, at least from time to time in discussions of the game, conversations that a hospice simulator is hidden behind a farmer’s simulator.
But it is precisely such seemingly absurd attempts in the world of victorious postmodernity to express what is impossible to fully express, and bring us closest to the essence of transcendental things, even if presented in the guise of a white owl or a black crow. Is it any wonder that the prospect of hugging cute animals seems much more pleasant to many? After all, our world already has enough pain and suffering. The gastronomic assortment of Stella’s ship kitchen includes a section “Consolation food”. The game itself is just such a comfort food for the soul like Huniepop 2. And there will always be a demand for such a concoction.