by Chris Priestman
reviewed on PC
Fighting The Tears
Practically every game invokes emotion in its players, whether it be joy, anger, surprise or fear. Rarely is sadness and sorrow associated with games. In Kan Gao's To The Moon, however, it hits you like a brick wall and squeezes your heart dry. Its execution is masterful and is the culmination of one of the greatest game narratives ever realised. Just thinking back over the experience that To The Moon provides is a fight against tears. Johnny's dream of going To The Moon will mean nothing to you before playing the game, but by the game's end it encapsulates just about everything you have ever cared about.
To Know A Man
Etched in the image of many classic JRPG's, To The Moon looks to be an innocent and sweet tale that could barely lift your weight, but that's what it wants you to think. Its narrative shares the same kind of ideas and emotional baggage as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You play as Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Neil of the Sigmund Corporation as they work their way backwards through their latest client's life via his memories to ensure his dream is realised. They do this by using a capable machine to enter the person's memories to learn of a way to make a subtle change that will alter these memories to the desired outcome. It's one of those things that are best accepted rather than toiling over the questions the complex process poses.
To The Moon starts off with a slow introduction; some hints of the luring sadness are played out with a touching piano melody, but by and large you will be laughing at the jaunts of the main characters and learning that the game contains very little gameplay. Normally this latter point would be heavily frowned upon. No gameplay? Outrageous! Of course as you can tell by the praise already present in this article, it's not much of a problem. In fact, the little bit of recognisable gameplay that is present in To The Moon is fairly repetitive and quite obsolete in the long run. This comes into play upon finding one of the many memory links that are required to travel further back through the memories. To access them a quick tile-based puzzle needs solving; it's nothing too hard or exciting. The rest of the game involves a bit of exploration, but mainly you will be clicking through dialogue bubbles as you get suckered into the plot.
Flood Of Tears
The gradual maturation of To The Moon's incredible narrative comes to a high upon throwing an unexpected twist in the works. Before this point, the narrative was pre-occupied with providing an enticing mystery for you to figure out. (Futilely, I might add.) Johnny's dream of going to the moon ends up being much more complicated and ambiguous than originally contrived, and the only way the mystery is going to be solved is to reach his childhood. Unfortunately for the doctors, they encounter a problem in trying to reach Johnny's earliest memories. Not to give too much away, but the game's plot twist brought me to tears in the most surprising and touching gaming moments I have ever encountered. Of course, to call it a 'gaming moment' is awkward as you are just watching the narrative play out in front of you most of the time. However, Kan uses the stronger connection players tend to have with games over other mediums to ensure this emotional impact is one only a game could really deliver. From that point onwards everything becomes clear and the emotion just keeps on coming until the end credits.
A large part of To The Moon's success is due to the soundtrack. Soft piano tunes make up most of it, but they are weaved within the narrative so tightly that when the plot twist chimes with Laura Shigihara's vocals you are hung out to dry. It's one of those gaming moments that you will never forget, as is the game as a whole. From the mysterious origami rabbits to the hilarious animal cruelty RPG battle scenario; To The Moon is made up of moments that hit your emotions hard. I even enjoyed riding about on the ponies giggling like a schoolgirl.
A Rollercoaster Ride
One of the most overused and thus boring ways to describe anything nowadays is "like a rollercoaster." I would just like to reclaim that phrase for just a second though so that To The Moon may effectively be described with said phrase. When we say "like a rollercoaster" we mean that the object of the sentence had its ups and downs, threw our emotions all over the place, and was ultimately a thrilling and memorable ride. If there is one game that does that this year, it is To The Moon. There are no contenders when it comes to grasping your emotions and hurtling them to places you didn't know existed.
You will notice that the fine details are left out within this review, and for good reason. For one, I would not want to spoil the game's narrative, the engaging characters and the funny and sad moments. The other problem is that words honestly cannot describe how the game made me feel. I will allow my laughter and tears to do the talking. To The Moon is an incredible journey, both physically and emotionally. You would be a fool to miss it.
Incredible fusion of narrative and soundtrack that delivers such raw emotion that only a computer game is capable of housing it.
Short quips of gameplay just seem repetitive.