To The Moon Review

Platform: PC / Genre: RPG/Visual Novel

Developer: Freebird Games / Publisher: Freebird Games

Life is a fragile and fleeting concept. As children, death is furthest thing from our minds. As adults though, its an inevitability we become aware of it far too soon. For some, its not a realization people would not care to hear (or in this case read). So how then does a game tackle the question of death, and by association, life? Perhaps that is what makes To The Moon work. It gets our emotions, and uses those emotions in the rarest of ways, especially for a video game. Using death as its setting and life as it’s plot, To The Moon is a poignant and touching tale about one man’s dream coming true while he nears life’s only absolute truth: death.

It is painfully difficult to really dissect too much of the story; the entire narrative is crucial to the  flow of the game. Just talking about the basic set-up is possibly too much, but here is what I can divulge. To The Moon has you follow the exploits of two doctors tasked with recreating the memories of a dying man, so that he may be at peace prior to his death. It is a simple set-up. However the execution is near flawless in terms of storytelling. The minute you begin the journey of changing one man’s memories, the mystery behind To The Moon will then begin to unfold. Once that happens, it becomes very difficult to look away until you have completed the experience.

To The Moon is not a graphically rich game; it was made using the RPG Maker XP engine. It touts a 16-bit graphical interface reminiscent of games like Chrono Trigger or Lunar: Silver Star Story. From a personal standpoint, its nostalgic and hardly effects my opinion on the game. I will recognize that this will turn off some gamers though. It shouldn’t, but I recognize that it might. If anything though, it impresses me more that this 2D  title can capture the sheer amount of emotion that it does compared to its 3D counterparts. That is something I genuinely applaud; its proves we don’t need more polygons (if any) to drive a point home.

However, the old-school aesthetic is where the RPG similarities end. There are no random battles, there is no grinding, there is no experience to be gained  This game is fueled by its intriguing narrative. It is more akin to a visual novel or point-and-click adventure title then an RPG. However, I believe this is to the game’s advantage. While I almost guarantee every SNES-generation RPG gamer will enjoy everything about To The Moon, the absence of RPG norms favors a broader audience, and in general, makes sense for the game nature in whole. Why would there be random generated battles when all the doctors are trying to is explore memories. I wont say that game developers haven’t shoe-horned in traditional gameplay mechanics in order to sufficiently label their product a game rather then interactive media (which I find ludicrous to begin with), but I consider the minimal gameplay appropriate in this rare case. Sometimes, we just need to focus on moving along with the narrative of a game, and see what is in store for us at the end.

To The Moon also features a wonderful soundtrack which supplements the narrative very effectively. Beginning with the subtle yet powerful two-note theme that plays upon the doctors’ arrival, to the ominous tones present in some of the most important portions of the games. The developers clearly knew how to get the most out of their game using what little sounds it had.

I like to think the game has few faults, but I will concede that the game will not appeal to everyone. A truly sublime story can only carry a game so far before the a player suffers from a lack of gameplay. Sure, the game has moments where you have to actually use your keyboard for things other than movement, but the bulk of the game will be you clicking from point A to point B, followed by endless dialogue. In that regard, this game is hard to recommend to the person who wants to constantly be entertained with game play rather then brilliant dialogue. Rest assured though, there is plenty of button mashing – someone has got to progress the story!

For me, Freebird Games really came out of nowhere with this title. I never thought I would be so enamored with characters I had gotten to know over the course of four short hours. I never would have thought that something with little to no gameplay would have kept me so interested from beginning to end. Ken Gao has proven that hes a master at his craft, evident of a phenomenal story that he will (by nature) fail to top with To The Moon‘s sequel. (Side Bar: If he does top it, expect me to nominate him for the Nobel Prize in Literature.) Looking at the “now” though, To The Moon is a game crafted with an immense amount of tact and intellect. Perhaps it is not a technical masterpiece, due its pure lack of genuinely good gameplay. However, through its thoughtful character dialogue and intricately woven narrative, it stands to say that it is a tale worthy of its (eventual) title, a classic.