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J T
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To The Moon will make you cry

by J T Thu Feb 23, 2012 3:17 pm

To The Moon

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*Click for Official Site*

To The Moon is a special game that tells a very sweet and sentimental story that will tug at your heart strings, especially if you're a fan of the story telling of old school RPGs. Though the game itself is more correctly categorized as something between a visual novel and a point and click adventure game, the graphics and sound are straight out of the 16-bit RPG era.

The basic premise of the story is about a business that will fulfill any dying person's last wish by using a high-tech device to go into their memories and alter them so that they get to relive their life in memory one last time before they die, only they can alter one thing based on their wish. To do this, they have to transport themselves inside your most cherished memories to find out how to best fulfill your dying wish. They can only go back further in your history by finding important mementos at each stage of life. You play the role of a team of people that are helping one man named John to go back through his lifetime of memories to help him achieve his final wish of going to the moon, even if it is only in his mind. As you can probably imagine from this basic premise, this is a game that wears its heart on its sleeve.

I don't want to say anything more about the storyline beyond that because it would be hard not to avoid spoilers. Part of the mystery and charm of the game is going backwards through John's life and learning about why he made all the choices he did that led to where he is now in his old age. The story is absolutely touching and heartwrenching. I'm only a little past the halfway mark at this point, but I'm totally hooked and will probably have more to say when I finish it.

The game is largely just about having the story unfold, so there is very little "game" to it. Often this sort of thing bothers me because I think that the primary strength of the videogame medium is interactivity, so games that don't utilize that would have been just as well made as a book, movie, or cartoon. Nevertheless, it doesn't bother me that To The Moon has little to offer in the way of gameplay, and it's not just simply because the story is so endearing, but because it plays to gamer nostalgia. If you grew up on games like Final Fantasy IV and VI, Chrono Trigger, and Earthbound, then you will recognize that there is something special to the presentation of To The Moon. It looks like a 16-bit RPG and it has a beautiful soundtrack that is largely piano driven and provides themes for different characters. This kind of soundtrack isn't used as much in modern games because voice acting clashes with strong melodies, so modern games tend to use more ambient music or orchestral arrangements that don't draw attention to themselves, but still set a mood. To The Moon is made a better story by its melody driven soundtrack. Also, its nostalgic graphical style is well-suited to the story about going back in time through one man's memories, especially if you grew up on these old school RPGs like I did.

I hope some of you will try this game out if you care about story in games, because this one is really touching.


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christopher85
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Re: To The Moon will make you cry

by christopher85 Sat Feb 25, 2012 6:36 pm

This game sounds beautiful and I don't even care much for rpgs.
deathsled
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Re: To The Moon will make you cry

by deathsled Sun Feb 26, 2012 6:46 am

Just played through the whole thing.



It's more interactive story than game though. You're pretty much going through the motions without any real exploration or puzzle solving. The "puzzles" are extremely simple and there's really no way to get lost or stuck. No melon scratchers in this experience sadly. As a point and click adventure it's pretty weak. It really is more of a story you just click to advance 99% of the time.

There were some pretty good moments. I had several good chuckles due to the writing. Some plot elements were a little contrived, but what isn't these days lol. It's a pretty interesting story. I could see it being made into a movie honestly, although it would be a little Vanilla Sky-esque in a way.

However, with that said, the whole story just feels a little hollow in a way. It was trying to be hard hitting and it succeeds to a degree, but in reality the entire thing is just a little underdeveloped.

If you have a few hours to kill (the game isn't all that long) then give it a try. I'd be interested in seeing what else this guy comes up with in the future.
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Re: To The Moon will make you cry

by J T Mon Feb 27, 2012 1:58 pm

deathsled wrote:
However, with that said, the whole story just feels a little hollow in a way. It was trying to be hard hitting and it succeeds to a degree, but in reality the entire thing is just a little underdeveloped.



I think what you considered "underdeveloped", I considered to be understated. I liked that the story wasn't heavy handed with lots of exposition in some attempt to be more hard hititng. The dialogue is all simply stated and the simplicity of the writing, graphics, and general presentation added to the game's charm, in my opinion.

I think the use of sprite graphics like this is analogous to the lo-fi movement in music. There are times when a lo-fi aesthetic is simply a by product of amateurism, but there are other times when it is used as an effective stylistic choice. It's like when a movie uses old home video footage for a montage. The graininess and lo-fidelity of the video gives it a homemade and earthy charm that is romanticized by our own familiarity with watching home movies. Likewise, RPG Maker graphics simultaneously look like something you or a friend could have made yourself, but also recall the days of SNES RPGs.

I don't get the sense that the developer of To The Moon (Kan Gao) is a great game designer in terms of his programming abilities, but he is a very good storyteller and he's able to use the gaming medium to enhance his storyline by appealing to nostalgia. The minimalism of 16-bit era graphics also means much of the smaller details are left to the imagination, and Ken Gao exploits this quite well for the purposes of his story. Without spoiling anything, the character of River is quite mysterious, and the fact that old RPG graphics can't do much in the way of emotional expression or detail helps to keep her mysterious. You learn about the characters through text, and much of the details about her are kept intentionally vague so that the player stays curious about her. This is the context in which lo-fi and minimalist approaches work best: when you are given enough small pieces to tell there is something deeper going on there, but you aren't given so much information that the mystery is gone. The fact that we never really fully understand John and River's relationship is part of what makes it so interesting as an outside observer who is tasked with changing John's memories.
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Re: To The Moon will make you cry

by J T Mon Feb 27, 2012 4:52 pm

I just found this nice article where Kan Gao talks about some of his inspiration for creating To The Moon:

http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2011/08/to-the-moon/

"Indie gamemaker Kan Gao was in crisis mode. His grandfather, who suffered from a heart condition, had been admitted to the hospital, and things seemed to be getting worse.

Though his grandfather eventually recovered, the incident left Gao shaken and thinking about the inevitability of death — when it was time for him to go, would he have any serious regrets?"
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Re: To The Moon will make you cry

by J T Fri Mar 02, 2012 8:30 pm

One of the developers of Amnesia: The Dark Descent recently put To The Moon in his #2 slot for best game of 2011. I follow his blog because he has a lot of interesting things to say about the theory behind game design.

http://frictionalgames.blogspot.com/201 ... -2011.html

Some of his thoughts about To The Moon are similar to my own:

"I think the most interesting aspect of this game is how it in some ways is a culmination of a 25 years JRPG pixel dramaturgy. The emotional displays of the simplistic sprites are very limited, but are used to perfection and creates a very powerful and mature narration."
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Re: To The Moon will make you cry

by J T Mon Sep 03, 2012 3:24 pm

There's a new To The Moon episode coming:

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/09 ... ore-122876
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Re: To The Moon will make you cry

by deathsled Mon Sep 03, 2012 11:29 pm

I just want to go on record saying that I played this game shortly after it came out and while I consider myself to be a bright guy I didn't understand what the "problem" with the woman was the entire game. Either I missed something during all the reading or I'm an idiot.

I didn't know until I was reading some opinions from other gamers what her deal was....
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Re: To The Moon will make you cry

by J T Tue Sep 04, 2012 2:37 pm

They never say it, but...

it seems pretty clear that she has some form of autism.
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