In a world where RPGs are still mired in battle oriented high fantasy, it's rare to see a popular game that breaks that cycle. It makes sense - RPGs have conventions and reputations. When those aren't met, people can get very turned off. Especially nowadays, because we're moving away from games that have a more linear structure in favor of 60+ hour open world epics. This isn't a bad thing - but it is nice to play story-driven games that are unique without taking decades to completely finish.
To the Moon is one such game. It shirks RPG tropes and puts itself in a league of its own. It sacrificed typical standards like battle mechanics and leveling systems in favor of a totally narrative approach. Sure, it has its issues, but do they outshine the rest of what makes the game great? Let's fine out.
Dr. Rosalene and Watts freebirdgames.com
Freebird Games' To the Moon is an independent adventure RPG where you take control of two scientists, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts. They work for Sigmund Corp., a company that creates artificial memories for the dying, allowing them to remember things they'd never gotten to accomplish in their lives. Dr. Watts and Rosalene are tasked with giving Johnny Wyles, a wealthy, dying man, the memory of going to the moon.
During their trip through his memories, they are shown the life he's lived and must find the precise spot to implant the memories so that Johnny can have his dying wish. Unfortunately, things don't go as planned and they are forced to explore deeper into this man's life.
The doctors with Johnny. freebirdgames.com
There's so much good about this game. As you know, I am a stickler for story. A game isn't a game without at least some semblance of a beginning, middle, and end. To the Moon has that in spades. It's a twisting labyrinth - as traverse this man's mind and figure out the life that he's lived. You grow so attached to the doctors and to Johnny, and the people in Johnny's memories, that when that ending happens - you can't help but shed a tear because Johnny got a happy ending.
Had this been mired down with needless battles, grinding sessions, or pointless nonsensical memory monsters - this game would have not been the success it is now.'
A lot of the game's success also goes to the astounding score, by Kan Gao (who also co-designed and wrote the game). Music is so important whenever you've got a dialogue driven game like this - especially one that doesn't rely on flashy graphics of voice acting. The music is the only sound you hear in the game, and it has to be an active part of the story-telling. And it works - the music never distracts and keeps you engaged.
It works - and that's surprising. But unfortunately, this game does lack in a few areas. Nothing's perfect.
A memory. freebirdgames.com
The story is amazing, and the music is wonderful. And it's lack of gameplay does it a lot of favors, but it also hinders the game a great deal. No matter how amazing a game is, if there isn't any real game play involved... it gets boring. It's a sad fact, but a game needs gameplay. It needs to be fun the whole way through, and To the Moon isn't always very fun. You're basically walking around and interacting with the environment.
And you. You talk a lot, or you watch cutscenes with just talking. Which again, is great for building the story, but damn, does it get obnoxious. Like, I want to play a video game, not read a novel.
This is the only real issue with this game.
THE BOTTOM LINE
To the Moon's unique style of RPG makes for a great, poignant story. Still, this simplicity both helps and hinders the overall experience, and that's all up to you. Do you think a game can sacrifice gameplay in favor of a beautiful story telling experience? I think so - but it has to be done with the same kind of love and care that the Freebird team did with this game. If not, then the experience will fall flat.
But, I can't make you decisions for you. You're just going to have to try out To the Moon for yourself and see.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and has played RPGs since he could hold a controller. He is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, and also writes the Video Gay-Mer column on Popdust! If you have any RPGs you'd like him to unpack, hit him up!
POP⚡ DUST | More ROLE PLAYGROUND...