Even though To the Moon has been out for a while now, it is (almost) never too late to review an indie title. With it recently making its way onto Steam, going on sale for the Fall sale and likely again for the Winter one coming just around the corner it is a perfect time to do so. Plus it was announced recently that a sequel is in the works, so now is the time to play this gem.
If you have never heard of To the Moon it is an indie game developed by Kan Gao and the Free Bird Games team. It tells the story of a man’s dying wish and your efforts to make that come true, well sort of. It is about the story more than it is about the gameplay and I’ll dive into why later on in the review. It was developed using RPG Maker XP and if you’ve ever used RPG Maker or played a game that used it you’ll recognize that instantly.
Now something I want to get out of the way up front is the genre specific description often given for this game. It is often advertised as an Adventure/ Role Playing Game, neither of these fit right in my opinion. If you have ever considered buying the game because of these two descriptions you should pause for a second and read on. The core gameplay of this title is the hunting for clues in the environment much like a classic adventure title but unlike games like that they aren’t really all that hidden and in fact some will come to you just as you progress the story; almost feeling forced on you taking away that adventure feeling. Sometimes you’ll walk around and look for something that is tied to the man’s memory, such as a stuffed platypus or an origami bunny, others are ideas or stories given to you in dialogue and others appear as the story happens in front of you. The other gameplay moment takes place when you have this little mini puzzle to flip tiles to complete a picture, this isn’t really worth discussing.
There are no RPG elements in this game, except for a moment of parody that is part of the story. Your character doesn’t level up, there are no battles or exchanges based on character stats, and in fact there are no character stats. The only thing you are role playing is by taking control of a character, which is just the point of every video game. You do collect notes, and other tidbits which does have a RPG familiarity but that is about it. It mostly gets the RPG tag because of the aesthetics.
All of these gameplay elements are really only there to mix up the true point of this game, the story. To the Moon tells an amazing story, so even if you don’t feel like there is much a game here it really doesn’t matter. To the Moon really to me feels like a step beyond a Visual Novel and has just become a fully Interactive Novel. The moments reminiscent of a classic adventure title with the minor puzzles and searching around the environment for clues or another story are a bonus to the overall experience of the main story.
This story revolves around a dying Johnny Wyles, and his wish to go to the moon. You play as Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts who work for a company called Sigmund Corp. Sigmund specializes in a technology that can alter the memories of a patient and use this technology for a “wish fulfillment”; put in quotes since this wish is based on altering memories so as you can guess it isn’t a real fulfillment but a mental one. They do this only when someone is on their death bed so the memory alterations stick until they soon pass on.
You’ll follow Dr. Eva and Dr. Neil as they traverse through Johnny’s memories looking for the connecting moments to go further into his past and find the reason he wants to go to the moon and alter his memories so he builds the “reality” in which that happens. Through this you’ll meet his recently deceased wife named River, his friends, family and much more. These moments with the ghosts of his past can be very moving and stand out; I wouldn’t say any of them are groundbreaking but they are well written and organized. I’d like to tell you more but I will not ruin this story for you. There is just so much charm here in the characters, the story and the overall environment and reality that is woven. I almost feel like I can hear what these characters sound like when they deliver their dialog. Don’t worry though the story isn’t all moving moments, there is a lot of humor layered on their too and just natural human interaction to mix things up.
The music is another high point of this game, if you love video games with a moving soundtrack you will love this and I seriously suggest buying the version that includes the soundtrack. They are all piano based and work well with the very charming atmosphere of this game and some tracks are woven into the narrative. I’ve personally listened to the soundtrack on its own several times while playing the game and after beating it. The only vocal track sang by Laura Shigihara is one of my personal favorites.
The design is well done too, the RPG Maker design on the game heralds back to classic gaming but does nothing to inhibit the relevance and serious tone of the story. Some would probably call it a positive that they were able to create such a dynamic moving story based on design that isn’t very true to life. Not once did I come by a glitch or something that stuck out, and everything was animated well. The levels (or memories) themselves can leave a little to be desired on occasion since they are confined; as memories usually are. While this stays true to the atmosphere this again cuts that adventure feeling down even more since on some instances everything is right in front of you. Other areas such as Johnny’s house are well designed and spacious though, expanding a good space and are fun to explore.
It took me right at four hours to get through the entire story, a good length but not a great one. For most gamers this will probably be a game you can buy on a weekend and be done before Sunday night. If that amount of time is worth the full price is something you’ll have to be decide on your own, I can tell you the story feels worth it. If nothing else grabbing it on sale is a major bargain and should not be passed up by any indie game lover. After all those four hours I was very charmed by the game and felt very satisfied when the credits rolled, only disappointed that it had to end.
You can grab it on Steam, GOG, and Origin or off their website and the soundtrack can be bought with the game or on its own via a band camp page. If you are still on the fence head over to the Free Bird Games website and play the demo!