Gaming is a medium smothered by player expectation. There is a long list of boxes a game must tick, in order to be judged worthy of your time and money. It has to be intuitive, non-linear, interactive, reactive, responsive, challenging, entertaining, engaging, optimised for a platform, pushing technology, unique, immersive, and so it goes on. Forget about all of that. To the Moon is many things. Most importantly, it approaches it subject matter with dignity and grace.
It is, arguably, not even a game. It is really a story, told through the medium of gaming. It is no less than absolutely beautiful. It is no more than a love story. You will not learn any more about the true nature of the story from this review. It is not a case of avoiding spoilers. It is because there is no way to preview this content. This is a story that cannot and will not be rushed, for any reason. When you reach the credits, you might understand why.
Does all this mean that To the Moon is only meant for a certain kind of player? Is it only made for a niche audience, or someone who can appreciate a “small budget” style of presentation? Absolutely not. Someone who has never played a single game would be delivered the same five hours of the same story, in much the same way as anyone else. Everyone is welcome here, even if familiarisation with general game mechanics and the 2D JRPG should enrich the narrative.
The subject matter is serious, but a clever insult or silly gaming reference, adroitly diffuses tension, time and again.
Perhaps seeming contradictory to an above statement, although it isn’t, some context actually can be provided. As the first in a series of planned episodes, which are cast in an alternate universe, but only ever so slightly so, Drs Rosalene and Watts grant wishes to the dying. They make historical, but immaterial, changes that occur within the mind of the patient during their last days. It is a process that involves journeying through a person’s most private memories.
You’d think this would be a job for a consummate professional, right? Actually, the two doctors are incredibly silly; they bicker, make inappropriate remarks and, generally, act like regular people at work. And thank goodness for that because this game would not work at all, without very precisely timed, but entirely natural, comic relief. The subject matter is serious, but a clever insult or silly gaming reference, adroitly diffuses tension, time and again.
The funny thing about comedy, though, is that it is fleeting. There are only so many times you can laugh at the same joke. Smile, sure, but really laugh? What remains is far more potent. Every word is so carefully placed that the entire plot becomes both an incredibly simple, and incredibly intricate, puzzle. In many ways, it solves itself. Pieces may still be falling into place days after you finish; that’s why she said that, that’s why he did that, that’s why that thing was blue and yellow.