By RPS on November 9th, 2011 at 4:45 pm.
As you may have noticed, we love To The Moon – a genuinely wonderful adventure game about memory, love and relational disorder. John’s going on about it caused Adam to play, and so we’ve sat down to have a chat about how it hit us. The discussion below contains spoilers right to the very end of the game, so we strongly encourage you to play it first. Which you should anyway.
Adam:: Well, I finished about ten minutes ago so my eyes are still glistening with more than their normal lively spirit. I’ve been crying. Quite a lot actually.
John: How regular a thing is that for you?
Adam:: I’m quite prone to it, especially where music’s involved and I think that was a big part of it here. It’s not just beautiful music (which it is), it’s also layered and thematically placed. Very clever. I think it’d be a shame if people thought this was just a tearjerker though – it’s funny and thoughtful too. Doesn’t just go for the swelling strings and broad gestures toward loss.
John: So people can get the premise from reading my review, but in short, you’re a pair of doctors who give people new, false memories, by using a magic machine to travel back through their life, hopping from memory to memory. That about right?
Adam:: That about sums it up premise-wise, yep. There’s a fairly obvious and not entirely appropriate touchstone in Eternal Sunshine – it also reminded me of a little-seen recent British film called Skeletons which also has two characters with a seemingly normal job that delves into metaphysics. I like that To The Moon’s doctors aren’t amazed by what they do. It’s a job that just happens to involve magic.
John: What did you think of the two personalities?
Adam:: I found the constant interjections from Neil really grating at first – didn’t find him funny, just found him hyperactive. But he grew on me. I preferred Eva and chose to ‘be’ her right at the start. Don’t know if that makes any difference, since there are switches later anyway. Who did you pick and any reasons?
John: I liked Neil straight away. I liked how rude he was.
Adam:: I think I was a bit disconcerted – I’d expected grief and here was jollity! I didn’t know what it was doing in my grief. But that’s precisely why he became important and surprisingly complex. By the end, the doctors are characters, not observers. I think when I saw him as nothing more than a comical observer, it bothered me a little.
John: I avoided using the word “Asperger’s” in my review because I felt like it was a big spoiler. Did you suspect that this was what the game was going to be about from early on?
Adam:: Not in the slightest. I think I was thrown by the doctors’ magic machine and therefore assumed there might be some magical condition in the game as well. I didn’t get it until the book reference, which I immediately googled.
John: Me too. But I think I’d figured it out by that point.
Adam:: I am a bear of little brain.
John: Not much before then, admittedly.
Adam:: Speaking of the actual process of playing the game, where there any parts that frustrated you? Do you think the minigames are necessary for any reason other than to provide an extra interactive portion?
John: No, they seemed to be added in perhaps out of fear more than anything else. As if the developer thought it needed some more substance. It certainly didn’t.
Adam:: Not at all – I think the same though, they do seem like superfluous punctuation rather than phrases. Which is a horribly pretentious way of putting it but I dare not retract it.
John: I also could have done without the running sequence toward the end. I understand what role it played, but I never want action in my adventures.
Adam:: Agreed. Particularly since there’s a gag about the inclusion of action, or maybe it’s about the JRPG graphics. With the squirrel battle near the beginning.
John: Yes. Although that’s a splendid joke.
Adam:: It’s brilliant and it’s one of the places where I first noticed how expressive the characters are. There is some superb spritework on display. Practically every conversation feels like it has unique animations and you could read into River’s body language. Visually, it’s quite excellent.
John: It’s interesting how small your role in the game is. Essentially clicking on some objects. You can see why he was afraid it was too little, even though it wasn’t. And yes, it looks just gorgeous throughout. The animations are wonderful.
Adam:: Yes, there’s not a lot to do but it’s a huge experience. And it is important that you have that small amount of control because it allows discovery of the edges of each memory and then forces you to root through them. It wouldn’t work anywhere near as well if it was a pure visual novel thingy.
John: So, go on, when did you first tear up?
Adam:: There were some hairy moments really early on, but the first bit when I emitted a small whimpering noise was Joey’s introduction. From then on in I was quite fragile.
John: For me it was the moment I realised what the rabbit meant. That absolutely tore me up. That they’d been living together their entire lives, and he’d never, ever understood her only way of saying “I love you.”
Adam:: “And what else?”
John: I was then destroyed by the rocket taking off. My wife came in at that point, which was a smidgeon embarrassing.
John: The attitude of the two scientists, their banter at that point.
Adam:: Yeah, it’s a powerful ending, even though its so clearly signposted, even in the title, the dialogue pulls it through.
John: Then the final moment was that beep-to-violin. That was almost Up-levels of boo-hooing for me.
Adam:: It certainly dragged more tears out of me than any other game I’ve ever played. If memory serves, Grim Fandango was the last, though that seems odd now.
John: Yeah – despite my reputation, it’s only the third game to have me actually cry.
Adam:: I think Silent Hill 2 probably got me now that I think about it, but that would be the only other that I can think of. And, again, it seems odd to think of now. Perhaps because I just played through something that felt more legitimate in its emotional claim. Awkward word ‘legitimate’, but there it is.
John: Do you think To The Moon has changed your mind about autism in any way? I found it interesting to see so many angles argued, especially Eva’s sudden turnaround regarding the miserable marriage.
Adam:: It’s made me want to read more around it, which is always a good sign. I’ve seen some fairly harsh comments about Johnny – his selfishness and the fact that his desire for River is based on her being different, almost like an accessory.
John: Well, he was a kid! He was in high school. But boy, did that bite him on the ass. But that speaks to a horrible truth. I remember at that age thinking how great it would be to have a deaf girlfriend, for exactly the same reasons. Teenage boys are awful.
Adam:: Oh, absolutely. The very worst of things. And many of them are in their late forties now.
John: But I loved that mix of complications, of each character being multifaceted. It was amazing to see characters in gaming fiction who aren’t conveniently defined in their opening moments.
Adam:: Yep. And it made a fool of me – going back to the Neil comic sidekick reaction I had right at the start. I was judging it too quickly and on entirely the wrong level.
John: And Neil wasn’t an arsehole with a heart of gold. He was an elaborately complicated person with contradictory traits.
Adam:: Agreed. We could probably find ways to disagree about things, plenty, but shall we just agree that we were both moved by its music, its writing and its intelligence?
John: Yes we shall. I want to have my memory wiped so I can play it again.
Adam:: It can be arranged.