Verdict: To The Moon

By RPS on November 9th, 2011 at 4:45 pm.

Come cry with me, come cry, come cry away.

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: Sniff.

Adam:: Sob.

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.

John: Thanks!

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52 Comments »

  1. Ian says:

    I wondered why there were spoilers in this and stopped reading.

    Apparently I only have 1/10 Introduction-Reading Skill.

    • The Army of None says:

      It’s worth it to stop reading and go play it. This is one of the games where it’s really wonderful to go in as blind as possible; I think you’ll enjoy it more that way :)

    • Ian says:

      That’s why I stopped reading. :)

      Dunno when I’ll play it, but I’m guessing it’s shortish so I might be able to squeeze it in amongst Bastion and the oncoming GAME STORM of Skyrim and Arkham City.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Same for me, I missed the “warning spoilers” bit, and jumped directly to the dialog. And it was ok for the most part, so I thought it was spoiler-free.

      Then I read “Asperger’s”, and though “Dammit, spoilers obviously, too late”.

    • Vagrant says:

      I’m not sure Asperger’s is a spoiler. I’d picked up on that very early in the game (by the 2nd memory I think) and her condition had very little to do with the base story. Contrary to what some people say, this is not a story about Aspergers.

      If anything, it’s a subtle sub-plot running through the whole story, but he didn’t try to hide it. He dropped clues throughout, including their friend using the word ‘neurotypical,’ which pretty much made it obvious to me.

      The heading picture, on the other hand, is a MASSIVE SPOILER WTF.

  2. The Army of None says:

    “I want to have my memory wiped so I can play it again.”
    The moral dilemmas!

  3. MasterBoo says:

    I bought it after the “Wot I think” and completed it within 2 sits (5 hours totally). While the story really touched me (and I did shed tears twice), I think it lacked some more mechanics to actually make it a game. I agree, the minigame were added out of fear and felt a bit out of place. Nevertheless, it’s a great experience and I urged all my friends to buy and play it themselves.

    • DojiStar says:

      Yes, I thought the minigames were also out of place and totally unnecessary. The lack of gameness (as opposed to gaminess, which is how I like my meat animals) did not bother me. I viewed it similar to say a Japanese visual novel or Western interactive fiction work of some kind — a more interactive and clicky medium than a book or movie but still experiencing a largely linear narrative. The fact it had a JRPG skin really worked for me. The theme of exploring the same environments that changed over time fit better than watching a movie, turning pages, cutscenes, or visual novel pictures-with-text since that’s what the doctors are doing — exploring. The pixel characters were very expressive yet abstract enough that we can use our own imaginations for how they really appeared.

      SEMI SPOLIERY (but i guess the whole article is anyway?)
      I really liked the whole thing: the gradual exploration of River’s condition, the reveal about Johnny’s memory, the classic anime/manga trope of the forgotten childhood promise, the music, the heartrending animations, etc. The banter between the doctors made it bearable, both for themselves and me the player, just like real life trauma teams being lighthearted about dealing with dying patients all the time. And clearly, Neill, at least, is just as bothered by all this as me the player and has similar troubles dealing with it.

      CAVEAT: I was heavily under the influence of cold medication the whole time I played. My perceptions may have been more trippy than others’.

  4. Meat Circus says:

    It’s not much of a game, surely, but as a piece of interactive storytelling it’s remarkable.

    I wasn’t so much saddened as angered by what THEY do at the end of the game. Done with the best of intentions, certainly, but it’s not acceptable.

    • Ravenholme says:

      See, for me, a good game is interactive storytelling anyway. In freeroam games it’s about the story that I end up telling about my character within the framework of the game. If the gameplay isn’t annoying (as in, controls that actively fight you/stupidly difficult, etc), I will forgive a lot for a good story. Hence why I loved Alpha Protocol, because underneath it’s myriad flaws lurked an excellent attempt at a story where choices and consequences mattered.

      And this might be why I love Visual Novels, and look forward to playing To The Moon when I’ve finished the lab work for my Thesis.

      It does make me wonder though, how John would find Clannad if he could get along with the JVN format.

    • bhlaab says:

      Where’s the interactive part of the interactive storytelling. Where is it. Tell me where it is.

    • Ravenholme says:

      Go play some and then make comments… Some like… oh, I dunno… Galaxy Angel. You know, the vast swathe of the visual novels which are interactive (as in.. you do something to influence the story.. you, now get this and hold on to your seat as it might be a shock, interact with it to reach whichever conclusion you’re drifting towards. Decision making is interaction son.)

      Nevermind that adding imagery and music on top of a typical novel structure also causes interaction with the player/reader/interacter beyond blank text.

      Something like Umineko No Naku Koro Ni is just a visual novel (Technically called a sound novel because it’s visuals are very lo-fi and instead it relies on it’s sound effects/music), in that there is no interaction beyond reading. Well, until the final Episode, where you get to decide the interpretation of everything seen to date.

