Arietta of Spirits review: a familiar yet comforting RPG

Even though it probably goes without saying, it feels like the older you get, the less time you have to spend on the things you enjoy – like video games, for instance. Obligations such as family, work, and keeping in touch with friends naturally begin to take precedence.

In addition – and I don’t know whether this is the same for every person in the over-the-hill-or-quickly-approaching-it demographic – I’ve found myself looking for experiences that are more qualitative than quantitative. Ergo, in the small window of time I’m able to keep free for video gaming, I’m more keen to play concise games that explore interesting ideas than massive games full of side quests, diversions and, dare I say it, bloat. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy those kinds of games, but I also don’t have full weekends to piss away on them like I did in junior high.

Arietta of Spirits is a lovely example of the former category. As a top-down action adventure game in the vein of Secret of Mana, or even The Legend of Zelda, it tells its story and explores its mechanics in a tight, five-hour span. It respects my time, and I appreciate it for that.

The game has you playing as a 13-year-old girl (unsurprisingly named Arietta), who goes with her parents on a trip to their family cabin on a remote island. It’s the first time they’ve gone since the passing of her maternal grandmother, so heavy hearts are carried along on what should otherwise be a relaxing holiday. One thing leads to another, and Arietta befriends a spirit named Arco, then she’s off to help the ghosts that live on the island make peace and move on. The overarching plot of Arietta of Spirits treads familiar ground, but the charismatic, tender, heartfelt dialog and character interactions elevate the game above the crowd. The entire cast is earnest and endearing, something that will linger with me far longer than the tried-and-true game mechanics.

Although it’s a lazy comparison, it’s apt to say that the mechanics and structure of Arietta of Spirits ape those of Zelda, which gives the game a comforting familiarity as you bop the menagerie of forest fauna and spiritual ‘roamers’. Arietta has her own distinct set of slick moves, including a dodge roll and an area of effect shield, but expect for on a few occasions, neither of these are essential – although they do give you that feeling of being at least powerful enough to tackle what lies ahead. Where Arietta of Spirits veers off the well-trodden action RPG path is that it only features four-ish dungeons and a couple of side quests to delve into. On the one hand, this means the plot of the game (which is intriguing, by the way) feels a little half-baked, and it left me wanting more. But on the other hand, I was able to suck the marrow from this game’s bones in just a few days, which was very satisfying.

It might be slightly spoiler-ish, but the game does set itself up to be iterated on down the road, and I am totally down for that. Arietta of Spirits is charming in its world design, presentation and heartfelt characters, and its recognizable control system makes it welcomingly familiar and enjoyable, if not particularly inventive. If more games were as comfy and concise as Arietta of Spirits, the happier I’d be.

Arietta of Spirits was developed by Third Spirit Games, and it’s available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Arietta of Spirits was provided by Third Spirit Games. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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