‘To the Moon’ is Such Sweet Sadness

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If poetry is a medium through which much meaning can be expressed through a few amount of words, then I have found something with these qualities in a role play adventure game. It looks simple with its nintento­like pixelated figures. There are no battle or inventory systems. The minimal gameplay itself is really only a vehicle of puzzling out a story that moved me to tears. Canadian designer Kan “Reives” Gao produced To the Moon in 2011, and was voted as the best indie RPG of its year.

The premise may bring to mind references like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Inception when we meet the player characters, two doctors from Sigmund Corp. Serious Eva Rosalene and playful Neil Watts are sent to the deathbed of an old man in order to help him fulfill an inexplicable last wish: to go to the moon. The doctor’s machines allow them to enter Johnny’s mind, collecting objects that help them jump backwards through his memories. Rosalene and Watts’ intent is to implant artificial desires that can change Johnny’s perception of the course of his life.

Rosalene and Watts’ banter are fun to go through, for the former is witty and latter is fraught with jokes and pop culture references. The relationship between Johnny and his wife River is painfully poignant, especially for audiences with autism or with autistic loved ones. I don’t really know why the game skirts around saying the disorder’s name, but it is relevant and clearly there. Everything is significant, and if you give yourself over to the sensitivity of it, it could take several run throughs to cry, notice things, and cry some more. Gao wrote out To the Moon’s soundtrack, and the game features Laura Shigihara’s haunting “Everything’s Alright” to trigger all the emotions.

Beautiful storytelling is the main focus and purpose, so that I feel that some of the interactive gameplay like the preparation of the memory puzzle and the loop trap is unnecessary and slows the flow down a bit. These are not significantly time consuming however, and does not take away from the game’s exquisite loveliness.

To the Moon is available on Steam.

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