It’s been a while since I have started to put more time into gaming now that I can afford it. I have always been fascinated and attracted to games that have interesting storyline and with good pacing/gameplay, giving me a wholesome experience.
One of the best of these came in the form of a simplistic game, akin to old JRPG(Japanese role-playing game) where it is 8-bit in graphics, but is packed with so much stories that possibly surpasses a bigger budget game. Freebird Games’ To The Moon is a rare gem among current indie titles.
(this review is written with excessive care to avoid revealing spoilers, but some minor spoilers may still appear in order to review this game fully)
Johnny is a sick man that appoints two doctors from a strange company that is able to alter memories with mysterious technology. However, to achieve his dream of going to the Moon, the doctors have to find the true reason why he wants to go there. When Johnny is unable to remember the reason, the doctors delve into his memories and uncover past secrets
To The Moon is a game that puts in most of the effort into the story rather than the gameplay. It is meant to be(i think) a combination of 8-bit JRPG, where the player is allowed to control the characters fully, and the storytelling of a visual novel. The game has none( except for the early ‘battle’ scene) of the combat featured in many JRPG games and players use the arrow keys to move around interacting with objects or NPCs.
The story, in a word, is fantastic. It involves many mysteries and includes foreshadowing in several scenes or background that is packed with details. This is a game that actually got me hooked onto the story to find out more about Johnny. The whole events take place in Johnny’s memories and we control the doctors to navigate them. It takes place from his most recent memories all the way to his childhood, with each memory section giving small bits of clues to the truth of his desire to go to the moon. I am amazed at how it keeps itself from revealing too much and yet is able to introduce interesting bits to keep me interested. Furthermore, the writer incorporates some real-life issues such as specific syndrome and also events which I won’t spoil too much. It also has good pacing and does not feel rushed or leaving me bored halfway.
Gameplay wise, there is a mixture of clue finding and puzzle solving. For the former, you will have to navigate and search the particular memory area that contains certain ‘memory links’ to unlock the next area. Essentially, Johnny kept a ‘memento’ that is guarded by a shield and can only be broken when the player discovered the different ‘memory links’ that are scattered around. The ‘memento’ themselves are something that the player should ponder over, as they are crucial to the story.
For the puzzle solving, basically when a player has broken the shield and interacted with the ‘memento’, they will need to ‘clean’ them up to access the next area. With the image above, you have to press the colourful buttons to ‘flip’ the tiles until there are only transparent tiles left. The game kept the counter of the current number of flips, the ideal number that is the least possible to solve, and the overall number of flips. It acts as a sort of achievement that actually is not related to the story at all, but hey, at least it makes you brainstorm once in a while. 😀
Perhaps it’s because I have been so immersed in it that I find myself sympathising with Johnny. As the game takes me through his whole life, from childhood to the current time, I I start to become familiar with Johnny. I will bet that almost anyone will be feeling the emotion that Johnny felt as it actually relates to real life and comprise of real life issues. Johnny himself is, in a sense, like us; he is just a normal man trying to live a normal life. All the time, as we go back through his life, we see how he resembles us and also made us realise how we ourselves have changed as we grew up.
The Doctors themselves provide the comedy side to the otherwise sad tale. You will be able to control either Dr. Watt or Dr. Eva. Out of these two, I must say that Dr. Watt is actually the funniest and unique characters in the game. He is a nerd that likes to comment inappropriate stuff in the wrong situation. There will be a section where he and Dr. Eva just try to influence Johnny through various means that left me laughing for a few minutes.
There are actually more characters than these bur revealing them will just spoil the mysteries and thus I shall only say that what you see is not what it seems it is.
Music deserves its own section entirely. The creator of the music in this game is really talented and each soundtrack evokes an emotion and is deeply memorable. They are played at the right time and cue to enhance the scene or story in a subtle yet crucial way. They are simplistic compared to an orchestra-like soundtrack from a big budget game, but they work particularly well in this genre. Simplistic but memorable, the music achieved this well. Till now, whenever I listen back to the soundtrack, I will be able to remember which particular moment it was introduced in the game.