The original Legend of Zelda turned 35 this year. Widely regarded as one of the best games of all time, it’s spawned a list of games longer than my arm, your arm and everyone you know’s arm put together. They don’t call them Zelda clones for no reason, y’know.
And now, we have another one. Enter Arietta of Spirits, the latest release from Third Spirit Games.
As the game’s title may suggest, we play as Arietta, a thirteen year old girl, who is visiting the island for the first time since the passing of her grandmother a year prior. One night, she awakes to a strange spiritual creature who tells her that she has the ability to interact with the spirit realm and see the dead. Using this newfound power, Arietta must try to uncover the mysteries of the island, and help a few of the long-dead residents along the way.
As Arietta moves from screen to screen, there’s a raft of enemies to defeat, as well as the occasional collectible to find. Starting with only a simple wooden sword, you’ll unlock a spirit shield and some handy upgrades to your health bar as you explore and defeat bosses. You’ll meet a wide cast of characters, who need your help in some way or another.
Whilst it’s clear that the game is heavily influenced by Zelda, if you’re looking for something rivalling the seminal series in terms of complexity and depth, prepare to be disappointed. Arietta of Spirits is a relatively lightweight affair and is missing many of the key elements that make the source material so good.
Most seriously, the game is far too linear. Arietta of Spirits seems too occupied in pushing players from point A to point B without caring for building a world that feels explorable. Unless you’re on the hunt for the final few collectibles, there is really nothing encouraging you to wander off the beaten path. There aren’t any rare upgrades hiding out there in the world just waiting to be discovered, just like there aren’t any puzzles to solve or dungeons to crawl. The few side quests that the game does have are placed in your way, and you can’t miss them.
It’s a real shame, because a lot of enjoyment comes from the exploration aspects of adventure games. There’s nothing quite like finding a rare item that makes all that wandering and time spent exploring feel worth it.
And whilst the narrative is decent, with its fair share of both powerful and light-hearted moments, it often threatens to disrupt the flow of Arietta of Spirits. At times, it seems that every screen has some kind of cutscene or dialogue that you need to sit through. Sometimes, you just want to bash things with your sword, not have to listen to exposition from your spirit guide.
Those issues aside, what is there is actually relatively solid. You might draw the conclusion that having the entire combat system rely on thwacking stuff with your sword a set number of times would make it feel mundane and laborious after the first few enemies. You’d be wrong. Arietta of Spirits does a good job at making the combat feel fresh the entire way through.
The variety of enemies crammed into such a short game is commendable, and you’ll be constantly tested. By the third act of the game, you’ll be encountering groups of enemies and boss fights where you’ll need to combine everything that you’ve learned through the game. You’ll need to skillfully combine attacks, dodges, rolls and the use of the spirit shield, all while avoiding a slew of projectiles.
And for those looking for an even greater challenge, an extreme difficulty is unlocked once the story is completed. Here, it’s a one-hit death and any health upgrades are only temporary.
It’s clear that Third Spirit Games has put a lot of time and effort into making Arietta of Spirits look absolutely beautiful too. I encounter a lot of pixel art reviewing indie games, and this is amongst the best. This kind of art-style is inherently simplistic, but Arietta of Spirits adds little details – like complex shadowing and animations – that bring it into the 21st Century. It also hits the nostalgia button for those looking for a true retro adventure.
It would be unfair to say I didn’t enjoy my time with Arietta of Spirits, but I left with the overriding feeling that it needed more. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a solid foundation here and it’s an overall enjoyable experience; the combat is refreshing, the narrative is solid and the game is beautiful. If you’re looking for a Zelda-lite experience, Arietta of Spirits doesn’t really put a foot wrong.
But to be a truly great game, it needs more content. It needs more exploration options, more side quests, more upgrades. You’ll only be getting three or four game hours with this one, and there’s nothing to really bring you back.
Looking for a little Zelda-esque experience on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One? Arietta of Spirits has you covered