R2 -To the Moon - Video Game
Huff, puff.. Been so busy lately, there's no time to write anymore (Or that's just me justifying my laziness.) Well, you know, being oversaturated by projects and loneliness makes you busy in your mind at least. Before I disappear again, here's another review for you. I was actually quite surprised by the feedback I received from the DDLC Review.
My main concern in publishing these video game reviews here instead of the traditional brainfarts is the narrow target audience. I spoke with my father, who might just be my only frequent reader. He told me that he read my first review. I was amazed, because I wasn't sure whether it was his style of content. Neither was he, but he still liked it.
"It wasn't like reading a post about a video game, but a description of an interesting story." Essentially, that was just what I was focusing on.
If you ever asked me about the "six things I could never do without", there'd propably be the cliché'd "Friends and family", "Freedom" and "Internet". You know, all that boring stuff. I'd most likely add "Sobstories" into the mix because I am a huge crybaby. I love to cry, because there's usually no reason to otherwise **chuckles** and it might just be one of the most underrated things in the world.
So, my hobbies include searching Google for "Games that make you cry", which has served me pretty efficiently so far. On the top ranks of several lists was this RPG Maker project by a developer and storywriter Kan Gao called, "To the Moon".
To the Moon, huh?
To the Moon is a story driven video game, popular by the fact it should make even the toughest and manliest men cry. The story circles around two employees of a corporation called "Sigmund Corp.", specialized in entering people's memories. Their customerbase consists of those whose lives are hanging on a thread. The people who haven't got much time before they pass away. The bedridden people.
Sigmund Corporation provides them with professionals to make their last wishes true. Give them another chance at life, if you will. It's worth mentioning that these wishes can only be made true in the patients' minds. In reality, they indeed are, bedridden. In short, they use a wacky machine in order to enter the patient's head and hear them out, then bring a wish back to their young self via memory travel to change the timeline and make their wish true... I think? It really is one of those stories you kinda have to go through twice to understand completely... I think?!
Anyhow, think of it as you wish to become a great chef but happened to settle on being the waiter/waitress. The idea of you becoming a great chef is transferred in your head when you're a child and results in you being motivated to, well.. becoming a great chef. Got all that? Good. It's not cool to have you confused when we haven't even gotten to the sad part, yeah?
The story begins with our lovely doctor duo: Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts. They have been dispatched to fulfill the dying wish of an old man named Johnathan Wyles, or Johnny for short. Eva is portrayed as a stubborn but clever African-American woman who takes her job very seriously. Meanwhile, Neil is more vague, one to show off and make a fool of himself just the wrong times. He tries to hide the sensitive side in him but clearly has a empathic heart. These two appear to have a bitter partnership, as their constant mouthing at each other shows. Nevertheless, they seem to have known each other for a long while and are capable to work as a plausible team.
They arrive at John's house to find out that he was living with his caretaker, Lily and her two children, Sarah and Tommy. Johnny used to have a wife, who died because of a terminal illness, which was diagnosed at a late-stage. Her name is River, who plays a significant part in the story and will be explained in detail later.
When they first get inside the house, they're greeted by Lily who describes John's condition to them and leads them upstairs to meet him. The house itself is huge and vintage. First thing to catch your eye is propably the grand piano right down the hall, in a small space between the dining room and the common room. As a wannabe-pianist myself, the scene with a grand piano appealed to me. More specifically, when Sarah and Tommy race to the piano to play as a duo, in such an passionate manner. I'd love to see such young siblings who take such interest in playing an instrument; namely a piano. The scene warmed my heart.
So far, our dear SigCorp professionals have been carrying a large mysterious box full of what they just call "equipment". Any memory-manipulation hasn't been introduced yet, so I kind of spoiled that already in the intro. Silly me, better get used to that.
There is a doctor alongside Lily upstairs, where John lies on his bed. It is then revealed that John wants to go to the moon. We don't know the cause (I'll just drop the 'third person' and refer Eva and Neil as a first perspective.) and neither does Lily. John is a total mystery to all of us. That's about to change when we approach him via his own memories.
Inside his own mind, we apprehend him and discover that even John himself was clueless as to where his desire to go to the moon originated from. Nevertheless, he was determined to get there. As we're traveling down Johnny's memory lane, we find the last memory of River. She indeed was suffering from an unknown illness. Without proper and expensive treatment, she wouldn't have a chance of survival. All their expenses were tied to the house, which is still in construction. They wouldn't afford this costly treatment. Johnny was desperate and was even willing to give up the house, their mutual dream in exchange for her health.
First thing you'd propably notice is River's manner of speaking to her husband indifferently. She didn't care and wasn't willing to let any more money and trouble to be "wasted" on her. She was accepting her fate, which should not come as a surprise at that point, odds of survival being what they were. There wasn't a shred of empathy or intimacy in her voice, however. Our Johnny here being a pianist and all, he had composed a piece for her and ordered the heavy grand piano to be brought upstairs, where River was located. Even when Johnny presented the song he wrote, "For River", she wasn't treating him any differently.
We learn that John and River met each other at high school and started dating. River was known for being a little "odd" and by herself mostly, accompanied only by her plushie platypus. Johnny was desperate to stand out of the ordinary and be someone different. River appeared as unique to him. He got some backlash for being cold in his reason for interest. River wasn't trying to be different and most certainly wasn't happy being "odd" to everyone else. So, she also didn't appreciate John admitting that that's the fact he was into her initially.
