Indie games have risen in the public eye as sources for imaginative ideas and rewarding gameplay, as smaller developers have the freedom to create exactly what they want. While their work can sometimes get buried under the sheer amount of new releases, often it’ll be showcased thanks to strong word of mouth and the talent behind them. Games like Celeste and Journey have seen immense success due to their engaging art direction and ability to use game mechanics to tell a thoughtful story.
One such indie developer, Thunder Lotus Games, is preparing to release its third title, Spiritfarer. Advertised as a cozy management game about dying, Spiritfarer has all the ingredients to become the next best indie game. It utilizes a gorgeous hand-drawn art style, features gameplay that has already proven to be addictive, and will seemingly tell a heartfelt story about saying goodbye to the ones we love. If everything is as it seems, it will undoubtedly be added to everyone’s must-play list.
In Spiritfarer, players will control Stella, a ferry master assisting spirits on their journey to the afterlife. It’s her job to make sure her boat is a lovely final space for these spirits before they’re ready to move on. While there will be light platforming elements as Stella travels between islands looking for new passengers, the main gameplay hook will surround resource management. Stella can mine, fish, cook, craft, and farm anything her spirit friends will need. While gaining their trust, players will also be able to build up the boat with extra levels like a floating version of the Weasley home in Harry Potter.
This type of gameplay should entice fans of Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, or any other popular game that has players manage resources and complete daily tasks. There’s a huge market for these types of games, as many developers have proven. But Spiritfarer has something they don’t: a sincere message about saying goodbye and accepting grief.
As the game progresses, players will be able to take more spirits onboard their boat. Getting to know them and comforting them as they get ready to depart will provide the emotional crux of the game. Many of the spirits players will come across are based on real deceased people that the developers knew. This should make each one of them feel unique, but it’s also possible players will see characteristics of their own loved ones in these characters. But as the developers have stated, this isn’t a game dealing with the fear of death. It’s about acceptance and looking at death in a non-scary way.
The game’s content will combine with its unique art style to convey its theme. Much like the studio’s previous two games, Spiritfarer uses stunning hand-drawn graphics. There’s a bit more to it here as art director Jo-Annie Gauthier took inspiration from Japanese artist Hiroshi Yoshida’s woodblock paintings. By using that inspiration for environments and backgrounds while keeping the art style used for character models in their previous games, Thunder Lotus has given Spiritfarer a look distinctive from almost everything else.
The studio’s previous titles have also dealt with death, though in entirely different ways. Jotun follows a Viking woman after she dies in a shipwreck. She then must complete challenges to impress the gods and enter Valhalla. Sundered is a Metroidvania that follows a woman pulled into the underworld. In those games, the afterlife is merely a setting. In Spiritfarer, Thunder Lotus wants to explore moving on in a much deeper, more profound way. In more ways than one, the team has evolved with their art.
Spiritfarer has already received plenty of praise. Earlier this year at PAX East, it was part of the official selection for the indie MEGABOOTH line-up. A demo was available there before it went up on Steam last month and feedback has been incredibly positive. Its distinct art style and simple but satisfying gameplay would be enough to put it on anyone’s radar. Its powerful message, however, which should have players simultaneously beaming and crying, is what will make it the next best indie game.
Spiritfarer releases later this year on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
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Thunder Lotus Games are returning with a third indie offering, Spiritfarer, a heart-wrenching title about escorting souls to the afterlife.