It isn’t often that a game prompts you to question the values surrounding your existence and the meaning of your relationships. Indie title To the Moon sets out to challenge you and leaves a lasting impression that will move and possibly inspire.
Created using the RPG Maker tools, To the Moon is a story-focused title centring on the plight of two scientists who have the means to traverse and rewrite the memories of dying people. They take on this weighty responsibility as part of their everyday job, believing that patients should be able to pass on peacefully with the belief that their lives have been fulfilling.
Whilst much can be said about the ethics surrounding such a practice, To the Moon takes place from the perspective of the scientists as they take on their next charge, a man with one wish to fulfil before he dies, to go to the moon. The solemn themes are handled tastefully and with enough quaint humour thrown in to break up the pace.
In an age of facial animation and celebrity voice actors, it could be considered difficult to portray characters’ personalities through pixel art and written text. Despite this, To the Moon isn’t hindered by its lack of modern technology. Instead, it relies on a plot that is fascinating to follow and exciting to decipher. Scientists Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts are brought to life with well written banter and quirky animations.
The game’s strength lies primarily in its narrative. As the protagonists wade through the memories of their patient and discover that not everything is as it seems, the mystery deepens. The plot unfolds not only through cut scenes but also via visual cues and mood-setting background music, both of which are endearing in their simplicity. The graphic style is reminiscent of older Japanese RPGs, a welcome approach if only for the wave of nostalgia it evokes.
The game isn’t always very subtle in its attempts to manipulate your emotions. It makes a blatant effort to be confronting, which can occasionally come across as a little self indulgent. A few moments can feel too drawn out and clichéd, but this may be a matter of personal taste. Regardless, it is easy to become emotionally invested as the story twists and turns.
Gameplay consists of exploration and light puzzle solving but it doesn’t provide much of a challenge. The game isn’t about combat or strategy, but rather unravelling the mystery surrounding the patient and contemplating the questions raised. To the Moon takes the calculated risk of relying on your receptiveness to the emotions each turn of the story stirs. The game is confronting and may very well tie into your experiences on a personal level. You should be wary of getting dust caught in your eyes.
An integral part of the experience, the soundtrack warrants praise for its ability to set the mood. Simply put, it is startlingly beautiful and you may well enjoy listening to it long after finishing the game. (I am playing the soundtrack as I write).
To the Moon is less of a game then it is an interactive novel. If you’re seeking conflict and action, you’re better off looking elsewhere. There is little strategy required here, although the game does reward thorough exploration with additional plot points. Even so, progressing through the story can feel somewhat restrictive in its linearity. Despite a satisfying ending, it can feel as though the choices made throughout are ineffectual and would lead to the same outcome regardless.
Certain cuts scenes are drawn out and lacking in direction, as if they exist merely to prolong the experience. It has to be noted that there is a lot of reading required, which is accompanied only by simple sound effects, background music and switch-triggered cut scenes. There are no pre-rendered CGI videos to be found in this title.
Though it is possible to complete it in a single sitting, To the Moon is an enthralling visual and aural storytelling experience. As an indie title it touches on themes seldom explored in the realm of mainstream games and leaves a lasting impression on you. A unique, well-written story, appealing retro graphics and an appropriate soundtrack result in a game that is a pleasure to experience.
Remember to stay well-hydrated!