To the Moon

Yesterday I played through To the Moon yesterday, an indie RPG for PC.

In To the Moon you take on the role of two doctors who are hired to rewrite the memories of a dying man to fulfil his last wish: to travel to the moon. To do this, you must enter his memories and travel backwards through his life to add a strong motive to go the moon. Along the way you find mementos which join the various time periods together. But why does the patient wish to go the moon? Like a good mystery novel, To the Moon keeps the player engrossed until the end.

There isn’t much actual gameplay in the traditional sense. If anything, it’s more of a point and click adventure game. But the story and music more than make up for that. To the Moon is a highly focused game, featuring only elements necessary to enhance it’s engaging, emotional storyline. No filler. This is even built into the game world; NPCs who are not relevant are displayed as a dark shadow (which makes sense, narratively, as most of the game takes place inside the patient’s memories).

It’s hard to say exactly what makes To the Moon so great without spoiling the story, but the combination of the music and focused narrative make me strongly recommend it. It will only take you about five hours to complete the game, so why not? I’m just so impressed by what they managed to pull off given the limitations of the technology used (it was built with RPG Maker) and it sets the bar for the kinds of stories that can be told in indie games (or games in general).

Has anyone else played it?

There’s a sequel in the works (Finding Paradise), but To the Moon definitely works well as a stand alone story. There’s also a short one hour game called Bird Story which is connected to the story of Finding Paradise. I downloaded and played through it straight after completing To the Moon. I look forward to experiencing what Freebird Games comes up with next.

Sounds interesting, I’ll have to check it out!

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To the Moon also contains a lot of video game meta-humour, which lightens the mood during the more depressing parts of the story. But it never feels out of place. You’ll see what I mean if you play through it.

I think I grabbed it when it came out on Steam a while back and played through it not really expecting much. I do admit, I feel a little guilty that I’ve been touched emotionally by what I thought initially to be a fairly rudimentary RPG maker game. I enjoyed it though, and would like to see more by the same developers.

So I finally ended up playing this game (although the gameplay is really an afterthought, it’s almost a visual novel). I think I might view this game differently than most people do. I feel like what they were doing was simply wrong. By rewriting memories, they erase the real memories and replace them with fake ones. The person’s entire life is turned into a lie. The people they knew are turned into figments of their imagination. I remember thinking the exact same thing when I played Remember Me, which uses a similar premise (rewriting people’s memories). There’s one thing that I found really sad about the story and it’s something that the rewrites were supposed to resolve. But the fact that the rewrites are fake means I still find it just as sad after seeing the ending, if not more.

The scenario is basically Robert Nozick’s experience machine thought experiment (read the wiki page if you’re unfamiliar with it). It raises some questions like if someone offered to plug you into a virtual world that was better than the actual world, would you do it? Intuitively many say that they wouldn’t, but it’s hard to find a good case for rejecting the lures of the experience machine.

In To the Moon, the memory rewrite was given with the full consent of the patient. I personally don’t see a problem with this, should the patient choose that experience. I think it’s hard to find a reason against doing it, especially given that he was about to die anyway.

SPOILERS (perhaps a spoiler tag plugin could be worth adding to the forum?)

The problem is that in this case the patient didn’t know why he wanted to go to the moon. And the doctors end up in conflict when they found out why. He didn’t actually need to go to the moon, all he really needed was to remember his very first meeting with River. But instead, Eva decides on her own to honor the contract, despite Neil’s attempt to stop her. And that’s what I find sad: River tried to make Johnny remember their first meeting in her own way, but he didn’t understand. If he had known the truth, he would have known she still loved him. Yet that memory and that of her sacrifice were removed. That wasn’t River who went to the moon with him. Sure, it all doesn’t really matter anyway since he dies moments after the rewrite, but I’d imagine it would have been better if he actually remembered his true life. Who knows what he really would have wanted.

In any case, regardless of me not liking what happens in the story, it’s certainly thought provoking. And that’s always a good thing.

EDIT: spoiler tag added, thanks Solo!