It's really easy to describe a game using a melange of genres and definitions, but doing so rarely gets at what makes that game good. When I say that Spiritfarer is a management sim with an Animal Crossing slice-of-life pace, it provides a mental framework for what this game is. But in reality, Spiritfarer is a joyful game about really getting to know someone, growing close, and then letting go.
Spiritfarer casts you as the captain of a boat in the afterlife, ferrying lost souls along to the hereafter. Often they have regrets, things left undone, or they just want to re-experience life one last time before their parting. It's a somber tone that is thankfully offset by the cheer and joy found in everyday activity, as you build a boat that can accommodate their needs.
It helps that the graphics are reminiscent of cartoons, with each of the talking animals aboard the boat having a distinct style. Spiritfarer is full of color and accents, backed by a soundtrack that's serene and sets the mood just right. This is, after all, a game about death; but Spiritfarer also basks in life, and the vibrant waves it can produce before the hereafter.
In my demo, I was helping an old snake-person in a green cloak through their journey. They wanted to see their old house again. So I gathered the lumber and materials and built it, right there. Your ship is basically a floating colony, replete with lodging, crafting areas, and buildings that can generate resources you might need for quests. I tended a garden, and on a long boat voyage, fished off the side of the boat as it sailed along to a destination.
There's a tranquility to Spiritfarer. There is no violence or combat. You mostly just take it all in and enjoy the little moments. Sometimes I'd stumble upon crops growing from where I had planted seeds, but I wasn't stressing about them flourishing. If I lost a fish on the line, that's fine. There are always more.
As you travel, you can complete quests for other folks aboard your vessel as well. At one point, I was leaping into the path of lightning strikes to power up my pendant, much to the amusement of those on the boat. Other times they'd just ask for a snack, or maybe even a hug—yes, there's even a dedicated hug command—and it's important too, not because it's critical, but because you should always use the hug option, whenever possible.
My serpentine companion wanted one last visit to their house, so I could get an old brooch they had fond memories of before they departed. I got to walk the streets where they grew up, and hear stories about the locals. After powering up a bit, I could jump to the top and grab the brooch, ultimately setting them at peace.
The demo concluded then, saving the actual passage and departure for another time. But those brief moments of recollection and reflection stuck with me throughout an otherwise hectic, busy E3. It's easy to say that smaller games will stick out, simply by sheer contrast to the lights, sounds, and fury of the biggest releases dominating the show floor. And that's true for Spiritfarer, to some extent.
But Spiritfarer also put me in a position to interact with a game in ways most others don't, and to view characters in a light that's hard to capture. It reminded me a lot of the first time I played What Remains of Edith Finch—there's the same quiet, gentle current that doesn't match the frenetic pace of most demos. I was in no rush to see everything Spiritfarer had to offer, because I felt like it rewarded me simply for taking in the world in front of me. It was the calming experience I needed in the midst of information-laden theater sessions and jargon-heavy hands-on appointments.
However the final product turns out, Spiritfarer is one I look forward to getting pleasantly lost in again. Look for Spiritfarer sometime next year, and be sure to check out our E3 2019 coverage hub to see all the other games we saw on the showfloor.