  5. Trillby says:

    Well, I loved it. I did not just cry a little, I properly wept – from the first bit, where he is standing at the grave outside in the rain, then again when he plays her the song, then again and again and again.

    Mostly, I understood the game to be about bereavement – River and Joey especially of course, but also Johnny’s loss of memories and the “what could have been”. Towards the end, I, like Niel, could not even stand that Eva was going to remove River. His panic was my own, and that slightly legitimised the action element, because I really felt incredibly pressured to stop her, with that horrible rising sense of inevitability that Eva would do it.

    I found the ending very bitter-sweet – I could not decide whether I liked what had happenend, and I was not convinced that Joey was “worth more” than River (even though she ended up coming back). The idea that she might not was devastating.

    The music was astounding. I convinced my non-gaming girlfriend to play it yesterday, and the music that wafted through to my room nearly set me off again. I have to be honest, no film, book or song has ever hit that nerve quite in the same way this game has. My girlfriend is ploughing through it slowly (I could not tear myself away from it, I had to finish it in one sitting), but is not quite as moved as I was. I think that it has a lot to do with me being a “gamer”, and taking the controls and gameiness for granted, just getting on with it, whereas she has more trouble just getting to grips with the controls and exploration.

    Anyway, Kan Gao, if you ever read this, please know that you are and will always be in my pantheon of heroes. To The Moon is a masterpiece…thank you.

    • Bishbosh says:

      I fully agree on the action sequence being legitimized by the panic shared between the player and Neill. I was hoping if I could get through it fast enough I could stop Eva, so it certainly added a sense of urgency for me. There’s few games I can think of that have made me feel involved in the events of the story to that extent.

  6. Bingla says:

    At first I though it kinda sad he never picked up on Rivers way of saying she loved him. But when the final scene rolled and the reason why he subconsiously wanted to go to the moon became apparent; that moment alone was worth the money.

  7. CaLe says:

    When people tell me to watch a movie because it made them cry I simply don’t watch that movie. I’m feeling the same about this. I’d rather know nothing than always be thinking that something emotional is going to happen and wondering what it could be.

    • Vagrant says:

      Here’s the beautiful thing with this story: There’s not one specific emotional thing. The entire game is just layers of emotional thoughts.

      Sure, there’s a specific climax that makes the rest fit together, but even that wasn’t very sad (in fact, it was a happy moment). But what does happen after that, is you think back on the rest of the game with a different understanding. Then, it makes you cry as you remember the entire story. Ahhh I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

      But, for the sensitive types, you will get choked up multiple times.

    • CaLe says:

      That’s made it sound much more appealing, thank you. Just bought it now.

  8. IDtenT says:

    I really loved this game. I loved that Neill was basically portraying you as the player (I’ve had others say Eva was portraying them (heartless bitches!)). Very manipulative, but good.

    So… What about the cliffhanger. What did you guys think about that? Potential? Can a sequel live up to this game? What do you think is going on? Etc.

    What about the ethical issues? Was the death of a Joey necessary to advance the plot?

    I like that the game asks me questions, not just about the human condition, but also about game design.

    • jp0249107 says:

      I’m pretty sure that there is going to be another episode. I seem to remember Kan Gao mentioning it somewhere. That and the whole “episode” thing at the end tipped me off.

  9. Colonel J says:

    I was about to press buy on this then remembered there’s another Indie Royale bundle out tomorrow so going to wait to see if it turns up on that, I have a feeling it might….

    • IDtenT says:

      I doubt it. For one thing and one thing alone. The bundle’s title. It’s called the difficult bundle. There is nothing difficult about this game. Alpha? Nope not that either. It could make it to the massive bundle.

      Secondly, both Indieroyale and Humble are pushing games available on steam. This is not, even though it is on Desura.

    • Colonel J says:

      Good point!

      *buys*

      Edit: However the title is ‘The Difficult 2nd Bundle’…as in the cliche of ‘the difficult 2nd album / novel’ rather than the difficulty of the games? Anyway.

    • Tobisas says:

      The developer is also trying to get this game on Steam, but last I checked he hadn’t received a response to his application yet.

  10. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    I dunno man, I want to play it, but on the other hand, paying money for games?

  11. blind_boy_grunt says:

    i didn’t like it as much as anyone else seems to do, to put it another way i didn’t love it. I’m still glad i played it and would anyone advise to play it, but the story in the end seemed to be too fluffy, too much star crossed lovers. Even the one part of Joey’s assholery could be described as him remembering her subconsciously, his teenager self wants her just like the dying self wants to go to the moon without knowing why.
    Book tip of the day: the solitude of prime numbers, it has the same vibe (i think) as this story (…as the joey story, no scifi gadgets)

  12. MrMallakai says:

    About the minigame puzzles, I think they fit in to the story quite well. It was like they were trying to fill in the blanks of his memory, and the further back they went, the more spaces there were to fix/fill since the memories were more vague.
    I think the entire game was wonderful. I’m glad I decided to give it a try after all.

