Imagine you're going to die.
You are old, you are sick. You have accepted the idea that soon your life will end. Looking at the long road traveled, would you change anything?
A fascinating temptation that proposed by the video game "To the Moon", the first chapter of the successful saga that takes its name. A small 16bit indie gem, developed with RPG Maker graphics engine, which makes simplicity its greatest asset: essential and retro graphics, single player game mode, no fighting to be won and no riddle to solve. Only the beautiful and moving story of a regret.
Developed and published by Freebird Games, “To the Moon” was released on Steam on November 1, 2011.
The "Sigmund Agency of Life Generation", better known as "Sigmund Corp.", is a company that offers a revolutionary end-of-life service. Anyone who signs a contract with Sigmund requires that, in the hours before his heart ceases to beat, his memories are manipulated to give him an illusion. It can be anything: I wish I had married the woman I loved, I wish I had seen the world, I wish I had told my son that I loved him. Sigmund provides a couple of technicians who will show up at the patient's home when he or she has already lost consciousness. The team, thanks to a prodigious immersive technology, will view the patient's key memories and graft artificial ones until the goal is achieved.
If the narrative opportunity already lends itself splendidly to break the player's heart, the story is no different.
Johnny Wyles, the patient, wants to go to the moon but can't remember why. Something about this crazy dream torments him, in spite of a long happy life with the woman he loved, River (yes, the quotes in this game are wasted). He asks Sigmund to give him peace before he dies.
Eva and Neil, the team of doctors sent to study her memoirs, shrug and start looking. It is their profession, and they have received strange requests galore.
The challenge of unrolling the memories of a man from his old age to his childhood instead of in the opposite direction (as is the protocol in the company's works) presents some difficulties, especially if you don't know where a desire originates: the player's confusion grows with that of the pg, Eva and Neil, who come across several imprecise and discordant memories. The feeling of missing something fundamental, of having lost a piece of the puzzle, makes its way.
And when everything finally returns and the mystery is solved (at the end of the four / five hours of play), you really can't feel the feeling of having won.
The two playing characters are the doctor Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, the pair of technicians sent by Sigmund to complete the work on Elder Johnny Wyles.
The plot is enriched already by their simple presence, which shows a deep and realistic interpersonal dynamic. Eva is serious, responsible and kind; Neil is sarcastic, comic, unpredictable. They have been working in pairs for years, and although a romantic interest is never shown on the screen, it seems to be the engine that carries on their personal plot. In the subsequent chapters of the saga it will be their sentimental dimension, a bit ambiguous, to decide the fate of the game.
Jonathan Wyles, often called "the patient" throughout history, is the fulcrum of the narrative. It is his life that unfolds over the course of the hours of the game, deviated in its path by many small linked factors, where the theme of memory and loss play a fundamental role.
The Johnny we know at the beginning of the game is a sweet, quiet man, worn out by mourning the loss of his wife, which occurred a few years earlier. He relies on the technicians with patience and with a sort of tenuous hope, without showing fear or frustration at the thought of imminent death.
River Wyles, his wife, is instead a character who brings a shadow of mystery about the game. She is an affectionate, confused and sad woman, remembered through a series of innocuous but inexplicable behaviors: the deep bond towards a plush of a platypus, the obsession with making dozens of origami in the shape of a rabbit, the habit of attributing a name of the lighthouse near the house where she and Johnny lived.
This profound incompatibility of thought between her and her husband stains the memories of Johnny with pain and sadness, who would have liked to understand her better when she was still alive.
The difficulty of defining "To the Moon" according to normal rules is the element that most characterizes the game.
“To the Moon” is an interactive narrative experience with an isometric view, based solely on the dialogue and the story, which is undoubtedly a gigantic strength. The actual playful elements are reduced to the bone, and consist exclusively of very short puzzles between one memory and the next. Online this game is defined as an adventure game, albeit lacking any real moments of exploration or adventure; or as a role-playing game, despite the fact that the player's choices do not affect the plot. We resign ourselves to defining it as a sort of visual novel in the absence of a more exact term: a shame, because this little gem deserves an even more evocative definition.
The game is currently purchasable on Steam, along with the subsequent chapters of the saga, and is available for Windows, macOS, Linux and iOS and Android mobile devices.
The soundtrack of “To the Moon” is, together with the writing of the story, the element that has been most appreciated by both critics and the playing public. Includes a piece by Laura Shigihara, "Everything's Alright”, And numerous other tracks composed by Kan Gao himself, who deals with evident pleasure in the task of making us suffer unnecessarily with just a few notes.
The music is instrumental and melancholic, mainly played on the piano, and are often explicit narrative elements: an honorable mention goes to the "River song" (yes, River's Song, you got it right), whose score is available at home Johnny from the first minutes of the game.
Other sound elements are only those related to rare objects (porte et similia), since dubbing is completely absent.
Many other things would be said about this game.
Having reached the end credits, the feeling of having just lived someone's life leaves you a little strange, saddened, as if to ask yourself how it made such a profound experience to last so little.
If you want to verbalize, you could say that "To the Moon" offers a wonderful way of talking about life and death, of regrets and remorse, as well as naturally proposing the controversial theme of "illusory memories" with infinite delicacy. But this desire to rationalize will never bring justice to a deeply human and plausible story, to a love story as few see it, to characters you will love very much, willingly or unwillingly.