Title: To The Moon
Developer: Freebird Games
Release Date: January 16, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: X.D. Network
Genre: Narrative Adventure
A video game’s reputation is what gives it life after launch. Specific titles turn up in conversation years after they released, see Dark Souls. I tend to find myself in the crowd of gamers who reflect on great narrative adventure games in hopes that they receive a bigger following. To The Moon is one of these titles. Brought up on various lists such as “Games That Made People Cry” or “Games That Made Me Feel.” This had me eager to see it come to Nintendo Switch so I could experience it for myself. After all, what could be so emotional about a game where you go to the moon?
Originally developed using RPG Maker XP, To The Moon was released on PC in 2011 by a small development team. Over the years, it has received mobile ports and Mac and Linux functional. Now, the project has reemerged to bring players back to the emotional story with a Switch release. While the game focuses on the same story beats, it has been updated using the Unity Engine, which gives it a beautiful coat of polish that modern gamers will appreciate.
To The Moon stars scientists, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts. They work for the Sigmund Corporation, a company that offers a wish-fulfillment service for the elderly and those who are about to die. This service uses technology that allows users to explore and then manipulate and change the memories of clients so they can die without regrets. Our leads have been hired by Johnny, an older man who wants to go to the moon, but he can’t remember why. So the Scientists head into his mind and journey through an interactive version of his memories — all of this to find an answer to his question and grant his wish.
The gameplay is limited, but expect more interaction than seen in a visual novel. As you explore recreations of Johnny’s memories, you are tasked with finding essential events and establishing memory links. You can then use these links on a small puzzle to travel back to the previous memory, rinse, and repeat. The memory travel begins with players interacting with an old and experienced Johnny. As you progress, he gets younger and younger like this is some backward Benjamin Button stuff. Wait, isn’t that regular progression? Reverse chronology, those are the words I’m looking for.
The idea of reverse chronology is exciting, but it is seriously helped by the commentary that the scientists provide, which makes it a lot more interesting. They also add in small doses of fun in the form of witty dialogue. The observations they make and the interactions they have in Johnny’s memory are delightful and pepper up what may have been dull gameplay segments with amusement. It’s also very much needed, as the overall story feels like watching a car crash in reverse.
This sounds negative, but it’s more along the lines of, “you know the car crash is going to happen,” and it makes each positive memory you see somewhat tragic. It’s a harrowing story in the best possible way, filled with character-driven suffering. The music assists here too as the soundtrack is filled with some beautiful pieces that create high tension or atmosphere.
There is an incredible amount of sprite work that depicts the people in Johnny’s life at different ages, with many characters being given unique animations. However, you don’t get the same level of detail as you would with a visual novel. Still, I think animations are the coolest ways to get someone’s personality across without having to make them too tropey, especially when the playable characters aren’t delved into that much.
You will find out a lot more about Johnny and his close friend River as you go through his mind than you will about Eva and Neil, and that’s fine. They get a ton of screentime to show you their characters in more subdued ways that make them compelling. What’s also good to highlight is how To The Moon handles a character on the Autism spectrum well, which is something that means a lot to me.
To The Moon is an incredible game that explores morality, death, and regrets in an easy to understand way. The Switch version offers players the chance to play the best version possible and gives modern gamers a chance to play a title they may have missed out on.
It could have easily punched below the belt with some of its themes but was able to stave off dreariness in favor of a heartfelt story that has you think about the moments in life that matter. The only question left is if they can find paradise? Oh, wait, that’s the sequel.
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