To The Moon – Review in a Nutshell

This story-driven adventure is becoming a fantastic ambassador for games published with beginner-friendly engines.

Congratulations to Freebird Games on the announcement of the To The Moon feature film!

First impressions

When I tried out To The Moon, I was a little skeptical at first. First off, the game was produced with RPG Maker XP– when was the last time you’ve seen popular critic websites take time to review a title published with RPG Maker? Although some other engines that are equally user-friendly are treated with less stigma, this isn’t terribly common. To The Moon became one of the first games from this engine that was reviewed and discussed en masse. I quickly discovered there’s a good reason for this: To The Moon is something very special.

However, once you get past the RPG Maker styled graphics, that’s where the similarities end. To The Moon is beautifully crafted and absolutely worth the price tag. This is one of those rare works of art that will leave a strong impression on the player for hours, or even days after finishing.

Out of the myriad of walking sims and visual novels cluttering the Steam store, it’s easy to be put off by a game that revolves around a storyline. That being said, To The Moon did this brilliantly. Although the dialogue at first felt a bit unnatural, To The Moon quickly became bittersweet, heartfelt and straight up beautiful depiction of human life and death. I’m not going to lie– I cried a lot, and I only cried once at Marley & Me.

Okay, but what’s it about?

The game is set in a modern setting with a futuristic, almost magical flair. You’ll play as two doctors, Eva and Neil, working for a Make-A-Wish type company visiting adults on hospice. The company goal is to fulfill the wishes of the dying, regardless of how complicated or unusual they may be.

The most interesting part of this setup; dying clients don’t actually get their wish fulfilled in real life, but rather they are implanted with realistic memories that lead them to believe they’ve accomplished their dream.

In this particular case, Eva and Neil are sent to the bedside of a dying man. Johnny lives completely alone in a rural area, with the exception of his caregiver– no living family to speak of. His dying wish? To go to the moon.

In order to accomplish this unusual request, you’ll need to locate items from his home that are directly associated with strong memories from the past. Using these items, you’ll time travel backwards through his memories and learn the beautiful importance behind his wish.

To The Moon’s Special Storytelling

Telling a story in reverse can be easy to screw up even for experienced writers, but To The Moon does it in a clear and impeccable fashion from the very beginning. Through this mechanic, players will see exactly how events affect the characters in Johnny’s life. Without giving away any spoilers: some are tragedies.

Although your average human will suffer through many tragedies, some memories are pure. They’re recollections of joy, lighthearted affection and bittersweet love for the people you choose to keep in your lives. Sure, some characters are barely holding on after experiencing losses in their lives, but you’ll get to see the contrast in the moments that make the ones they’ve lost worth knowing in the first place. Like Bob Ross once said; “Gotta have opposites, light and dark and dark and light, in painting. It’s like in life. Gotta have a little sadness once in a while so you know when the good times come.”

You’ll see the rise and fall of his loved ones; their pains, hopes, and more importantly, wishes. And this is done in a fashion that makes it so terribly easy to identify with and feel for the characters.

That being said– To The Moon is much more of an experience than a game. There are some minor puzzles found here and there, but they’re more similar to point-and-click minigames than anything else. The story is absolutely fantastic, but don’t expect fully developed game mechanics.

On a related note; “For River” is one of the loveliest theme songs I’ve heard. You can listen to it directly below if you’re not entirely sold yet:

I’m fairly excited to see a title break negative assumptions about RPG Maker/beginner engine games. As some engines become more accessible to less experienced devs and programmers, we’ll see an influx of great ideas come into the market that might not be produced otherwise. I wouldn’t have considered doing this beforehand, but To The Moon is making me considering trying out some other RPGs from similar engines.  With some luck, fingers crossed that we’ll discover a few other hidden gems!

Have you found any great games made with RPG Maker style engines? Which games do you wish people gave a chance?

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