There are many ways to indulge in procrastination as a writer, from cutting down trees to reorganising your Pokémon cards, but running a bathhouse for spirits is by far the best ‘I’m totally working on my fantasy novel honest’ excuse I’ve ever heard. It’s also exactly what happens to the inspiring author protagonist of Spirittea – a management simulator, with a mixture of RPG and life sim elements, from developer Cheesemaster Games – after drinking tea from a magic teapot. Though you have to wonder if there’s something magical about those leaves… Guided by cat spirit Wonyan, your goal is to rebuild the ruined bathhouse, ease the troubles of the local spirits and fill your pockets with cash along the way.
We recently played the Spirittea demo and, while it only covers the game’s first hour, it gave us a taste of what running the bathhouse is like. Though the tasks available to you in the demo are simple – such as cutting wood and cleaning towels – they certainly keep you busy, ensuring there’s no awkward moment where you’re waiting around for something to happn.
The spirits themselves also bring a puzzle element to running the bathhouse. Each one is assigned a season which determines their likes and dislikes; deducing a spirit’s season either through experimentation or finding a scroll hidden about town will help you give them the perfect bath. This includes putting the correct elixir in their bathing water and, more importantly, who they sit next to – spirits prefer to sit next to others belonging to the season following theirs, winter spirits like sitting next to spring spirits for example, but dislike sitting next to ones belonging to the season opposite to theirs.
While this may seem simple, it’s complicated by how each spirit takes up a specific amount of space, so, rather than tossing them into the bath, you need to carefully consider their placement. It’s an interesting glimpse into Spirittea’s hidden complexity, which will eventually lead you to hosting giant Lord Spirits and expanding the services you offer. Best of all, you decide the bathhouse’s opening hours – an act that makes running it feel like a choice rather than a chore.
You’ll certainly want time outside the bathhouse too, because the town, which you name, contains a host of areas for you to explore. There’s a beach where little hermit crabs live, a temple and a collection of shops, including a karaoke bar. None of the townsfolk lock their doors either, so you’re free to rifle through their belongings whenever you please. Though the dialogue is limited in the demo, the diverse personalities of the townsfolk is still present accompanied by delightful character portraits. Some residents mention the possibility of hanging out – a feature they mention, with a degree of self-awareness, is not available in the demo. You can even interact with the local pets – my personal favourite being Radish the cat.
Aside from running the bathhouse, you, of course, have a novel to write, which is achieved by finding inspiration points. The demo contains no hints about how these points are discovered, but their inclusion does suggest you’ll have to balance scrubbing down spirits with voyaging across the seas of creative writing. Good thing you can make magic tea… You’ll also be able to collect a variety of critters from around town with the help of a net Animal-Crossing-style. (Hopefully none will be as difficult to catch as the scarab beetle in New Horizons, which I’m not bitter about. Everything is fine.) With these activities, including others not touched upon in the demo, Spirittea hopes to create a vibrant experience where you don’t feel confined to the bathhouse.
From what we’ve experienced, Spirittea is building up to be an intriguing approach to the management sim genre – both in and outside the bathhouse. Whether Spirittea can manage all of its features without feeling cluttered is yet to be proven, but the rural Japan aesthetic mixed with a dash of surreal humour promises a charming game. Hopefully we’ll soon find ourselves running a successful spirit bathhouse and maybe – eventually – finishing that novel.