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Bang, Pow, Straight to the Moon!

Despite what one might imagine if one understands the reference in the title, To The Moon has nothing to do with spousal abuse. Instead, To The Moon involves our two main protagonists, and their emotional journey through the memories of an old, dying man. Let’s start with the basics. To The Moon was released in 2011, by Freebird Games. It is an RPG Maker game, so expect all the graphical stylings of old school Super Nintendo, 16 bit RPGs, complete with custom in-game assets and some (poorly) hand drawn artwork. The controls are what one would expect: WASD to move, Space to activate dialog, and the mouse to click and interact with environments. The music and sound effects are extremely well crafted, and superbly fit the tone and feel of each scene you find yourself in. If you are interested in playing the game at all, I highly suggest going into the game blind, and stop reading here. Go on, I’ll wait............

Are they gone? Great, let’s continue! To The Moon begins looking over an elaborate manor atop a scenic bluff, next to a darkened lighthouse. The camera shifts to our two protagonists, the intelligent and thoughtful Dr. Rosalene, and the zany, fourth-wall-breaking assistant Dr. Watts, as they swerve to avoid running over an animal in the street, and crash their car into a tree. You might be wondering why I bring up these intro events. The reason is that every one of these events are found again in later parts of the storyline. To The Moon does a fantastic job of recalling previous events, large and small, and molds them into crucial parts of the game’s story. Additionally, they don’t go beating you over the head with these event “revisits;” many of them are subtle, and reward thoughtful players who take the time to engage with the world around them.

Fast forwarding slightly, we learn what our protagonists actually do. They work for a company whose service is to deliver dying people their last wish, by delving into their minds and altering their memories, until they fabricate a reality in which their last wish becomes a reality. It’s like the film Inception, but with less precision, and zero chance of getting killed by random gunmen or latent crazy assassin wives. Then we find our protagonists are staring at their client: a dying man in his bed, hooked up to a heart monitor. We learn that our client’s last wish is to, you guessed it, go to the moon. But in order to revise this old man’s, Johnny’s, memories, we need to know WHY he wants to go to the moon. Unfortunately, he is unconscious, and only has a few hours left to live, so we have to delve into these memories ourselves and determine Johnny’s motivation for his wish.

This is where the game really begins. First we investigate Johnny’s house, with help from two of the housekeeper’s children, whom tell us there is something unusual in the basement. After some puzzle solving, we enter a dark room with an unsettling sight: hundreds of origami bunnies folded and placed ritualistically, staring at an old platypus stuffed animal. Something is not right here, and we’re going to figure out what it is...

From this point we dive through Johnny’s memories, figure out who made the origami pieces, what kind of man he is, about his relationship with his wife, cherished memories from his happier times with said wife, and a mysteriously repressed childhood occurrence with the help of mementos found in each chapter of the game. To me, it feels like peeling an onion. Each chapter is a layer, each with its own particular emotion tied to it. We see horror, sadness, loss, love, regret, happiness, adventure, hope and hopelessness, each reinforced with wonderful writing and a magnificent soundtrack that truly brings the world to life.

The story is full of twists and turns and misdirects, each granting us more and more insight into the life of Johnny and River, his wife. I found myself getting incredibly involved and interested in these character’s lives, and the final scene of the game made me, a monotone cyborg, tear up from the magnitude of the story. The game direction, writing, and sound design are what makes this game such an amazing narrative experience. I highly suggest playing it for anyone interested in narrative storytelling, non-action game design, and integration of music into games. Any gamer out there, do yourself a favor and go play this game.

To The Moon: Hales of bay rating

Jonathan - 9 out of 10

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