Video games are a wonderful medium that enable developers to express themselves in a variety of ways using sound, visuals and player interaction. For this reason, they can be used to tell great stories that immerse the player in a way that is impossible to achieve using other mediums, like books and movies.
Arietta of Spirits is an indie action/adventure game developed by Third Spirit Games and published by Red Art Games that touts an emotion-filled story, no-filler gameplay and fast-paced combat.
Story – There, In Spirit
The game opens with Arietta (the titular hero) and her family on the road. They are on their way to visit her grandmother’s cabin for the first time since she passed away. The opening dialogue between Arietta and her parents reveal their anxiety.
The cabin in question is on an island surrounded by a lush forest and is for all intents and purposes the center of the game. Arietta’s grandmother has lived there for a very long time, as evidenced by this long-standing family tradition of visiting her and spending quality time together away from the bustle of the city.
The grief the family is experiencing from the loss of Arietta’s grandmother is conveyed in an effective and relatable way. They are all doing their best to put on a brave face and support each other through the emotions that arise while spending time in Grandma’s cabin.
A Ghostly Encounter
Things seem normal for the most part until our protagonist turns in for bed – after a strange dream, she wakes up to what looks like a ghostly weasel. Like anyone who has never seen a spirit before, it takes a little convincing for her to realize that she is not, in fact, still dreaming.
This spirit, Arco, explains to her that he has known her for a long time and that she is what is known as a “Bound”. This is a human with strong ties to the spirit world, and that he needs her help to defeat malevolent spirits that had begun attacking the island.
These malevolent spirits are known as Roamers. Their motives and origin are mysterious, and it is exactly this mystery that our intrepid protagonist is destined to uncover. Along the way, some of the unnamed island’s tragic history is revealed as well.
Arietta is at first somewhat apprehensive, but before long is fully committed to helping her new friend. For the rest of the game, Arietta and Arco are inseparable companions, exploring the island and meeting all manners of spirits along the way that would either hinder or help their progress.
The Devil In The Details
The game leans towards being a little dialogue heavy in the beginning, but once you’ve met all the characters and have all the information you need, this seems to even out for the balance of the game. Arietta of Spirits is, after all, very much story-driven, so this is not unexpected.
The events of this story could be interpreted as symbolic of the grieving process that our heroine is going through. The strange phenomena she experiences that she cannot reveal to anyone are not unlike the personal, internal process we each experience in an individual capacity when dealing with loss.
I finished the game on Normal difficulty in just a few sessions. After the credits rolled, there was a short scene that made me think that there is more to this story – but alas, there wasn’t. In a way, for a few reasons, this wasn’t as disappointing as you might think. This has more to do with the gameplay, which I will get to in a moment.
Gameplay – No Frills, No Fuss
Right off the bat, the influence from The Legend Of Zelda is clear. This is a top-down 2D adventure game that borrows heavily from one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises, perhaps in an effort to woo gamers with a love for this kind of game.
Unfortunately, Arietta of Spirits does not quite scratch the surface of the game it so clearly draws more than a little inspiration from. There are no charged attacks, projectiles or bombs. There are also no puzzles or dungeons. All you have at your disposal is an attack, a spirit shield and a roll similar to the ones you might find in Dark Souls.
The simplicity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you are coming in expecting something that aspires to be an adventure of LoZ proportions. After all, a simple attack, dodge and block are all you really need to dispatch your run-of-the-mill enemies.
Thankfully, there is a pleasing variety of critters and Roamers for you to sink your sword into. They are, with a few exceptions, quite easy to take down on their own.
Things get tricky when you have more than one enemy to dispose of, and especially a variety of different enemies all attacking you at once. This will keep you on your toes as you try to predict each attack pattern at the same time and work out how best to take them out.
Like A Boss
One of the most enjoyable things in Arietta of Spirits are the boss fights. They start out quite easy, but steadily get more challenging as the game persists. Taking them out will yield a Roamer Core, that will in turn yield another heart container for Arietta to add to her life meter once filled using the Spirit Siphon.
In terms of replayability, there isn’t much to talk about here. Once you’ve finished the story, all you can really do is ratchet up the difficulty to “Hard” or “Extreme” difficulty, with the latter simply increasing the amount of enemies and implementing a one-hit death. Overall, the no-filler gameplay touted by the developer sometimes seems to ring a little too true. This could even be interpreted as a lack of gameplay due to the length of the game, as well as the lack of replayability.
That said, Arietta of Spirits does what it says on the tin. Rather than biting off more than it can chew with more varied game mechanics, the no-frills gameplay is well executed for what it is. As I mentioned earlier, had the game been longer, things may have gotten stale without deeper mechanics.
Graphics and Audio – A Gallant Effort
Pixel art is a very attractive medium when done right, and this is one area where Arietta of Spirits shines. The lush island, in some areas, reminded me of Stardew Valley without the seemingly endless item management and fields to plough. The enemies, characters and environments are all beautifully animated, with attractive color palettes throughout.
I did encounter some performance issues in a couple areas, mostly when the game was autosaving after a checkpoint. This persisted whether I was playing in handheld or docked mode, and I can only hope that the developers will tweak the game to run a little smoother in time.
The soundtrack is a similarly pleasant part of the experience that captures the sense of mystery and adventure effortlessly. The delightful melodies accompany each part of this story in a way that evokes a nostalgic feel. This is fitting due to the fact that Arietta has been visiting this island probably since she can remember. There is also a gentle sadness to some of the pieces that symbolizes the grief she is experiencing at visiting a place she has such fond memories of.
The bright visuals and wistful musical arrangements form a complementary package making Arietta of Spirits feel like a well-rounded and complete experience.
I reviewed Arietta of Spirits on Nintendo Switch. The review key was provided by Red Art Games.