    • Vagrant says:

      The puzzles were not anything too bad, although I didn’t like how it tracks your total moves. What was out of place and a little annoying was the bit with the zombie Evas.

    • firefek says:

      I think the total move counter was a reference to one of the “books” in the house where it says that an origami master takes specifically 42 (I think) folds to fold the object. So I assumed that solving all the puzzles perfectly would give you 42 moves, I have yet to try this out.

  13. Smouticus says:

    Well, I hadn’t twigged until reading this that the beta blockers interfered with his memory of the first rabbit.

    And that just set me off again. In public. We are talking 7 out of 10 on the Up scale.

  14. spec10 says:

    … started the 1 hour demo 18:39. Bought the full game 19:40. Finished the game 22:40. Now it’s 00:24, I’m trying to sleep but I can’t … still thinking about the game and listening to the soundtrack :)

    … brilliant masterpiece of art :)

  15. jp0249107 says:

    My wife and I finished it together on my laptop sitting on our bed. It is indeed a “first ten minutes of Up” experience. Except it’s extended to about 5 hours. We both lost our shit 3 different times over the course of the game. It’s amazing how much it affected us.

    The game has affected me like no other book or movie has. It truly is a beautiful work of art that should be put in the Library of Congress or something.

  16. CaLe says:

    Totally missed the whole rabbit meaning thing. Looking back on it I still don’t see how I could have figured out that it meant that she was saying ‘I love you’. Maybe I didn’t read a note? For sure that would have been a powerful moment, if I had noticed it.

    (I still didn’t even put together the fact she was making rabbits and the childhood promise… Played it at 3am, which could be a factor – or I’m dumb)

    It’s the first game to have made me cry, only 2 tears but still. I had no reaction to the ending though, I just enjoyed it and thought it was a happy one. Kinda reminded me of My Sassy Girl (Korean movie) with them holding hands like that.

    Him giving her the platypus got me, then when the whole meeting on the moon thing. Also because I misinterpreted a scene I actually had it hit me when it shouldn’t have. I thought it was Joey going out by himself into the woods and when I saw the starry sky my mind thought this was all for his brother, that he was the one who wanted to go to the moon.. Turned out it was Johnny but my misinterpretation caused that to be a powerful moment when it hadn’t become anything yet.

    Something I didn’t like was the writing as they were children. Reasoning even came into their conversation. The writer didn’t adjust to their age at all which felt jarring.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      Your experience is pretty similar to mine.

      Realising the significance of the moon and where the platypus came from was what brought on the tears. I didn’t really get the sense of ‘rabbit = love’, only that his lost memory of the moon rabbit was what River always missed.

      For me, the gradual unwinding of Johnny’s story was the highlight. The re-plotting went by too quickly and was a little predictable (although it probably didn’t help my emotional involvement that I took a break between).

  17. Branthog says:

    Oh, not only “relational disorder”, but includes Aspergers, too? This game sounds ripped from the headlines of Slashdot and every other geek publication circa 2006, when everyone decided to start proclaiming themselves as having some variation of the disorder (because it sounds way cooler if you have a disorder than just having some problems or quirks).

    I love games that are outside the norm, but this sounds like it’s outside the norm by using everything that’s normal and generic and meant to make you feel sappy and thoughtful in an insincere and disingenuous way. Everything about this is screaming at me to avoid it. It’s a shame that there’s such a dirth of smart content in gaming that we cling to the weakest bread crumbs falling from the table of mediums that do these topics much better.

    • Someblokius says:

      [EDIT: Removed.]

    • Tobisas says:

      Don’t be such a negative Nancy.

      The game isn’t at all about “the latest hip social dysfunction” or anything. They don’t even really mention aspergers, they merely have a character who has some kind of social dysfunction as part of the whole story, it allows them to have this character do or not do certain things which wouldn’t make much sense if she were a ‘normal person’.

      Seriously, I hate the whole Asperger’s craze too, but I adored this game. If you “love games outside the norm”, you should really try this game because it does a unique form of storytelling in the manner of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless mind, and the combination of 8-bit graphics and excellent piano score.

      In the end it just seems tragic and ironic that you’re lamenting the lack of well told stories in gaming, while dismissing this excellent piece of game storytelling out of hand based on your misconceived perceptions. Could you at least play the free trial?

    • CaLe says:

      Having finished it, I can safely say that I felt there was not one thing insincere or disingenuous with it. You are very critical of something you know little about.

  18. Tobisas says:

    This seems silly to say, but I’d just like to thank RPS for covering this game so extensively.

