Arietta of Spirits Review: A Spirited Indie Gem
When I first caught a glimpse of Arietta of the Spirits, the visuals grabbed me immediately, being so clean in color and detail. Adding a paranormal plot to the mix and a Zelda-like gameplay simplicity left me eager to dive in. But does the game stay spirited through to the end? Or did it wind up dead in the water? Let’s find out!
The tale here starts with Arietta, a young girl traveling along with her family to visit her deceased grandmother’s home. The game wastes no time tugging at your heartstrings right from the get-go and will have plenty more opportunities down the line to do it again. While the whole family mourns the memories of the dead, Arietta is given a very different way to see off her grandmother. Guided by a guardian spirit Arco, she’s given a final chance to see her grandmother off—but not without a catch. The family ring has been lost to a nearby trail, with grandma unable to pass on until you get it back. Along the way, you’ll be up against the spirits haunting the woods called Roamers. With Arco’s help, Arietta will don her sword and the family ring and take up arms against the denizens of darkness plaguing the woods, all while making memories with her family and new ghost companion. There’s a deeper overarching plot behind the strange happenings revolving the mine on the north part of the island, but those are details best experienced for yourself.
The premise is simple, and the characters are limited to just a few main and side ones, yet it does the most with what little there is. From the hard-working father, to your protective spirit Arco, to the shady alchemist Minerva, the plot makes just enough of them to need them around while not fluffing up the details too much. It’s a really fine balance, but it’s necessary to keep the action and story pacing going while getting you to care what happens to those around you and show what they think about Arietta in kind. It reminds me so much of short stories I would read from compilation books in the library. They don’t need to be any longer than they are, because they hit all the right notes in just the right amount of time. I would’ve loved to see a bit more along the way of side quests interacting with some of the characters, if anything, to inspire adventures in previously explored areas. Still, the couple of collecting sidequests there give some reason to return to the beaten paths.
Heart and Soul
The graphics here really shine, a plethora of small details lining the forest paths and mining shafts, lined with gentle movements that bring the scenery to life. Even when you see the sprites recycled here and there, you won’t mind because it’s arranged in a way that’s never overbearing. You’ll see so many little flourishes, from squirrels darting about trees with a subtle chatter to autumn leaves being scattered with the wind, all well crafted and fluently flowing with the scenery. You’ll get to see all shades of the forest in luscious detail, and for a game with pixellated graphics, it feels real in the attention to detail. All of the animations go off without a stutter, and while I struggled to get used to where the hitboxes land during combat, it never became a detriment that got me killed, just occasionally inconvenienced.
The sound design was on point as well, and I must say, that soundtrack is absolutely soul food. Soft piano mingling with the occasional saxophone should’ve felt a bit ajar in a pixellated world. Yet, it never felt out of place, easing away from the chiptune you’d probably expect to see in a game like this and just letting you vibe to the cozy, forest scenery. This is absolutely a group of little aural gems I wouldn’t mind adding to my chill-out playlist on Spotify. Not to say it doesn’t know when to ramp up the action, though, the boss battle pieces never felt generic and always knew how to help get momentum going strong, nor did it shy away from something a bit darker when the lights dim.
The gameplay itself is a Zelda-like action-adventure, and the combat is boiled down to the simplest setup. Slash with your sword, use a shield to protect yourself, and roll out of the way of danger. That’s all there is to it. Occasionally you’ll be swatting at bushes to dig up a spare heart or two, but the challenge never felt overbearing. Any mistakes I made were me just not paying attention. I only played on normal for the time being and felt it was just the right balance of pushing you forward and making you practice a bit.
There’s a chunk of collectibles to get, though none of them pass out any overpowered weapons or abilities, just some little extra upgrades for your shield or health. They’re there if you wanna take a stroll through the woods to find some of Midra’s wares or grinding up some spirit juice to power the Roamer Cores and save up for a health upgrade. With how beautiful the game looks, you’d think they’d add a bit more side paths and the like to explore, but there’s not too awful much in the way of exploration, though there is a later upgrade you can get that makes traveling between previously explored areas a touch easier.
Arietta of Spirits is one seriously charming journey. It exudes the kind of warmth and casual sense of adventure that you can only seem to find in these indie gems. From its stellar spritework to the way the music and ambient sounds wind their way gently through the deep forests, everything comes together to deliver a game that’s easy on the eyes and memorable. And while this spirit’s tale is quite a bit shorter than most, the scene set around it radiates a vibrance that truly lets this fairytale soar. If you have a few hours to spare and got the funds, you’d be remiss not to give this ghost story a fair venture.
Final Verdict 4.5/5
Available on: Steam, PC, PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch; Publisher: Three Spirit Games, Red Art Games; Developer: Three Spirit Games; Number of players: single-player (campaign); Released: August 20, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: The developer provided a review copy.