Spirittea review: A calming blend of Stardew Valley and Studio Ghibli
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Featured Image Credit: No More Robots
One of my favourite things about making a pot of tea is the ritual of it. I love staring out of the kitchen window at the rain as the kettle boils. I love the way my cats, expecting food, get under my feet as I let the bag brew. I love settling down on the sofa and taking in a deep breath, enjoying the smell of a carefully prepared beverage that’s too hot to drink right now, and will inevitably be forgotten about.
Spirittea, the charming new life sim from developer Cheesemaster Games, is a game that invites you to slow down and take joy in life’s little rituals. It’s a delightful blend of Stardew Valley and Studio Ghibli that isn’t always entirely successful, but is almost always guaranteed to soothe your soul after a long, hard day in the real world.
Like Stardew Valley, Spirittea sees your custom character abandon the hustle and bustle of the city for a simpler rural existence. It soon becomes clear, however, that your new home is haunted by restless spirits who play cruel tricks on fellow residents. One thing leads to another, and you find yourself running a bathhouse to appease these spirits - and make a little money for yourself along the way.
Spirittea never really demands much of you, and is pretty content to let go of your hand after talking you through the basics of running the bathhouse and helping villagers. Where you go and what you do is largely up to you, although the meat of the game is built around earning enough money to upgrade the bathhouse and attract more spirits.
To do this, you’ll need to pay attention to the problems of people around the town, as solving their issues will almost always lead to the discovery of another rogue ghost/paying customer at your budding spirit spa. In this respect, Spirittea is actually more than a little like The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Every resident has a specific schedule they stick to throughout the week, meaning there are key times you can hang out with them or simply chat to them while they go about their daily errands.
As you get to know your neighbours you’ll learn about mysteries plaguing them at certain times. The local restaurant owner complains his food keeps going missing, so if you head over while the eatery is open you’ll be able to use your connection with the spirit world to find the naughty ghosty scoffing food that doesn’t belong to him. Tracking down each spirit is a unique puzzle in itself, but you can keep track of all the information via a handy notebook.
Help the lost spirits find their way back to the bathhouse, and you help the residents at the same time. The more spirits you bring to the bathhouse, the more money you make, which can in turn be used to upgrade the facilities to serve more spirits. It’s a satisfying loop.
Another core component of Spirittea is befriending the locals, earning their trust to the point you can actually set them to work in the bathhouse, cleaning towels or keeping the boiler burning with fresh wood. To do this you need to invite them to hang out and engage in a series of minigames of varying quality.
Some residents may want to go fishing in their free time, which leads to a rather entertaining and sedate minigame in which you have to follow the right prompts to reel in your catches. Others might be up for some karaoke, which in my experience was the quickest way to level up the friendship stat, but involves suffering through an awful rhythm game and the same six songs ad-nauseum.
Fortunately the various residents and spirits are worth getting to know outside of the more functional benefits. These are well written characters with their own rich stories and struggles, and while there’s nothing quite as in-depth as you’d find in a game like Stardew Valley, the NPCs here have a lot to offer.
Spirittea is a charming game, then, but it’s also an incredibly slow one. Whether you’re tending to spirits in the bathhouse or waiting for an NPCs schedule to free up so you can take them drinking, there’s a lot of idling around as the clock ticks on. In this respect, Spirittea is perfect for picking up and playing in short bursts, maybe a day or two of in-game fun every few hours or so. Longer sessions start to feel a little dull, and the variety of side activities quickly begin to wear thin.
The game’s UI is also pretty awful. It took me far too long to realise where my stamina gauge was, and the fact there’s no way to simply quickly swap between items in your pack is a real pain. On far too many occasions I ended up dropping a tool instead of using it or putting it away. The map is largely genuinely useful, and at least attempts to let you keep track of where every NPC is, but their icons are so tiny and pixellated that I found myself guessing who was who much of the time.
On the whole, Spirittea is a sweet game with just enough charm and whimsy to make up for its flaws. While I certainly don’t see myself sinking anywhere close to as many hours as I’ve put into games like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing, I’m enjoying the chance to take a deep breath and settle into a slower way of life, if only for a few hours a night.
Pros: Absolutely overflowing with charm, spirits are a joy to track down, NPC stories are genuinely interesting
Cons: There’s an awful lot of waiting for things to happen, uneven minigames, poor UI
For Fans Of: The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley
7/10: Very Good
Spirittea is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Nintendo Switch (version tested), and PC via Steam. Review copy provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.