Whiling Away My Hours With Reflections on Death and Stories

While I’ve been waiting on patches that will hopefully fix Cult of the Lamb, I’ve turned to other games to occupy my time. I’ve begun to dip my toe into Wildermyth on the PC and my impression from two hours of gameplay is that the writing is some of the best I’ve seen in a video game. Perfect balance between longer sentences, clipped fragments, and the natural warping of language that occurs when people who know each other talk in a relaxed or tense manner. Beautiful turns of phrase that reach past the awkward, stylistic structure of some of the prose to land a beautiful image in your mind that compliments the storybook style cutscenes and events. Just an absolute treat to experience.

The other game I’ve been spending my evenings playing is Spiritfarer. I’ve had this game on my radar since it came out in 2020, and bought it right before Cult of the Lamb came out. As the title suggests, it follows the person, Stella, charged with guiding spirits from their passing to their final departure from the world, literally replacing Charon at the start of the game as you see him through the “Everdoor.” He introduces the basics of the job to you, even handing off something called the “Everlight” to serve as all the tools you might need to do your job ferrying spirits around on their final business. After that, Stella and her cat head off in their little canoe to find a larger boat and some spirits to guide.

The rest of the game is filled with chores to feed the spirits you find, errands to help them work through whatever lingering thoughts and problems they have from their life, and various maintenance and collection tasks to upgrade and improve your boat. Partly so you can pick up more spirits and partly so you can improve the homes of the spirits aboard your vessel. It’s not a terribly complex or mechanically deep game, but it is visually stunning and keeps you busy enough that sailing all over the map never feels like a long trip. Which is good, since you’ve got a lot of sailing to do as the spirits’ requests send you back and forth across the map and while there is a sort of fast-travel system, it is still usually better to sail across the map so you can pick up additional resources from the various map events that pop up.

Between the days of sailing and chores you keep busy with, the spirits in your charge slowly process whatever lingering doubts, attachments, and fears they had remaining when they passed. All of which is carefully meted out between errands, events while you’re sailing around, and formal requests from the spirits so that you never feel like you’re rushing through the sailing portions to get to the next chunk of dialogue. By peppering this dialogue throughout, the game builds an excellent and unique image of each character, using everything from the manner the spirits address you, to how often they pause, to the way they walk or event stand, to the types of digressions they go on as they meander from saying hello to making their point. Never have I seen a better example of how to make dialogue unique and compelling than in this game, even when it’s supposed to be boring to read through. Not even my tendency toward overwork and completionism can interrupt the powerful flow and narrative development handle by the conversations the spirits have with you. What makes it even more amazing is that your character, Stella, never actually says anything. Her expressions and body language are what make her responses crystal clear.

I’m only partway into the game, about 20% of the way through the tasks, according to my save file, but it is alreadyapparent what this game is about and how it’s telling the story. This is not a game about death, though it is tangential to it. It is a game about mourning the loss of a life and processing grief, as told by those who are mourning the loss of their own life and processing the grief of what they left behind. You follow and aid spirits, some of whom were a part of your life prior to becoming the new Spiritfarer and some who were merely tangential to it, as they gradually come to accept their own deaths while you have occasional encounters with a giant spirit and get some hints, here or there, that maybe you died as well. I am still pretty early into the game and the game doles information out so slowly and meticulously that I think it will take a while for me to get the answers to all my questions, but I’m in it for the long haul. I’ll post more thoughts on the game once I’ve played through it. Same for Wildermyth, though I expect it’ll take a lot longer to play all the way through that game.

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