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Spiritfarer "Could Be A Little Bit Of Help" During The Pandemic, Says Dev

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Telling a story about a ferrymaster who must transport wayward spirits to the afterlife, Spiritfarer is Thunder Lotus Games' third title to deal with death.

During a media preview for Spiritfarer--an upcoming death positive game that sees you play as Stella, a ferrymaster to the afterlife--I played through a mid-section of the game and spoke to creative director Nicolas Guérin. I asked him what it was like to work on and release a project that deals with mortality and grief during a worldwide pandemic, when death is likely at the forefront of many people's minds.

"It is scary at first," Guérin told me. "Scary because it would be entirely possible that people don't want to hear or talk about death anymore, being that much surrounded by it. But then, taking a step back, I believe maybe, maybe Spiritfarer could be a little bit of help."

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Now Playing: Spiritfarer Reveal Trailer | Microsoft Press Conference E3 2019

I was a bit surprised at my experience with Spiritfarer. We've seen quite a few games that deal with death positivity in the past few years, such as A Mortician's Tale and Necrobarista. However, Spiritfarer takes on a much more transactional tone in how it asks players to take a hard look at the swirl of emotions that surround dying or caring for the recently deceased.

In Spiritfarer, you encounter and befriend many different spirits, from child-like bundles of curiosity who misunderstand your intentions to savvy romantics who are unfaithful to their spouses. It's your job to try and befriend these people, learn about who they were in life, and help them ultimately move on.

This translates into a lot of fetch quests and multi-part crafting missions. Initially, it's a bit unsettling. You feel good for checking off tasks and helping people deal with their grief but it also feels like you're being selfish for gaining some semblance of satisfaction when you're not the one who has to struggle with accepting death. But Guérin assures that Spirifarer is intentional in making you feel good about accomplishing tasks--doing things for people who are dying to make both them and yourself feel good is a part of grieving.

"Indeed, transactions in Spiritfarer are meant to be interpreted through the lens of grief acceptance, but more importantly, with [keeping] in mind the concept of efforts and care," Guérin said. "Mechanically speaking, all transactions in Spiritfarer represent a sacrifice of oneself to care and help others. There is even a currency in Spiritfarer, called Glims, and [protagonist] Stella can buy many things. But of course, everything she buys, she does so for the spirits she is taking care of."

Spiritfarer developer Thunder Lotus Games isn't a stranger to games that deal with coming to terms with dying. The developer's first game, Jøtun, sees you play as a Viking woman who dies dishonorably and has to now prove herself to the gods in order to enter Valhalla, and the studio's sophomore effort, Sundered, sees a woman descend into an ever-changing underworld where she must choose whether she's willing to sacrifice her humanity and embrace demonic, Eldritch-like powers in order to save herself.

Spiritfarer has a vastly different tone than those games though--it's very cute (you can hug whoever you want, even your cat) and none of your problems are solved through violence. It's more about emotionally connecting to the dying than coming to terms with your own mortality.

Even in the brief preview I got to play, I couldn't help but be drawn to the cast of characters Stella has to ferry to the afterlife. I didn't have much time to interact with Gwen, Stella's best friend and one of the first spirits you have to say goodbye to, but seeing her and Stella part ways got me all misty-eyed. If it wasn't for my intent to not cry in the middle of something where I'm expected to remain professional, I'd have likely burst into tears right then and there in front of the devs. The farewell was such an emotional gut-punch because it wasn't strictly tragic, there were underlying currents of hope (that Stella and Gwen would see each other again) and happiness (that Gwen was leaving Stella's ferry feeling more content than when she arrived) to the scene too.

"The game's values are about kindness and the understanding that we're all interconnected, shaped by others" Guérin said. "At the core of it, there is hope, or at least, a stronger proximity with the concepts of heritage and legacy, and how even if someone passes away, his or her imprint will remain on us, on who we are, and who we will become."

If you're as excited to go on a journey with Stella as I am, Spiritfarer is scheduled to set sail for Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Google Stadia in 2020.


Jordan Ramée

Jordan Ramée has been covering video games since 2016 and tabletop games since 2020, using his unhealthy obsessions to write what he'd argue is compelling content (we won't tell him if you don't). Do not let him know that you're playing Hollow Knight--he will take that as a sign that you wish to talk about the lore for the next five hours.



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