Oct 012012
 

Hello everyone!  It’s now October, a month that’ll prove to be rather eventful for the site.  To kick the month off, we here at Moar Powah! are going to change our review system a little bit.  Instead of doing the score breakdown, we will be replacing it with pro/con columns near the very end.  Fear not though, as we will still leave in the overall score.  Personally, I’ve come to appreciate the pro/con system a lot more these days over review breakdowns. Let’s get started.

Anyway, this week I’m reviewing the very special indie hit, To The Moon.  Now, if you’ve been following me for a while, you can probably imagine that I value stories, characters, and storytelling in my games quite a bit.  I’m always up for a game with great gameplay, sure, but I find myself almost constantly searching for games that have some sort of strong narrative, or at least attempt one.  I heard about To The Moon, and its particularly strong story. Often described as a visual novel/RPG-styled game, I figured To The Moon would fit the story bill, so I gave it a shot. When I completed it, I discovered that it was impossible for me to do anything but praise the very aspects I was looking for.

To The Moon is built in RPG Maker, that’s for sure.  Sure, RPG Maker might not be a sign of quality, I’d like to think RPG Maker was just a means to an end.  In fact, I’m not sure RPG Maker was actually needed, as a lot of free engines could have probably been used.  There isn’t much in the way of gameplay.  You move around, talk to people, and occasionally solve puzzles.

95% of the time you’re actually ‘playing’ To The Moon, you’ll be doing this.

At certain points, various other gameplay “styles” pop up.  They’re almost always used as humorous references, but they’re largely inconsequential, as these alternative “styles” make up not even 1% of the game.

Like this…

…and this…

… and some of this.

And quite a few more styles.  The main gameplay could’ve been swapped out for more of a visual novel type affair, and it wouldn’t have affected the game too much.

See, it even has choices, just like in my VNs! Even if they are most meaningless!

The graphics, meanwhile, just scream “I was made in RPG Maker!”  Alas, though they resemble SNES-like sprites, I didn’t think there was a need for the graphical capabilities of RPG Maker.  Sure, the sprites are used pretty well, and are often pretty expressive, which often supplements scenes quite well, but otherwise the graphics are quite… modest.

What is the meat of the game, exactly?  Everything else.  You see, To The Moon’s main draw is its short and sweet little story.  A little story that happens to genuinely be very damned emotional. Allow me to get what I didn’t like about the storytelling out of the way: the jokes.  The jokes were almost always pop culture references, and pop culture references used not amazingly well.  In fact, they were often pretty cringe-worthy.  Occasionally, they were even pretty dissonant with what was going on during the game.  I’m not against all the jokes, but I like to think there’s a time and place for everything, and later on, jokes certainly aren’t one of them.  Fortunately, the jokes eventually become more tactful and relevant, but still, too little, too late.

I’ll give it points for originality, but…

And that’s literally all I have to say that isn’t overwhelmingly positive.  The rest of the writing is absolutely phenomenal.  The story is amazing, the characters are very well fleshed out, and the storytelling is top notch.  The story is basically about two doctors who work for a corporation that gives new memories to people on their deathbeds.  These two doctors get assigned to a new patient, Johnny, and his request seems to be a rather hard one to fulfill.  He wants to go to the moon, you see.  Thus, the two doctors have to travel back through his most significant memories and plant the seeds in his head, seeds that will lead him to the moon.

What the doctors soon realize is that Johnny didn’t have the most cheery life.  The doctors are taken through a journey of his life, where memories are either very joyful, touching, or heartbreaking in some way.  The two doctors are forced to go through his memories backwards; in that order, it seems the events get more and more uplifting, but in reality, Johnny’s life gets more and more heartbreaking.  I found this feeling to help me empathize with the two doctors more than if we went through chronologically, because we shared this sense of dread that comes from realizing where Johnny’s life goes.

I’d like to say things aren’t all dreary in Johnny’s life, like this incredibly romantic moment, but knowing future events certainly doesn’t help.

Essentially, I never came across a truly dull moment in Johnny’s life.  I connected with pretty much every memory showed, and I was always joyed, saddened, and touched when appropriate.  However, everything I just mentioned pales in comparison with one particular scene near the end.  This one scene, the peak of the experience, connects everything together, and defines everything To The Moon is about.  It almost effortlessly conveys every single emotion that I felt over the past couple of hours.  I can confidently say that this scene alone is worth playing through the entire (already great) game for.

From there, it’s an almost straight shot to the ending (with another “gameplay” mechanic, one that’s a gigantic nod to Plants vs. Zombies).  The ending is pretty polarizing, as I’ve seen quite a few individuals upset at what direction the game goes in from the amazing scene.  I rather liked the ending myself, and I consider it a worthy ending to the entire three-hour emotional roller coaster.  However, I do recall thinking I would’ve ended it differently at the time.  Additionally, I don’t think I can make the best argument for this ending.  Nonetheless, I can say that the ending was a very tearful sendoff to the entire journey through Johnny’s memories.

I can honestly say that the game would not be half as effective without the excellent music.  Every single track is used excellently, and every single track is art.  I often talk about soundtracks fitting the games quite well, but that’s probably never been as true as it has been with To The Moon.  Special note goes to Everything’s Alright, performed by Laura Shigihara (who has done songs for a few indie games here and there), which supplements one of the best segments in the game.  Not only does the music always fit the game like a glove, but it’s also quite memorable enough on its own. I still often give the OST a listen to on its own (granted, it hasn’t been long since I played To The Moon, but still).  To The Moon’s OST is probably some of the best video game music I’ve listened to.

All in all, To The Moon was quite the experience.  Though I certainly did not miss some elements (many of the jokes, the hodgepodge of gameplay elements), I don’t think they detracted from the experience much.  The writing and music make To The Moon a very stellar game.  To The Moon is something that I’m honestly very glad I discovered.

Pros:

–Top-notch writing

–Memorable and fitting music

–Expressive sprites

Cons:

–Maybe a little too much gameplay for an experience that does not need it

–Stupid jokes

–Modest graphics

Rating: 4.5/5

rating45

Miscellaneous details:
Developer: Freebird Games
Publisher: Freebird Games
Available on: PC
Genre: Adventure
Rating: N/A
Release date: November 1st, 2011

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  3 Responses to “Review: To The Moon”

  1. I actually really liked Watts' corny jokes. Actually, without the jokes, Watts wouldn't have quite as much character. He's the stooge to Rosalene's straight man, so for me the stupidity was appropriate as much as it was necessary.

    • Well, they are doctors, so I was imagining they'd be a little more mature. Besides, it wasn't just his jokes, there were a lot of jokes all over, much of which I thought stupid.

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