Gaming Editor Louis Wright reviews Spirited Thief, finding that it pushes the boundaries of what a turn-based RPG can accomplish.

Gaming Editor | ( ̶T̶e̶m̶p̶) Lead Developer | MA Film & Television Research & Production | BSc Computer Science | BurnFM Deputy Station Manager | Generally Epic

Spirited Thief was received for free for review purposes.

Turn-based games are rife as a genre. From the commonality of traditional RPGs like Pokémon or Final Fantasy 7, to more tactical RPGs like Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, and even world simulators like Sid Meier’s Civilization there is a broad range to how these games can manifest themselves. Spirited Thief is another such game that pushes the boundaries of what the turn-based genre can encapsulate; puzzles, stealth, and strategic combat, all in one.

Ghoulish Gameplay

Gameplay in Spirited Thief is split into two halves. The ‘Scouting Phase’ focuses on the spirited half of the title, allowing the player to take control of a spirit to scout out the level for secrets, treasures, guards and traps. The ‘Loot Phase’ therefore allows the player to delve into the thief aspects of the game, taking advantage of the foreknowledge gained in their scouting.

Spirited Thief is another such game that pushes the boundaries of what the turn-based genre can encapsulate

As a stealth game, Spirited Thief is made unique by its ‘Scouting Phase’. The ability for the player to map out and explore all areas of the level, effectively risk free, and without requirements like keys and puzzle-solving is an interesting approach. Easing the player, and letting them play the game at their own pace simultaneously not only makes the game better for the more casual player, but adds an interesting twist to gameplay. Effectively allowing the player to choose their own difficulty with the amount of map they can scout and number of enemies they can track, the game is made more diverse and approachable for it.

In contrast the ‘Loot Phase’ leans heavily into the puzzle-solving, traditional stealth elements, and combat. A wide variety of traps and solutions to opening various doors and paths within levels keeps the brain-teasing tantalising throughout the many maps. The tools the player is provided with allow for improvisation and deviation from a standard solution in turn. Being able to swap positions with a guard in range, for example, is an innovative aspect of the player’s toolkit that allows for creativity in how they approach achieving their objective.

The tools the player is provided with allow for improvisation

Similar to how the ‘Scouting Phase’ emphasises the stealth elements going into the ‘Loot Phase’, the turn-based gameplay elevates the puzzle aspects of gameplay. By providing players with necessary information, like where the enemies will move to and which directions they will look on their next turn, informed decisions and proper planning can be done. This pushes the game as a puzzle-solving experience as the player must judiciously make actions to avoid the enemy eyeline and succeed in their mission.

Ghostly Graphics

Indie games using pixel art and sprite based graphics have been commonplace for the better part of the last decade. Spirited Thief is no exception to this trend but its use of a variety of effects visually keeps the game distinctive in its aesthetics.

The most distinctive aspect of Spirited Thief’s graphics is its use of lighting. With the majority of levels being set in dimly lit locales, the way the game plays with its lighting engine is both effective and visually interesting. Set pieces like fireplaces, lanterns, and windows allow for light and shadow not only emphasises the pixel-based style but provides it with a level of depth that it otherwise would not have. Having this visual ‘pop’ makes the game less generic in its presentation and more effective at conveying its environments.

This visual ‘pop’ makes the game less generic in its presentation and more effective at conveying its environments

As Spirited Thief is talented at conveying its environments, this ability extends to the way the game uses its graphics to convey information to the player. Icons used throughout the game are both clear and communicative about important information that is necessary for the player to properly play the game. Showing what direction enemies will be moving and looking in on their turns is necessary for players to take full advantage of their turns. Footstep icons in dark rooms also give the player an idea of where enemies could possibly be before entering an unexplored area to prevent them being unfairly found.

Spirited Thief’s art style is also used to its fullest advantage in translating both the environments and information to the player. The sprite work featured throughout is highly detailed when building the various maps to make them feel lived in and part of a fuller world. By contrast the aforementioned icons are made as simplistic as possible in order to ensure there is no confusion about what they are telling. Knowing when to use detail and when to restrain is used to full advantage in the game’s presentation.

Wicked Writing

Any turn-based RPG, even one as distinctly different as Spirited Thief, presents a story of some regard for the player to follow along with and to contextualise the world that they are in. Through a mix of interesting storytelling, memorable characters, and entertaining dialogue, the game succeeds in this regard.

Each line of dialogue is used to either expand the story of the game or better define its characters

While keeping the details of Spirited Thief’s story light so as to avoid spoilers, it can be said that the story presents a unique perspective of several RPG tropes. The tendency for characters to have an aversion to more mystical or spiritual elements of their world, for example, allows for an examination of the nature of living in a world where an intangible spirit creates a constant risk of an invasion of privacy. This spin on the classic fantasy setting is an extension of the boundary pushing tendencies that Spirited Thief employs.

The subversion that commonly occurs is backed by the game’s dialogue. Each line of dialogue is used to either expand the story of the game or better define its characters. The bickering between the two leads, Elaj and Trin, and those that they encounter sets the foundations of the way the game interacts with and presents itself to the player.



Spirited Thief, while on the surface an eclectic mix of genres and gameplay styles, weaves these together purposefully to create a seamless experience. Every element of the game plays off of each other well to form a hybrid of puzzles, stealth, and turn-based RPGs that is elevated by conscious decisions in forming the world. While some parts of the game could be considered slow or meandering they are more than made up for by the care that is clearly put into the craft of its gameplay loop.


Spirited Thief is available for purchase on Steam

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