A few hours in
Longer than a week, that’s for sure.
Longer than two and a half weeks, too, if we want to be accurate. And weeks in Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor have nine days, one for each of the goddesses, so… I’ve been at this a while. And I did make progress. I found Orloqq, who told me a little bit more about where to look for the parts. One part was in the pseudopods of a slime person, so I traded them some disgusting porn I found lying on the ground. A priestess told me she’d get me the second part if I gathered fetishes to all nine goddesses. And the third part… the less said about where I had to go to get that, and how fast and how often I ran away from apparitions in the middle distance, the better.
I’m not at the end yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever get at the end. Maybe with perseverance… But maybe not. It’s not even so bad, I think, to just stay a while.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is a tough game to review.
Normally when I say this, I mean that a game is difficult to describe. Or that it has multiple aspects, or I’m in two minds over it. But with Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, I mean this a bit more literally. I’m reminded of a thing I read at Penny Arcade, way back when Penny Arcade was less overtly terrible, that Gabe wrote after reviewing the first Assassin’s Creed. From a reviewer’s perspective, he said, it was a pretty terrible game: tons of repetition, time-wasting minigames and the constant tower-climbing, frustrating mechanics, until the whole thing blended together into a slog. But that’s only because reviewers tend to play games with a time limit and a goal. After letting go of that time limit, he discovered an Assassin’s Creed that was visually gorgeous, an immersive world with incredible NPC technology, and a cool story about tracing Templar targets through three cities, slowly working your way up a hierarchy. When played at its own pace, it came out much more strongly.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is a similar beast.
My initial experiences with Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor were fairly positive. The art style alone is… I understand this style isn’t for everyone, but within its genre it’s fairly spectacular. That such a limited palette can create such an amazing engine of vistas and viewpoints is amazingly admirable. Almost everything about this game is pretty.
Walking through the spaceport of I Already Forgot What This Spaceport Is Called is a visual experience. Aural too, sometimes. The background audio is supportive of the mood, and easy enough to ignore at worst. At best, like during the festival day of Theday-or-something, I found myself actively humming along with the singing NPCs. Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor‘s entire aesthetic is good, is what I’m trying to get at: evocative, unique, and consistent.
A casually pretty game lends itself to a casual gameplay experience, and this is exactly what Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor offers. The essential loop is this: Wake up. Receive money and pray. Go outside. Walk around the spaceport. Incinerate garbage; choose to preserve items if you want. At some point, eat. When it gets dark, go back to bed. Write in your diary.
There is an incentive to keep active, in that you do need money to eat; you can’t go to bed hungry. But it’s not like you need to go out of your way to get enough. Just burn some trash, and stick to the cheap kiosks instead of the fancy food carts — the blue/green market spaceport gyros is a good cheap option if you do crave some real food. And even if you’re flat broke, you can always get free money at the bank. Even late at night, when the forcefields go up and the game gently nudges you back home, you’ll always be able to get some handouts and some food.
With that pressure omnipresent, but otherwise low, you’re essentially free to explore the spaceport in peace. Again, my initial experience with this was good. I love exploring new places. And as the spaceport is a large, confusing labyrinthine place, there was plenty for me to find. The lotto shrine on the corner of blue and red arrow in the yellow district. The underground dirt-seller that’s vaguely next to your house. The quickest route to the sewer dungeon, where the container collector always sets up shop. The shrines for Beb, and Sphene, and Onas, and Lauster, and the other goddesses whose names keep eluding me. The place feels like a place, and confusing as it sometimes is, it can be fun and relaxing to walk around in.
There is the quest, obviously. That’s also casual at first. Without wishing to spoil much, the most substantial part of the quest I’m on right now is to collect fetishes of all 9 goddesses. I’m up 7 right now; I only need Lauster, and what’s-their-face, the life and death goddess. The green one, you know the one. It’s, in theory, a relaxing way to quest. Just exist in the spaceport, do your thing, and with time, you should get what you need. And in the meantime, why not look over there? Pick up some things, and decide if you want to carry them around. Maybe this bolt of cloth is valuable somewhere? I once carried a disease-warding prayer bell around three days, before I discovered that a market stall would buy it for twenty credits. That’s a lot of credits!
And hey, you can also keep things around just because you like how they look, or how they make you feel. Every day, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor puts a random selection of the items in your storage chest on your house walls. It’s nice. Brings the place alive, y’know?
If you play Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor like this, as an experience that you casually exist in while slowly working towards your nebulous goals, it’s unquestionable a one-of-a-kind experience. I had fun this way, for as long as my brain allowed me.
At some point, though, you might get it in your mind to really work towards completing the quest. Maybe, and this is pure hypothesis, but maybe you’re on some sort of review deadline and you’d like to see what comes next. And this is where the experience shifts.