Multiple years forward, they got married and began constructing a house on a hill, which meant much to River. You see, River is really sentimental towards lighthouses. As a child, she had a delusion that all the stars scattered around the celestial sphere are lonely lighthouses that want to communicate but really cannot because they're so far apart. She wanted to befriend one so they wouldn't be left alone. Later in life they chose a hilltop near a lighthouse as the foundation for their future house, so River could fulfill that dream and be happy. She named that lighthouse "Anya".
You hear peole frequently talking about River's "condition". River hasn't been one to openly show her feelings to John at any point. She keeps her business on point and says nothing more. She also practises origami, an art of folding paper into some shape, usually an animal. At fairly early in the story we're exposed to large quantities of origami rabbits. Like, uncomfortable amounts. River keeps telling John to describe the rabbit origami she'd made. Not much to say about it, John is struggling to find the right words.
"It's a rabbit, just like all the others you've made."
For River, it's just not enough. She clearly has a specific detail in mind that she wants to hear. Something Johnny might have.. forgotten?
In fact, some of the things I said were just to mislead you. In fact, John has detained memories that he's not aware of. When he was a child, there was an accident where his twin brother, Joey, died in a horrible car accident. Completely unaware, their mother drove over Joey while reversing out of their garage. John being in an unstable state of mind, he was prescribed a sort of beta-blockers that had a potential side-effect of memory loss. Everything that's happened before the incident was gone from John's recollective memory.
You know what else was hidden in there? His first encounter with River. That's right, it happened way before high school. John and River initially met at a festival, or more precisely, at a cliff near the festival. That's where the two talk about the stars and try to make out a constellation of a bunny, to see who gets it first.
River had already the figure drawn before her eyes. When John finally figured it out, River told him to describe it to her.
"There's the ears and the head, feet down below. The moon was it's big round belly."
There's the bunny, in both of their minds. Before John leaves to hurry to his mother, he hands over a plush toy he won at a whack-a-mole game to River. It's a platypus, although neither of them really knows what the creature resembled at the time. They also promised to meet there the next year, same time, same place. If either one forgot or got lost..
"Then we can always regroup on the moon, silly!"
"...Right on the rabbit's tummy!"
So that's why he forgot why he wanted to go. That's why River kept folding those rabbits and asking things about it. That's why River was hurt about John's confession before, because he'd forgotten their first meeting back then. That's why John didn't remember the platypus she'd kept with her all those years. That's why...
But wait a minute, if she wanted to tell him, why use such trivial measures and not just tell him straight? Remember that "condition" of hers? She's suffering from autism. She's having difficulties expressing herself and communicating openly with John. John knew this but always stayed at her side, to the grim end. It's time to change the course of time..
Neil and Eva tried everything to make the young-John interested in becoming an astronaut, but nothing worked. They've tried NASA presentation, interstellar-themed movies, encouragement, with nothing seeming to work. There's only one thing left to be done. Eva erased River from his life and prevented Joey from ever dying, which led to John never having to use beta-blockers and losing his memory. The two never met but he was finally determined to go to the moon. John applied at NASA and worked his way to become an astronaut.
But wait, there's an other recruit as well. A woman with orange hair walked in the door and greeted John. River. In this lifetime, they never met each other. After years of training and preparing, the take-off was drawing near. They were both to leave together with a couple of other astronauts.
Seeing the rocket take-off in the distance, Neil and Eva watched from a nearby bridge at their job well done. As the rocket accelerated towards the atmosphere, all the moments featuring John and River's life were reflected as a slideshow. The lighthouse, wedding, their house; memories that never existed in this timeline.
Beep.. beep.. beep.. echoes the heart beat monitor. John's time was near. The rocket has escaped velocity. Inside the space shuttle River offered her hand to John. Just as the moon became visible from the front window, John takes her hand and they look at the moon. Together.
And so.. Johnny's heart stopped and he passed away. He got what he wanted and died living his dream inside his head. Credit roll.
Are you crying yet?
This concludes the tale of Johnny and River, best experienced firsthanded but attempted to replicate at my best ability in this review. By the end of it, I was sobbing as if someone close to me had died, and so did everyone else who played the game.
I really must wonder what it would be like to work at a company like that. It must be interesting to go through someone's life and see their highlights and being able to make them happy. On the other hand, your gig always ends up with a dying person, which must be heavy on one's mind also. A really interesting concept though. This type of story script is something I wish to accomplish at some point in life.
I must say, this was an extremely difficult review to write. Firstly, because of some details I've forgotten since I played it, which was about a month ago. Secondly, because I wanted to reflect the emotions I felt even remotely to you. Without translating the review into a novel, this is the best I could do. Thirdly, propably because I was trying to hold off the tears while writing it. Replaying certain scenes of it via Youtube for confirmation and listening to the emotional soundtrack didn't help either. This review took about a month to finish, so...
I just happen to love these kind of games because they leave you either with a warm feeling or a broken heart in such a way that's not dangerous for you. They are stories, after all. fables. That's why my favorites are usually the ones that make me really emotional. I've become to admire the importance of combining a scene and a soundtrack. Kan Gao and Laura Shigihara really nailed it with the OST. It's mostly piano which is really atmospheric for me personally, as you can propably tell at this point.
I don't really know what else there is to say about it. My fingers are getting numb from all the typing and I don't want to cry anymore. If you'll excuse me, this concludes today's review and we'll speak another time. I finished the sequel, "Finding Paradise" yesterday, might have to write a review of it, too. Sweet, sweet tearjerkers.. Thanks for reading, love ya!
"The ending isn't any more important than any of the moments leading to it." -Eva Rosalene
What you should listen to right now to feel me: To The Moon Main Theme – Kan Gao
And while you're feeling me, check this out: "For River" – Kan Gao
January 16th, 2018