Originally released on PC back in 2011, To The Moon was created by Kan Gao using the RPG Maker XP toolkit based on his own experiences with his grandfather’s life-threatening condition, and influenced by his own questions about end-of-life thoughts and whether a person can live with their regrets. Fast forward 9 years and one rebuild on Unity, and To The Moon was released on Switch in early 2020, ready to be enjoyed by a new generation.
To The Moon stars joint leads Dr. Eva Roselene and Dr. Neil Watts, two scientists who work for the Sigmund corporation. The corporation’s main focus is to grant the last wishes of its dying clients through butterfly effect-esque subconscious manipulation and creating artificial memories to make the client think they achieved their life’s goal.
Roselene and Watts are sent to the home of Johnny Wyles, a client of the Sigmund corporation who is on his deathbed and requests the doctors grant his final wish—he wants to go to the moon, only he can’t remember why.
The doctors travel through Johnny’s memories to unearth the reasons why he wants to go to the moon and work out the best way of manipulating his memories to fulfill Johnny’s dying wish.
As joint protagonists, Roselene and Watts are wonderful. They bounce off each other well and their repertoire is incredible, often adding a dose of much needed comedic relief and preventing things from getting too serious, also adding a level of emotional depth when it is required of them.
To The Moon isn’t simply a walk down memory lane, and there are a lot of roadblocks the doctors will encounter and peril to overcome. The game will encourage players to think differently about the power of memories and how they interact with people. It seems like a lot to put on a game that only lasts 4 to 5 hours, but it’s a testament to how well written it is that so much can be drawn out of it and that it can challenge traditional ways of thinking so much.
Though To The Moon is a visual novel at its core, it does have exploration elements to it. Traveling through Johnny’s life and visiting his memories, players will collect mementos to open up the path to the next memory. Once all of the mementos in a memory have been collected, puzzles open up flipping tiles to complete pictures. There is a counter racking up how many turns this takes you, but there is no punishment for going over the average number of turns. In fact, these segments seem entirely pointless and are completely at odds with the rest of the game, distracting from its fantastic and emotional narrative.
Whilst the puzzle element of To The Moon is frustratingly valueless, the exploration part works really well to provide some relief from the main narrative of the game and make it a bit more immersive. Each memory section is fairly short, so these segments are fleeting, but it changes the game from a wall of text to something the player is actively involved in. It’s not as in-depth as other visual novel detective games, yet enough to keep players engaged and helps players feel as the doctors might, reliving Johnny’s memories and learning about his past with them completing tasks on their behalf.
Progressing through To The Moon, players act as Roselene and Watts. Controlling the doctors is awkward at best. The game doesn’t allow the NPC to move diagonally, so to do something as simple as walking up some stairs, players will have to move in a wiggling motion. There’s also an issue of walking a path exactly as the game defines—there’s no room for free will here! In several places throughout the game, I also found my character trapped in the background environment and I’d have to try and wiggle my way out of it. It’s a real shame that To The Moon suffers this as it breaks immersion. To The Moon does suffer from awkward controls, but that can be forgiven to an extent as the narrative is enriching and such an emotional ride.
For the most part, exploration segments are a welcome, enjoyable foray into the world of the game. The clunky controls can be overlooked to an extent, however, there are two stand-out sections where this simply didn’t work due to feeling incompatible with the game’s mechanics. Without spoiling anything, the two sections are more action heavy than the usual roaming around looking for mementos, and the awkward controls of the game simply don’t allow players to move in a way that feels natural or intuitive to a modern gamer.
The soundtrack of To The Moon is extremely evocative and fits with the plot perfectly, winding up for moments of high tension and remaining beautifully poignant for the emotional moments. Creator Kan Gao also composed the soundtrack, so To The Moon really feels like a labor of love and an entirely contained game. The love that Kan Gao has poured into it can be felt, and as a result, it makes the whole package feel so much more raw and emotional.
To The Moon is best enjoyed as a one and done kind of game. The maximum emotional punch is delivered when completing the game in one sitting. While it can be replayed, there’s little merit to doing so. No plot points will change, and the experience will be the same each time. The heartwarming and raw story of To The Moon will stay with players though, making them question decisions in their own lives whilst toeing the line between contemplative reflection and an existential crisis.
To The Moon delivers a standout game which focuses on a lot of serious topics, without ever feeling like it’s bogging the player down with heavy themes. Striking the perfect balance of melancholy and humor, To The Moon creates an experience which will imprint on the brain and keep players thinking long after the experience has ended.
To The Moon is marred slightly by awkward controls and a seemingly pointless puzzle element, however, the depth of the game is so great that it shines despite these minor flaws. A lot is packed in To The Moon’s short run time, but it’s a game that, again, will leave most thinking about it long after they’re done, it is definitely worth picking up and taking for a spin.
Final rating: 8 out of 10.