Got this from some gog.com sale and left it unplayed for much too long like most games bought in truckloads for cheap, which is the fashionable way of purchasing fresh electronic entertainment, at the very least for the PC.
In a way, it’s quite incredible that this piece of work managed to become as famous as it has. It was declared indie RPG of 2011 (released exactly three years ago, hm), won Gamespot’s Award for Best Story of the same year, has appeared in Humble Bundle, GoG and other services and generally… it’s been talked about a lot.
Why is it incredible? The game has the feeling it could have been a university project made by an undergraduate in game design. It’s very indie, and not in the hipster sense, as is for example Sword and Sworcery EP–it’s the b-movie kind of indie. The characters are indie. The story is indie. The gameplay is… yep, indie, in the sense that there’s very little of it, which seems to be a respectable, if not slightly self-defeating, trend within the bounds of the independent gaming scene. To be honest, this game is not an RPG in any way, even if it was made in RPG Maker XP and somehow won the award for the genre in 2011. Scratch that: To The Moon is hardly a game at all. That said, perhaps the mere fact is its greatest strength.
What I enjoyed:
• the plot reminded me of and was obviously inspired by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which happens to be one of my favourite movies ever: one part science fiction, two parts emotion, half a part (or so) quirk;
• it was short: in a world where story-driven games are typically much longer than your average novel but rarely pack even half the punch, To The Moon kept it short and sweet;
• the original soundtrack: probably what To The Moon became most well-known for, this game is quite a unique case in that one of the composers was its director as well (Kan Gao)–that’s some auteurship right there (music sample);
•that 16-bit style reminded me of all the similar games I never finished–looking at you, FF6 and Chrono Trigger… will I ever know if their endings were any good?
• “Every star is a lighthouse…” That was a beautiful image.
What I didn’t enjoy:
• the humour! Too millennially, too redditty. Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy my lolcats, sure, but you can actually be funny without resorting to memes and gaming pop culture all the time;
• gimmicky gameplay, or what little there is of it: maybe it would have been better as a visual novel;
• the plot was basically animé melodrama; okay, it’s an interesting foray for the medium, but really… I mean [SPOILERS], only in anime do you have these life-long relationships that begin in early childhood;
•the characters: they didn’t do it for me; it was more about the situations;
•ending: see above. I can’t think of a single anime movie or series that a had a satisfying ending. Yes, it was sad and apparently it made a lot of grown men cry, but… but!
What I will remember:
• how it made me feel about my own childhood and lack of… well…
• the portrayal of memory links: it was annoying to play through but it was an interesting idea;
I would recommend it to everyone who:
• is interested in what else games can be today, what the next frontier for the medium could be. In other words, a game doesn’t need to be a game. Hell, we don’t even have the necessary vocabulary for all this yet!
• thinks that one has to be a genius at programming and/or art to make his or her own game; no, people: all it takes is an idea or a message one feels the need to express, a basic tool and dedication; then it might go on to become a success out of nowhere, who knows? Again, this could have been a university project!