Sunday, January 20, 2013

To the Moon

Sometimes, I play a game that strikes me so much that I immediately need to talk about it. In fact, that's the main reason I started this blog to begin with: to talk about games that stick with me after I've played them. To the Moon by Freebird Games is one of those games.

I was watching the first episode of a Let's Play on Youtube, and after the first five minutes I had to stop watching it because I knew I wanted to play it for myself. I finally got around to it this week and I'm glad I did. Being that I've just recently taken up reviewing indie games, I'm a bit late coming across this one, but I suppose I'm better late than never.

 To the Moon is a story of a man named John who is on his deathbed. The story is driven by characters Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, who both work for the Sigmund Corporation. The corporation revolves around granting a dying person's wish in the form of artificially implanted memories. John's final wish is to go to the moon, and it's up to Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts to figure out how to get him there.

Firstly, for a game created with the RPGMaker engine, this is a stunning work of art. It also truly shows off what the engine is capable of, because you never once enter into a battle. It's classified as an RPG, but it's more of an adventure/visual novel hybrid with a couple of puzzle elements tossed in. I've added a couple of screenshots, both from within the first five minutes of gameplay, so as not to spoil anything. There is a startling amount of detail in every tile, giving a visual representation of the sheer amount of care and dedication that went into this game. The memory sequences have a disjointedness to them that is extremely effective; characters randomly appear and colours fade, giving the effect of a real memory. There is one section that has the lines in a basketball court drawn incorrectly because John didn't remember what they really looked like.

To the Moon game had a number of musical moments that, alone, could bring a person to tears. Give the game's Bandcamp a listen and you'll see what I mean. The music was moving and set the perfect tone for a game that was so emotionally rich. Composed in a collaboration with Kan Gao, the game's creator and director, and Laura Shigihara of Plants Vs. Zombies fame, the score is stirring. The sound presentation is well done as well, with particular attention to detail. For example, if you go upstairs while someone is playing the piano, you may notice it becomes muffled. The nature sounds are realistic and fittingly soothing.

The story is complex and brilliantly crafted. Playing through a second time will reveal parallels and ties that you wouldn't understand on the first playthrough. In typical indie game fashion, it has a way of immersing the player into the story in ways that other media, typically films and books, cannot. Games like To the Moon reveal, to me, that video games are the future of storytelling. I believe that games are one of the most powerful storytelling tools we have now, but they're often overlooked as trivial entertainment.

Which isn't to say, of course, that it wasn't an entertaining game! While it left me weeping for a solid ten minutes after the credits had finished rolling, there was plenty of humor. For example, Dr. Watts initiates a battle scene with a squirrel. Just when you think there may be some battle elements to the game after all, you are accused by a young girl of abusing animals. Both Dr. Watts and Dr. Rosalene have amusing character quirks, such as Dr. Rosalene's food-related interjections ("for walnut's sake!"). John's favourite food is pickled olives, which, consequently, is my favourite food, too. During one of the scenes I just couldn't take it anymore and had to go to the fridge to get the remaining half jar to scarf down.

The game clocks in at somewhere around 4 hours long. Come prepared with some tissues for the end, because this game will not go easy on your emotions. You will probably cry. I hope it casts its spell over you, too.

The game won a well-deserved award and a sequel is, apparently, in the works, following the next patient on Dr. Watts' and Dr. Rosalene's adventures. The ending of the game suggests that there may be several more "episodes" to look forward to, each following new patients.

You can bet I'll be reviewing another of Freebird Games' titles in the near future. I was very impressed and impacted by this beautiful, sad, intricate and funny story. No amount of words I can give it will do it justice. Play it through and see what I mean. The game is available on Steam and on its website for $10, but you can also download a one-hour long demo for free.


1 comment:

  1. Nice review, Katie, I might have to play it if I can, even if it's just to see what they did with the engine. Just a note, you might want to change the font colour so it's not a dark font on a dark background; it's a little difficult to read.