Arietta of Spirits is a short but sweet top down adventure that wears its influences on its sleeve, but with plenty of fun to be found within.
Isometric RPGs have seen a renaissance through games like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin, while the indie horror scene has proved to be an ideal testing ground for new ideas. Arietta of Spirits, from developer Third Spirit Games, looks to emulate the experience of the top-down action adventure games of old.
Arietta of Spirits casts the player as the titular character, a thirteen-year-old girl returning to her grandmother’s isolated island cabin for the first time since her passing away. There, she discovers a connection to the spirit realm, and must try to uncover the mysteries of the island and solve the problems of friendly spirits. However, not every inhabitant is amicable to the young visitor.
Of course, Arietta of Spirits has some rather obvious influences. It’s a top-down adventure game with a heavy focus on combat, exploration, and puzzle solving, and therefore draws some rather strong parallels to the likes of the early The Legend of Zelda games or the Mana series. There’s nothing particularly new to be found here within its short runtime, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for those who want a real slice of nostalgia.
As such, Arietta of Spirits follows a pretty similar template. The player must explore the island fighting monsters and bosses along the way, every so often gaining new tools and power ups like health upgrades to help with their journey. A little more variation would have been preferable – the player is limited to attacking, dodging, and using a magic shield – but it’s solid enough for those who played those games of yore.
In particular Third Spirit utilizes a strong balance between these skills, particularly in the game’s later boss fights that can start to feel almost like a bullet hell and truly test the player’s knowledge of their dodge and shield usage. There are also some diversions to be found throughout the game, with completionists tasked with collecting a handful of items for the merchant spirit Midri or finding the lost Spirit Cubs scattered around the island. Those expecting something as lengthy and complex as the old Zelda games may find Arietta of Spirits wanting, but at least it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Although Arietta of Spirits can feel a little meandering here and there if the player tries to complete those side quests, in general the game tries to keep the player on a linear path. At times this can feel tight and well-rounded, such as the maze of a silver mine towards the tail end of the game. This also is a section where the game’s story is taken up a notch, with a darker tone that makes Arietta’s connection to the spirit world feel much more serious.
Overall the game’s narrative is well told, with a selection of decent if not spectacular characters that serve their purpose well. Meanwhile, Arietta of Spirits successfully interweaves the personal story and wider lore, grounding the player before the idea of multiple realms becomes too heavy. It’s unlikely to last long in the memory, but nonetheless serves its purpose in creating an emotional attachment.
Visually Arietta of Spirits also hits the mark. It manages the same retro aesthetic of the likes of Stardew Valley and Shovel Knight, appearing as though it walked straight out of the 16-bit era while containing flourishes that would not have been possible at the time, such as more complex transparency and lighting than the SNES would allow. It’s an experience that would be great for those with an old CRT television lying around.
Arietta of Spirits is a safe but enjoyable top-down action adventure game. It has fun if simplistic gameplay and a solid story that provides a strong emotional core to keep the player involved. It’s not a must-play, but certainly ticks all the right boxes for those hunting for a nostalgia fix that even the top franchises of the genre have abandoned.
Arietta of Spirits releases today, August 20, 2021 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.
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