I’m a grown man who’s lived a fantastically full life. I’ve been able to call myself a professional musician as well as proudly declare that I’m a military veteran. I’ve become “Uncle Chaz” as my friends gave birth to their children, and I’ve suffered through the hell of losing a child during a pregnancy. I say this not to bring attention to myself, but to add weight to the following sentence. By the end of To The Moon, I was bawling in front of my computer, absolutely inconsolable. No other game has ever been able to bring out this level of emotion for me, and I say without a hint of hyperbole that this may be one of the most moving works of media I have ever encountered.
I’ve wanted to cover To The Moon for months now. Ever since I first laid eyes on the project back in 2011, I knew there was something special to be had here. The problem is, I couldn’t quite find the right words. Video games traditionally are about the interactive experience, the feeling that you’re in control of the story and are a key component in the character’s quest. We’re normally set against impossible odds and told that through hard work and the proper train of thought, we’ll be able to rule supreme. Well, there’s nothing like that to be found here. Instead, I felt as if I was watching an interactive movie. I wasn’t needed and the included gameplay mechanics were a way of keeping my attention as opposed to empowering me.
I say without any degree of hesitation that To The Moon has surpassed the format. While it may not be the best “game” I’ve ever played, this is simply one of the most moving pieces of media I have ever encountered. But how I do I explain to you just why this is one of the most moving narratives I’ve ever encountered without ruining everything that makes it so incredible?
To The Moon is an adventure game where you play as Dr. Rosaleane and Dr. Wyatt as they attempt to rewrite the memories of an elderly patient named Johnny. In the not so distant future, patients like Johnny can hire people to give them their dream life, even if it’s only in their minds. Johnny’s one wish is to go to the moon. He has no real idea why, but that’s all he’s ever wanted. That’s where our team of scientists comes in, as they must infiltrate his mind and attempt to discover his motives so they can convince his childhood-self to become an astronaut.
In each memory, we’re privy to another turning point in Johnny’s life. We watch him stand next to the memorial for his dead wife River, see him torment himself with the decisions he needed to make over her medical care, and even the moment they discovered her illness. To progress deeper into Johnny’s mind, you’ll need to find five memory links before ultimately solving a puzzle unlocking the next memory. It’s a brilliant form of storytelling, which eventually led me to having a deep emotional connection to the character.
While the gameplay is limited to these puzzles and a few sparse moments of dodging zombies, that’s not why you play To The Moon. The writing is top notch, and I was more than content to sit back and watch this story play out in front of me. The subtle changes Dr. Rosaleane and Dr. Wyatt went through as they discovered more and more about their patient turned them from wisecracking scientists jaded with their job to emotional beings constantly questioning if they’re doing the right thing. Watching Johnny’s life unfold before my eyes lead to an emotional attachment stronger than any bond I can recall from a lifetime of gaming.
The art design is subdued, and there is no voice acting to be had. While some younger players will undoubtedly be thrown off by this, those of us who cut our teeth on the 16 bit RPGs from the Super Nintendo era will be quite at home. Even without any voice acting, To The Moon has perhaps the greatest soundtrack I’ve encountered in a game. The main song shows up several times throughout the game in different variations, and manages to seamlessly integrate with the changing landscape of Johnny’s world. Even writing this, I’m listening to the title track, and it’s hard for me not to be moved on a primordial level.
Your enjoyment of To The Moon will be based solely on how you answer this question: What is the most important part of a game to you? If it’s the challenge or invigorating gameplay, look elsewhere. However, if you’re like me and are open to the medium taking a drastic change by focusing solely on story, this may be one of the most important games you’ll ever play. My mindset has been irrevocably changed due to what I’ve encountered here, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
This article is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.