Steam is a pretty wonderful platform for finding new games, and that goes double for the site’s Summer and Winter Sales. This year’s Summer Sale gave me a few lovely new titles, including an RPG adventure game from 2011 called To The Moon.
Two scientists from the Sigmund Agency of Life Generation—Neil Watts and Eva Rosalene—arrive at the mansion of a dying old man, Johnny. They specialize in creating new memories for the dying, to help them achieve their missed dreams literally on their deathbed. Johnny wanted to go to the moon, so they delve into his mind with their advanced tech. However, they find that Johnny’s past trauma has more layers than anyone expected, from exploring Johnny’s marriage to his deceased wife River, their courtship, and whatever dark secret lay in their shared childhood.
Kan Gao, the game’s developer, writer, and music composer, did a fantastic job on every level. Not only did he makes the point-and-click gameplay easy to master, but he also wrote some very likable characters.
To give you an idea of what our protagonists are like, our two scientists are one point are discussing the TARDIS from Doctor Who and the logistics of trying to get a piano past its small doors. They make their arguments but then decide that they’d both love to watch such an episode of that ever happening. Neil and Eva’s pop culture-fueled banter is a nice break from the more tearful or dramatic moments they dig up when uncovering more of Johnny and River’s past. It’s never said outright, but River seems to have a disability like Asperger’s Syndrome. Johnny’s reactions to her condition only add more pathos to it, but it does raise a few issues that he himself struggles with in his youth, as we see in Neil and Eva’s journey.
This game is charming in every sense of the word. Its atmosphere is lighthearted with appropriate dips into more somber territory when dealing with Johnny’s past. What helps most is the amazing soundtrack composed by Kan Gao and Laura Shigihara. Combined with visual cues and appropriate camera shifts, the game knows how to mine every bit of emotional weight and bounce in its story, from one of the scientists having to deal with two irrepressible kids to the long journey toward achieving Johnny’s childhood dream.
I also have to commend To The Moon for its DLC content. At the time of this writing, there are 2 minisodes available to play through Steam. They take place after the events of the entire game, looking at Neil and Eva’s life and work at the Sigmund Agency. Specifically, the episodes are based on an office holiday party, wherein we see Neil’s unusual interests played out against Eva’s attempts to balance work with life outside the office. There’s even a fun minigame in the first DLC episode that plays like something out of Nintendo’s golden age.
Be warned that, if you get into To The Moon, you’ll come away with more than a bit of heartbreak by the end. That said, it’s a wonderful game that’s inventive, engaging, and incredibly sweet.
Bibliography: To The Moon. Developed by Freebird Games. Published by Freebird Games. Written by Kan Gao. Designed by Kan Gao. RPG Maker (engine). Microsoft Windows; OS X; Linux. Original release date: November 1, 2011.