The introduction post for this feature article series can be found here.
All artwork and screenshots used in this post are from the official developer website.
When it comes the indie video game scene and this much bigger movement taking place in the industry which I'll just go ahead and call "New Wave of Video Game Design" (NWOVGD), I'm easily among the cynical haters who much prefers how things were done in the old days and simply does not accept these radical new takes on the very concept of video games. Well, to some degree I do accept some of these new ideas and innovations, but it takes a lot of convincing especially when you have so many inexperienced game developers and designers claiming that their pretentious little game will redefine the medium and change the world. I am of course talking about individuals like the clueless the drama queen who created Fez and that ego-fueled narcissist who created Braid. The indie scene is full of individuals who lack humility and have no respect for the legends that came before them. Then you have guys like David Cage who don't necessarily make real video games, instead they try to create an interactive motion picture experience that is far too good to be labelled as a mere video game.
This NWOVGD movement is basically all about introducing video games that are more like interactive films and stories, with little to no gameplay. I'm talking about pretentiously contrived so-called games like Dear Esther and Gone Home. The only thing that irritates me more than those games are their equally obnoxious fans that have their heads far too up their....
Oh boy did I go off on a tangent there! Am I coming across as a bitter jerk? Well I should but it's not like I am being one without reason. I love video games, they are perhaps the sole reason why I love life. So it irks me when these visionaries come along, and tell me that the way I have always loved playing games is now considered to be outdated and uncultured. These self-entitled grand standers couldn't even dream to design timeless classics like Sega Rally, Pac-Man, Shenmue, or Sonic the Hedgehog. I suppose I am giving these developers too much credit, as their brand new take on video game design isn't exactly new at all; the Japanese have been doing it for decades with their lewd visual novels.
All that said, there are always going to be exceptions, and when a young developer comes along with a game that sparks honest creativity then I can't help but notice. To The Moon is an example of the NWOVGD, and while this article series is technically supposed to be about the seventh console generation, I'm going to cheat a little and talk about a truly exceptional PC release from that era. While I may be the biggest protester when it comes to radical new age ideas in video games, To The Moon shines just as bright, and has the same vibe and aura, as any of the impeccable traditional video games I've loved over the years.
While the game is labeled as an adventure RPG and was built using a RPG Maker software, it's anything but a traditional role playing game and that's not me taking a jab at it. To The Moon is a purely interactive and story-driven adventure, just imagine a classic 16 bit RPG without any of the stats and battles and you get a pretty good idea of how this game plays. The only gameplay element is completing these rather elementary puzzles with the rest being about interacting with the environments to trigger events and move the story along. It features situation-based puzzles that are hardly ever taxing but do a nice job of getting the player involved as a gamer. That's really why I appreciate To The Moon far more than the other contemporaries utilizing unconventional game design, you never once forget that you're still playing a down to earth video game.
To The Moon is purely driven by strong narrative, and it does so admirably well with its exceptionally written and highly absorbing tale. I wouldn't read the synopsis or even watch a teaser trailer, because the incredible story told by the game needs to be experienced firsthand with as little prior knowledge or expectation as possible. The story is powerful and meaningful, and the cast of characters are extremely well written and memorable. The main plot and its many themes deal with the desire that many have for a second chance at life, in fact I'm certain most if not all people have this question of "what if?" when they reflect on major turning points and events, and wonder how things would be today had those pivotal moments played out differently. We all have an idealistic vision of the perfect life, but rarely do things ever go our way... but what if they did?
To The Moon is about having a chance to experience the life we always wished for but were never even close to having. People throw around expressions like "In another life I probably would have been.." or "Maybe in a parallel dimension I was able to achieve..." and To The Moon presents a world where these become realized. In essence, the game depicts perhaps the most wishful cure for regret. I know what you're thinking and the answer is no, the game has absolutely nothing to do with the tried and tested time travel plot device nor does it involve any inter-dimensional twists. Instead, it uses something else entirely, something that is just as fictional but far more grounded in the bitter sweetness of reality. That to me is what makes To The Moon stand out from other tales that share a similar premise.
The story is beautifully complemented by its amazing soundtrack, the score is just as strong as the writing, with both crucial elements coming together to create a unforgettable narrative. While the game utilizes a relatively primitive RPG Maker engine, it still succeeds remarkably at making you care deeply for simple character sprites, sprites that somehow manage to covey so much believable emotion. I enjoyed the visuals, they come together nicely to present a beautiful and appealing game world.
To The Moon is an outstanding and mesmerizing experience that any gamer will enjoy and cherish. What makes it among the most defining games of the last generation is that out of all the arrogant attempts at rewriting the very book on video game design, To The Moon is perhaps the best example of how to strip away traditional gameplay mechanisms and still end up with something that is still at its very core, a great video game.