At first glance To the Moon is a curious piece. Likely buried in your steam backlog, as it was mine, it can easily be ignored. Released all the way back in 2011, It’s a small game with very little interaction required on the player’s part. At its core it serves as an 8-bit story based journey, with a few point and click elements to keep the player involved. After finally deciding to install it I immediately regretted waiting so long. It’s difficult to explain the charm of To the Moon, but I’ll do my best here. Spoilers may be included.
This game finds a strong foundation in its characters. The dichotomy of Dr. Eva and Dr. Neil of the Sigmund Corporation brings a refreshing approach to playable characters. Both have their own set of standards and sensibilities for their job responsibilities, which allows you to align yourself during the controversial developments in the story. They also provide the much needed comedic value that juxtaposes the harsh realities that come with the lives and choices of the characters. Most of those sobering moments stem from the Johnny and River, who exist on two sides of a very complicated coin. River’s Asperger’s syndrome serves as consistent challenge to the well being of the couple, while Johnny’s reactions to those complications are questionable from an outside perspective. Additionally, the several age representations of these two characters provides an amazing level of insight into the development of their lives together. Nicholas and Isabelle are unique background characters that deliver organic exposition around River and Johnny. These characters are also portrayed within the layers of the timeline, following the memory progression.
This fantastic cast of characters does not come without a deeply inspired storyline. Framing the fulfillment of a dying man’s wish with a unique sci-fi setting is interesting from beginning to end. As the story makes its baby steps and giant leaps through the memories of Johnny Wyles, you start to become attached to the backwards narrative. Each instance brings up new questions about the characters and how they arrived at the difficult moments presented. Slowly learning about River’s affliction was emotionally moving and even a little terrifying. During my playthrough I would constantly place myself within the story and imagine how I would deal with experiencing these developments in my own life. The way these moments are spliced throughout the story is even more impressive. New information comes exactly when it needs to, delivering the biggest possible impact. Upon learning about James, Johnny’s brother, I was met with a plethora of realizations. I immediately started backtracking to recount the all the events that were now much more meaningful. Everything that takes the stage in To the Moon serves as a great source of significance to the overarching narrative.
This amazing narrative is made even more effective when accompanied by the beautiful and original soundtrack. To the Moon is made up of a shorter score compared to other games, but each track is as memorable as the last. The change in tone perfectly matches the game’s settings.The main theme, “For River,” is a beautiful callback throughout the tale and continually tugs at your heartstrings. The fact that the soundtrack is separately available on Steam should serve as an indicator of how good it actually is. It definitely belongs on my OST’s list.
By the end of To the Moon I felt…different. The game is immensely thought provoking, begging the questions: Do you have any regrets in your life? Would you do anything differently? How much do our memories actually control us? Watching the main character suffer from the choices he made was stressful. After seeing the end result of Johnny’s life with River, it’s hard to not evaluate relationships with the people closest to you. Being in control of the team actively altering Johnny’s memories, and creating an artificial version of his life to bring him happiness before his death was comforting and haunting at the same time. It makes you wonder if significant memories are the only thing standing in the way of feeling satisfied with your life? The fact that this is all stemming from a four hour game with no voice acting, minimalistic graphics, and sparse gameplay is fantastic in its own right. If you haven’t checked out To the Moon yet, do yourself a favor and download it immediately. Also, you’re totally going to cry. Everyone cries.