All right, guys. Stop reading this for a minute, and go to Steam. Search To The Moon, and buy that shit. Right now. It’s on sale until Wednesday for $2.99. That’s like a burger and fries. You can give up a burger and fries for this game. It’s totally, 100% worth it. Look, I’ll make it easy, here’s the link.
Okay, bought the game? Great. Now I will tell you why you should play it, and I won’t spoil anything, because the joy of this game is in the discovery.
To The Moon is an indie title, released by Freebird Games back in 2011. It received a lot of buzz when it first came out, both for its story and presentation. I downloaded the demo and really liked it, but I was also really broke, so even the $9.99 asking price seemed a little steep at the time. Goddess bless the Steam Holiday Sale, though! When I saw To The Moon for 70% off, I was all over that shit like a chocobo on some gysahl greens.
The game was developed using the RPG Maker engine, which gives it an absolutely charming SNES atmosphere. Even though the graphics are relatively simplistic for this day and age, they ooze with retro charm and are more than adequate to tell the really excellent story that is on display here.
Because that is absolutely what this game’s purpose is: to tell a story, a really moving, deep, and beautiful story about life and death and love and the nature of memory. There honestly isn’t a lot of what you would consider “gameplay.” You move around, you click on things, you read dialogue, and you solve simple tile puzzles.
That’s it. That is all there is to this game. But that’s all it needs, as it turns out.
The basic premise is that in the near future, a company called Sigmund Corp. has developed a way to change the memories of a person who is dying in order to fulfill their final wish. To that end, Dr. Eva Rosaline and Dr. Neil Watts are dispatched to the deathbed of Johnny Wyles. His wish? To go to the moon, although Johnny can’t explain why it’s so important that he get there.
What follows is a journey back in time through Johnny’s life. Each memory that Eva and Neil visit is connected to the next by a “memento,” an object that appears in both memories. So most of the gameplay part of the game consists of locating and activating each memento, then solving an easy tile-flipping puzzle so that you can proceed to the next memory. The puzzles have a par number of moves to finish in, but you receive no penalty for taking more moves to solve it. You’ll get good at them. I think I’m a little over halfway through the game, and I hit the par almost every time now.
So it’s a very easy game, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is finding out what is going on in the memories of Johnny Wyles, and figuring out what is up with his late wife, River. And you are not going to want to stop playing. You are going to want to know. Part of this is because it’s a really well-paced story. Every time you solve one mystery, you find that the solution only presents more mysteries to solve. The dialogue is also genuinely charming and funny, something that I really appreciated. RPG dialogue tends to be kind of stilted, and any humor is usually unintentional (spoony bard, anyone?). When RPG dialogue tries to be funny, it usually falls flat and comes out as the awkward, forced humor you find in some anime, you know the kind, where all the characters just start laughing at something that wasn’t really that funny, and then the camera pans away while the voice actors are trying to keep laughing in a way that doesn’t sound like they’re trying waaay too hard?
Well, that doesn’t happen in To The Moon. Dr. Neil Watts is actually hilarious.
And also apparently a huge nerd.
Not only is the dialogue funny and interesting, the story moving and fascinating, but the music is gorgeous. Kan Gao, the head developer and composer, plays a mean sad piano. The tunes are wistful and heartbreaking and will make you want to cry. All the time. I really regret not buying the soundtrack bundled with the game (only $3.74 during the Steam sale!), and I may go back and grab it before the sale ends. It’s like a dollar fifty on its own. That’s like some fries. I can sacrifice fries for beautiful music!
I haven’t finished the game yet, and it’s really gnawing at me, like when you’re stuck in a really good book, but you haven’t found the time to finish reading it yet, so whenever you’re not reading it, you’re thinking about it. The story is really that good. There’s a reason it won GameSpot’s Best Story award of 2011, beating out several much larger, higher-profile games. Story is the main reason I play games, and this one has the purest, most interesting story of any game I’ve played in a long, long time. Maybe ever.
GO. TO STEAM. NOW. I promise, this is the best $2.99 you will ever spend.
…oh yeah, and also?
The RPG rabbit approves!