The thing about Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is that its casual collection of laissez-faire systems doesn’t do great under pressure. For two of the three quest objectives, for instance, you’ll either need a ton of luck (I once found the exact porn the ooze person wants lying on the ground), or money. Either you walk around the spaceport forever, hoping against hope to find an Onas Fetish in the trash, or you try to put your mind to trading and getting the MC you need to just buy one.
I don’t think I have to explain why the former approach is suboptimal from a timing perspective. It’s like pulling a slot machine lever over and over, except instead of nothing coming out, what you get is a constant pile of low-fidelity garbage. Literally so: it’s garbage, and it’s drawn in low fidelity. I love Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor‘s visual style, but the fact of the matter is that it’s very hard to discern items without picking them up. That goes for items on the ground, as well as items in stalls. And having to grab everything just to see if it’s what you want, and burning it otherwise… Well, I mean, that’s what you do during casual play anyway. But if you’re really scrounging for one particular item, it gets frustrating if you never get it. I need two more goddess fetishes. I’ve needed two more goddess fetishes for eight days.
Or you can try to buy them!
For all its commercial organization, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor‘s spaceport is a terrible marketplace. Almost all market stalls shift inventory every day. They’ll still trade in the same kind of stuff, like scrap or cloth or electronics, just different items. That alone means that you can’t actually ‘just buy’ the fetish you need. It’s a constant journey of vigilance and luck to ever even find one. This is where that whole ‘low fidelity makes it hard to discern things’ comes into play, too: you might have an easier time of it, but unless it’s very clear that a merchant is trading in something I have or need, I’ll have to check the market stall by hand. Which takes time, and energy, and just a tiny bit of my happiness every time.
Because it’s not just enough to find the right fetish for sale, you also need to be able to buy it. And while you can make decent money burning trash (particularly after festival day), it’s often not enough. Nor is it easy to hold on to money. So you’ll always be pushed to engage with capitalism just a little bit more. Don’t burn everything, start thinking about what’s valuable. Which items usually sell well? Which are the high-price outliers? And where are they usually traded? Scrap metal and spellswatches are easy. I think cloth is found in the blue market a lot. The red market trades weapons and armor for adventurers, so if you find any of that…
But you also need money to live. For food, and for the occasional gendershift. It’s a constant, repeating drain on your finances to have to get to one of those bloody kiosks before your vision blurs and your skin itches.
And then there’s the Redscarves. The guards. Remember how one of them ate my money in the opening level? Yeah, it turns out they keep doing that. If you get too close to one of them, and what constitutes ‘too close’ is an ever-shifting morass of ‘oh shit, is it now, I hope it’s not now’ you get sucked into what’s essentially a one in three chance to not lose money. Otherwise, they’ll bite a sizable chunk out of your money. Like easily over half, in some cases.
You can see how it’s frustrating if you’re trying to get through this. It’s beyond frustrating. It’s not just a quest, it’s a constant avalanche of random variables that determine whether or not you’re allowed to try and continue. Unless you play hyper-cautiously, you will lose money to the guards. And you will have to look everywhere for the fetishes. And if you’re like me, you will start thinking about hitting all lotto shrines every day, just to increase your marginal chance of getting those two final fetishes. It’s not a great experience, playing this way.
Because you’re playing to win.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is not a game that you should play to win. It’s not built to support that. Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is a game that you should play if you want to experience life as a spaceport janitor (suffering from a skull curse). Which means that, yes, you’re the lowest rung on the ladder, and those who ‘serve and protect’ will pick on you because they can. And yes, some days — most days — are going to be similar, and maybe a little menial. And that your funds are going to go up and down, depending on circumstances often largely beyond your control.
It also means that you get to live like this:
The last few days of playing Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, I was miserable more often than not. Especially the last day, when I’d finally found fetishes of the death goddess for sale. But me without enough money, because I got robbed earlier in the day. So I started scrounging for items to sell, scrap metal and spellswatches and an old tablet computer I got from a shrine, and through incredibly happenstance finally managed to get just about enough… only to return to the shop and find that it’d closed for the night. And that the other shop, where I couldn’t even have afforded it, was walled off because of curfew. And there’s about a 100% chance that they won’t carry that fetish again tomorrow. I figured I probably wouldn’t want to play it again, after that.
I kind of want to play more Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor. To complete the quest, obviously, but… not with that in mind. I think what I want to do is load up a nice podcast, turn the game audio down, and just zen a little. Walk around, burn some garbage, maybe find some treasures to bring home. Maybe find those fetishes! That’d be nice. But I think I might be able to get that carefree feeling back if I just… accept, that pushing for resolution is only going to make me unhappy. Maybe Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is ultimately a game about taking life as it comes. Up and downs and warts and all.
We’ll see. In the meantime, if you want to try your own hand at diary-writing, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor can be obtained for ten Steambucks. Consider for yourself if it’s something you’d be interested in, but don’t be to quick to dismiss; love it or loathe it, it’s definitely one-of-a-kind.
Jarenth is terrible at cleaning in real life, so maybe that explains something or other about his progress in this game. Hang out with him for no particular reason on Twitter or Steam. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign?