To the Moon
Gameplay 9
Graphics 8
Sound 10

Light on gameplay, but heavy on story, To The Moon had me hooked right from the start and never once let go until the end. The retro visuals does not detract from the experience and the emotional soundtrack will stay with you long after the end credits have rolled. This is one of those games that proves why you do not need a huge budget to tell a great story.

Gameplay: Admitedly it is little more than a visual novel.

Graphics: 16 Bit retro style visuals.

Sound: Hauntingly beautiful piano tunes

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To the Moon

Developer: Freebird Games | Publisher: Freebird Games | Release Date: 2011 | Genre: Adventure / RPG / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

In the future, it is possible for scientists to implant false memories in the minds of people. This procedure is very popular amongst patients who are on their deathbeds as it allows them to attain something in their lives, which they might not have been able to do themselves and thus die without having any regrets. Eva and Neil are two scientists working for the Sigmund Agency of Life Generation and their latest client is a man named Johnny whose dying wish is to go to the moon. While unusual, it is not impossible to grant, but Eva and Neil discovers that there is a lot more to the request than meets the eye.

To The Moon is the first commercial project by Indie developer, Freebird Games, who have already built up a solid reputation for narrative driven projects like “The Mirror Lied” and “Quintessence.” I had heard many good things about their latest offering and since the emphasis was once again on the story, I decided to try it out before someone could spoil it for me. I am glad I did because this poignant tale might be brief but it definitely left a lasting impression on me.

At first glance, the game does not look like much unless you are a retro junkie like me. It was created with the “RGP Maker XP” software so it bears more than a passing resemblance to 16-bit SNES classics like “Chrono Trigger.” You have the isometric view and speech bubbles, but don’t worry as there are no level grinding or even battles (bar one small section) to worry about. The focus is firmly on the story with everything else being secondary. This means that the gameplay itself is very bare bones, but with such an engrossing plot it hardly matters. The gameplay lies somewhere between a point and click adventure and visual novel, so while it can be completed in roughly four hours it also means that there is almost no unnecessary padding. Since the gameplay is so linear and there are no real puzzles to impede your progress, it is entirely possible to complete the game in one sitting. One thing is for sure; I experienced a lot more emotions in those four hours than in many games ten times longer.

What makes the story so great is the believable characters and witty dialogue. Eva and Neil are almost the polar opposite of each other, but work well as a team. Most of the laugh out loud moments are provided by Neil and you can expect to see quite a few pop culture references. There is no voice acting, but that is fine with me, as it would have taken exceptionally good actors to deliver the kind of performance needed to do the dialogue justice. Guiding the two lead characters through Johnny’s memories is a gripping experience story wise but the gameplay consists of little more than walking around and finding memory links.

Since most scenes are triggered by simply walking into the right area and all interactive objects are clearly marked, the game practically plays itself. Adrenaline junkies definitely need not apply. There are some simple tile flipping puzzles that need to be done before travelling between memories, but these can be completed in a matter of seconds and won’t impede anyone’s progress. You will also uncover some notes with descriptions of people or objects but these are just there to flesh out the story. There are not a lot of locations to explore, but since they are all at key moments in Johnny’s life, they are all very memorable. It is brilliant how all the strands of the story are masterfully woven together, which is quite a mean feat considering you are going through the story backwards, chronologically speaking. There are so many hear warming scenes that only those with hearts of stone will be untouched by the unfolding events.

To help stir the emotions even further the game has an excellent piano driven soundtrack. I am a bit of a sucker for the piano so my opinion might be a bit biased, but I truly believe that the soundtrack is outstanding. The main tune that is played several times during the game still manages to give me goose bumps every time I hear it. There is even a beautiful ballad thanks to the stellar contribution from Laura Shigihara of Plants Vs Zombies (amongst others) fame. The sound effects are also good, but the music is definitely the star of the show. The game can be played with either keyboard or mouse, but feels a bit cumbersome. Characters can only move in four directions and is easily blocked by simple objects like flowers. This is a limitation of the tile-based engine and should not detract too much from the experience.

It has been a while since I have played a game as gripping as this one. Since the story is the highlight, I cannot say much about it apart from urging everyone to play it with as little foreknowledge as possible. The emotional impact just will not be as great if you already know what to expect. It is a pity that the visuals will scare away some people, as the game deserves to be played by everyone. While it might not be the greatest “game” you can play, I think that there are very few other titles out there that can match it in terms of story. If future episodes can only achieve half of the emotion captured by this one, I will already be happy. It is going to be a very tough act to follow however.

System Requirements

    • OS:Windows 98, XP, Vista, 7, 8
    • Processor:Intel Pentium III 800 MHz
    • Memory:512 MB RAM
    • Graphics:1024×768 High Color +
    • DirectX®:9.0
    • Hard Drive:100 MB HD space
    • OS: OS X 10.6.8
    • Graphics: OpenGL 2.0 capable graphics card
    • Hard Drive: 500 MB available space
    • OS: Major Linux Distribution from 2010
    • Graphics: OpenGL 2.0 capable graphics card
    • Hard Drive: 500 MB available space

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