Whenever someone tries to tell me that video games are childish or not worth serious thought or consideration, I refer them to one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had: To the Moon.
In To the Moon, you play as Dr. Eva Rosaline and Dr. Neil Watts. Working for the Sigmund Corporation, their jobs are to give dying people the lives they’ve always wanted. Using a machine that’s impossible with today’s technology, they will go inside a person’s mind and alter their memories. The person’s last moments will be in a world of their own making where anything they want is real.
The game begins as they meet their latest client, Johnny, an old man on the verge of a coma who lives with his nurse and her two children. His last wish is to visit earth’s natural satellite. It never feels natural to drop a title, at least in my opinion.
A Life Viewed Backwards
After hooking Johnny up to their machine, the doctors begin to go through his memories. They need to know what his memories are actually like before they are able to alter them. As we travel through time with them, we get to see Johnny’s life, but backwards. We see him lose his wife, River, to old age, but then we get to see the life they had together. I have heard extreme cynics say that weddings are sad affairs because the marriage won’t last, but To the Moon manages to subvert that. It establishes that Johnny and River have a loving and happy life together and then shows everything that led to that moment. We get to see Johnny compose songs for River, and we wonder why River is so attached to her stuffed platypus doll. Their story is the sort of emotional rollercoaster that many writers aspire to master. And last, but certainly not least, we discover why Johnny’s wish is to make the journey to earth’s lunar satellite.
However, I can understand how some people would have trouble with this method of storytelling. Most stories, fictional and real, are told from beginning to end with the occasional flashbacks. Whenever a story comes up that is told differently, some people do get confused. Whether the story is told through time travel or primarily through flashbacks, there is always someone who gets confused by nonlinear storytelling, and such people probably will not like the way this story is portrayed.
The Power of a Single Line
Talking about this moment of the game is going to be difficult because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. In the last quarter of this game exists a single line that changes everything that came before it, and this line is one of the most emotionally powerful lines I have ever experienced. I’m not afraid to admit that it made me tear up. It’s also a reason that I get angry when people say video games are a waste of time or childish. How can something that elicits such a powerful emotional reaction be a waste of time?
Complexity Doesn’t Mean Quality
Many gamers behave like graphics is the only aspect that matters. If a game doesn’t have the latest graphics or a shadow is slightly glitchy, they will not hesitate to deem the game unplayable. I find this trend extremely annoying since it so casually dismisses extremely well crafted stories such as the one found in To the Moon. The graphics are extremely basic and reminiscent of games found in the ‘90’s. However, this simplicity does not detract from the experience at all. If anything, I think it improved the story. Since it was developed by an independent studio, the amount of resources available were limited. They had a choice to focus on either the games overall appearance or on the story and experience. They obviously made the latter choice, and I fully support their decision.
In a similar vein, the soundtrack is simple yet effective. Rather than sweeping orchestras or heavy guitar riffs, many of the songs are simple melodies played on a piano. Despite the simplicity of the music, it effectively sets the proper tone for every scene and leaves a lasting emotional impression. Whenever I listen to the game’s soundtrack, I can close my eyes and remember the corresponding scene with all the reminiscent emotions. Unfortunately this also means that I sometimes have to skip certain songs of the soundtrack in order to avoid the more powerful memories.
I hope that I have made you interested in this game. If you are, please go and enjoy it. If you have never been interested in games before, don’t let that stop you. You don’t need any special equipment or console to experience To the Moon. All you need is the computer that you are no doubt already reading this review on.