- Spirittea is a life-sim game that combines elements of Stardew Valley with the atmosphere of a Japanese bathhouse, evoking the cozy feeling of a Ghibli film.
- The game immerses players in a rural Japanese village filled with idiosyncratic locales, including a karaoke bar, coffee shop, and a 7/11-style convenience store.
- As the caretaker of the bathhouse, players must manage various tasks like maintaining water temperature, washing towels, scrubbing bathers’ backs, and expanding the business by unlocking more spirits.
As a blatant Nipponophile (look it up), I get most of my kicks gobbling up all manner of Japanese content, whether via books, movies, music, or games. As such, I’ve spared no expense in investing in the Ghibli collection on DVD — yes, they’re still a thing— that my kiddos often enjoy, especially the quintessential entry, Spirited Away. There’s just something about the Japanese countryside and an otherworldly steaming bathhouse full of supernatural guests that’s so, what’s the word … cozy.
Cheesemaster Games, the developer behind the newly released life-sim Spirittea, must’ve thought the exact same thing, as it’s a basically Stardew Valley meets Yubaba’s Bathhouse, minus animals in hats. I’ve sunk a few hours into it already, and not only does it make me want to live and work in Japan’s boonies, but I now understand the plight of all bathhouse workers, spiritual or mortal.
I was content to wander around the tea fields and eat onigiri all day, but the game had other plans
For about the first hour, Spirittea basically plays like Stardew Valley by way of rural Japan. The only exception is that, instead of an inexperienced farmer who inherits his grandpa’s fixer-upper shack, you’re a fantasy author who’s just purchased a traditional Japanese-style house in the country to get some writing done, for some reason. The game doesn’t provide us with too much explanation, which may be either a lack of forethought or a way to enhance the mystique of the situation. Either way, this context withholding happens often.
The Coziest Little Town
I love how the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Although Cheesemaster Games hails from Canada, the guys behind the company have clearly spent some time in the Land o’ the Rising Sun. The village (which I lovingly named after a town on the Sea of Japan coast) is filled with idiosyncratic locales ranging from a karaoke bar, a multi-storied apartment building, a coffee shop, and my favorite, the ubiquitous 7/11-style convenience store. Sure, they’re all fine places to meet and greet the neighbors, but they all pale in comparison to the massive and suspiciously glossed-over bathhouse vacantly sitting to the north of town.
I was content to wander around the tea fields and eat onigiri all day, but the game had other plans. Once you meet the sassy cat spirit Wonyan in your home, things really get cooking. Essentially, your job is to fire up the bathhouse again, where spirits of all shapes and sizes are used to congregate, and then scatter around town hunting down all the aforementioned spirits in the town’s establishments. Here’s what that process looks like:
Squeaky Clean Fun
This is where the real Ghibli feels kick in. Each spirit looks exactly like one of the ghosts populating Spirited Away’s street stalls: translucent purple-black blobs with legs hobbling around — that is, until their true appearance is revealed. These spirits take on a number of shapes and sizes (one is a massive Wendigo-like monstrosity), but all are apparently filthy and need a bath, Yubaba style.
What first strikes you about running a bathhouse in a life-sim is that it feels less like a life-sim and more like a management game, especially as its only caretaker. The bathhouse demands all of your time and careful attention to every detail. Much like Spirited Away’s Chihiro Ogino, you learn pretty quickly that free time is non-existent. There’s the water temperature to keep up, via firewood from a magical tree that is intrinsically connected to the bathhouse somehow, towels to wash, dry and provide for guests, bathers’ backs to scrub, floors to clean, renovations to make, and more spirits to unlock to provide more money, which in turn, can help finance bathhouse expansions. Woof.
Don’t be afraid to go above and beyond to earn that cash. Now get in there and wash that back!
While there isn’t a Radish Spirit, or any adorable Soot-Sprites floating around, there is plenty to appreciate and unpack in Spirittea for those who love Ghibli flicks or Japanese culture in general. Yeah, I’m having a ball running around and making sure my holy spa is full, fueled, and financed, but all this grinding is making my back hurt, and I’ve only gotten started! Think I’ll take the night off for some karaoke and a nice sushi dinner instead.
- Cheesamaster Games