Let me start by saying that I am a grown-up man with a military background. I consider myself a man with a hard outer shell that few things have been able to break. And still, that being said, this game made me cry like a little girl. It is not only one of my favorite games ever made, it is the best video game I have ever played, period.
To the Moon, developed and published by Freebird Games in 2011, is a story-focused RPG Maker game. It doesn’t offer much in the way of graphical assets, but it does have a deep, heartbreaking story and a fantastic soundtrack. The gameplay isn’t versatile, being heavily driven by the story and being developed with an RPG Maker XP engine. But what in my opinion makes it the best game ever?
The story is just great. You play as two scientists, Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts. They represent Sigmund Corp., a company that fulfills people’s wishes by alternating their memories. The memory alteration itself happens The Cell style; they link up their minds with the patient’s and can interact with their memories metaphysically. Their newest patient, John Wyles, has already fallen unconscious on his deathbed when they arrive at his estate, so they have to enter his memories and ask him his wish. John tells them he wants to go to the moon before he dies but he can’t explain why. Thus begins the journey through John’s memories from his old age to his childhood years to make his wish complete. On their assignment, the two doctors descend deeper and deeper into the mystery; why does John want to go to the moon, what happened to his late wife and what is the significance of the strange lighthouse John seems to be so fond of?
The way the story is told in a chronologically reverse order is fantastic. You just keep asking questions throughout the game, seeking answers, which makes you want to play the game more and more. The game gives you the answers but for every answer it asks two more questions. The mysteries you discover in John’s later life are given explanations in his early years as you go deeper and deeper. This way of storytelling suits this game perfectly, making it a really touching experience. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but the plot behind the game breaks my heart every time I play it. It is a story about love, about losing and receiving. It is about losing your loved one. It is about life.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a perfect game. This game has some flaws, even a major one I will discuss about later. The first thing wrong with this game is the humor. As Dr. Rosalene, a level-headed and responsible scientist, speaks English, Dr. Watts, a kooky and wacky scientist, speaks entirely with pop culture references and fourth-wall-breaking puns. These cheap jokes are the reason pieces of media get really dated really fast. In ten years what kind of kids will get references to Doctor Who or even to The Matrix films? And sometimes the failing humor almost breaks the dramatic mood the game is trying to set. In the middle of a serious conversation between John and his high school friends, Dr. Watts just can’t keep his mouth shut and has to let out some embarassing dialogue disguised as a joke, shifting the tone somewhat.
However, one major question is still hanging in the air like a confused bat: is To the Moon still a video game? And the answer is yes, but with a very big caveat. Yes, but only if you consider pieces of media developed by the school of David Cage video games and not interactive movies. To be honest, I think this game would have done better as a movie. The gameplay is almost non-existent. This is the major issue I was talking about. To get from one memory to another, you have to collect energy by finding five objects that are significant to the current memory and one object that links the two memories. After you have collected enough energy you have to solve an easy tile-based puzzle. You have to do that each time you travel from one memory to another. What this translates to is just solving the same puzzle over and over again between cut scenes. The game doesn’t have inventory management or battle system, the only thing you are going to be doing is walking from one object to another pressing spacebar and solving a Baby’s First Rubik’s Cube once in a while.
That being said, despite the lack of gameplay the game is worth playing. If you have a soul, you will enjoy the story. Play the game and you get the most effective emotional experience a game has given you since Spec Ops: The Line. Play it, for the love of God, play it!