To the Moon

To the Moon is a heavily story-driven RPG Maker XP game. Ostensibly, it is about two neural engineers who have been contracted to insert a desired memory into the mind of a man called Johnny. In Johnny’s case, this desired memory is a trip to the moon, although he is not able to explain why. How this works is never explained terribly well, but for some reason, the engineers must trek back through his memories in order to make the memory stick.

Depending on what mindset one is in upon reading this premise, one will either think immediately of space programmes or of a daydream trip that relies on breathing in space like Batman. After having played, I’m still not quite sure which I’m meant to have embraced. (although they do end up going to NASA)

Although there are arguably two sets of protagonists–the engineers and Johnny–the former never really have enough characterisation or personal development to have their own story. There were occasionally brief attempts, but they didn’t come to much.

Other reviews and summaries for the game I have read call the engineers, Dr Eva Rosalene and Dr Neil Watts, either scientists or doctors, but I never felt that either of those titles fit. There is a physician present (retained by Johnny), and Rosalene and Watts often behave much more like engineers or programmers, which I think was reflected in the nature of their profession as well.

Their relationship with one another is one of the less enjoyable aspects of the game, and serves as a good example of its major failing. It’s possible that the intent was belligerent sexual tension, but as Watts makes continuous unfunny jokes, Rosalene tells him to shut up, and they both insult the other, they merely come off as co-workers who dislike one another.

As for that major failing… perhaps my standards are simply too high, but I rarely, if ever, found any of the dialogue funny. There were many references to popular properties, including Dragon Ball and Doctor Who, and some of these “gags” went on overlong.

That aside, this game is lauded for its emotional impact. I was personally not impressed. I mentioned that I was similarly unaffected by Digital: A Love Story, but this didn’t seem like quite the same thing. Thanks in part to poor writing and abysmal dialogue, I found the game’s attempts to engage me emotionally all fell quite flat.

Johnny’s story is quite tragic, make no mistake. Without spoiling too much, his wife River has recently passed away, and suffered a condition that made her act strange. She was present throughout much, possibly all of his life. A strong force of familiarity.

I never liked River at all. Given the game’s aggressively coy refusal to name her condition, it was hard to see what of her cold behaviour was out of her control and what wasn’t. She never seemed to love Johnny or make his life any better–rather the opposite. A great deal of the narrative is spent talking about her condition and its affects on other people, which is why the fact that it is literally never named is so frustrating. There is really no reason not to just say she has Asperger’s or whatever.

However, it’s likely that the biggest problem is the ending. Normally, if a game’s ending is ruined by thinking too hard, that may well be the fault of the player. But that argument falls flat when the game in question purports itself as cerebral, as this one clearly does or at least should. Most of the game is reading, after all.

Again, trying not to give spoilers, the game has a relatively happy ending–until one realises that this has basically been a time travel story, yet fails to actually change the past, present, or future. It’s not a bad time travel story, especially in Act 3. But in the end, Johnny’s life did not change, he died as was expected, and the other characters walk away having learned something from him in a voyeuristic manner that made me feel a bit ill.

Still, it’s a good start to what appears to be a series. This first story is told better than I expect from RPG Maker games, is self-contained, and there are hints at a greater arc to be experienced by Drs Rosalene and Watts. The graphics are wonderful, the gameplay is well-balanced and largely stays out of the way of the story. It’s also just long enough to be satisfying without soaking up a lot of time. (I’d say about four hours)

You can pick up a copy of To The Moon along with the shorter (and IMO, better) game by the same creators, The Mirror Lied, from GOG.com or the game and soundtrack bundle from Steam.

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