    I picked up the game after your “Wut I think”, and it’s been an incredibly moving experience. And though I hate to be the evangelizing fanboy, it’s been really frustrating to see how this game is escaping the view of the general audience, so I’ve been trying to show people the light on this.

    But alas, I don’t have a lot of influence on the general audience. That’s why I’m grateful that RPS keeps reminding people to play this. This game deserve more rabid followers, damnit!

  19. kupocake says:

    One of these days, Alice…

  20. BeamSplashX says:

    Skeletons is a great film, though I missed some of the opening due to film festival traffic. The stories the lead actors told after the screening were hilarious, too, especially in regards to how people reacted to how much weight the red-headed guy lost after the movie came out.

    Now I’m much more interested in giving this a whirl. Thanks, Adam. Thadam. Thadam bomb?

  21. brooklyn67 says:

    Thanks, RPS, for hipping me to this game. Just finished it, and loved it. I didn’t actually shed tears but that may be because I ended up playing it in 4 sessions. Also, I’m a heartless ass. I agree that the game-ish parts were my least favorite, but I think the puzzle parts served-perhaps purposefully-as punctuating points to sort of reset your head for he next section.
    I haven’t really played a point-and-click game since Myst and was surprised how little the graphic style fell away and how engrossed I got in the story.
    I am very embarrassed to say I didn’t “get” the rabbit-love thing.
    All-in-all, one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve had and a clear example of a game that does not dumb-down the brain wiring of those who play it.

  22. Jarenth says:

    I’m going to say thanks, too. Thanks for recommending this game, and thanks for writing this bit, which made a lot clearer to me. The significance of the blue-white rabbit specifically didn’t dawn on me (though the rabbits in general did), and I never picked up on the Asperger’s angle, too, though I suspected something along those lines.

    Oddly, I didn’t really feel sad at all while playing. Ok, there were some heavy-on-the-eyes moments, but the overall tone was more bittersweet than anything. I mostly found myself grinning along with the comedy, and silently reading along with the drama. And of course that one final segment, where equal parts of panic and anger boiled to the surface handily. But sad? No.

    All in all, well worth the time and more than worth the money. Here’s hoping there’ll be a followup, and that it’ll be as good.

  23. costyka says:

    Well, there are a few things that this game sort of does right – one and the most important being to give a hint on how well written and enticing a narrative in a game could actually be. But in itself the game lacks the narrative polish and the genuineness to the point that it makes you angry. Angry because the failure could have been avoided if the writer was genuine, and not trying so much to make you feel. Emotion that is solicited so bluntly is for a lesser kind of individuals, and, I think that it was done just to expand the player base, to capture the attention of a less educated audience. But, either way, it’s a remarkable fail.

    The genuine good thing to the end is the level of suggestion the graphics offer, they work better than any other “engine-processed” rendering, makes the imagination work, and, sometimes, comes up with some really interesting visual effects. The fact that those effects are produced organically and delivered deliberately, when chosen to, and not left at the discretion of an “engine” makes them further more powerful.

    But, really, in the end, it is only because at times the game gives you a hint about how mature a story could be in a game, how intricate but also precise, that it earns the right to be further analyzed, but, otherwise, it is such a disappointment and such a half-munched work.

    So, for starters, you are greeted with some symbols that you would expect to actually carry and, at some point, reveal the meaning they supposedly have, but they just prove to be placeholders. Are the road kills meant to mean something – is there something deeper about them? Are the 2 car accidents related in any way? Unfortunately not (unless, judging by the red flickering of the screen in the end, an Inception spindle real/unreal wink, the 2 docs may still be in a simulator – or maybe interpretable as self referencing by admitting being characters in a game; some of the lighthearted Matrix references, there may be a further level of understanding for all those unexplained details to be developed in a sequel), they hold no meaning other than in pure repetition, they are void of any deeper significance. It’s something that just came to the writer while in the process of writing and thought to be cool – they however are foreshadows of nothing. They are empty.

    Is there a reason for the brother figure dying hit by the car driven by his own mother? Is there a reason for the brother figure being present at all, existing as a character? Why give the child medication to block his memory of his brother’s death, when, in reality, it should have been the mother who needed it, him being too young to actually be affected too deeply? Of course, the short episode gives the moon-bunny love symbol being forgotten it’s reason to be forgotten, but it is actually nothing more than an artifice to give the bunny story element sufficient validation. Therefore, the death of the brother and the medication inducing memory wipe is nothing more than a tool, only used for one single purpose – to give reason enough for the bunny-love symbol to be forgotten – thus the cheap thrill from the part of the ignorant spectator. Which is such a cheap trick, as the brother and mother characters are not further developed.

    That is why the replacement episode – the girl being “replaced” by the brother in the end is so cheap and anticlimactic. The brother’s worth is equal to zero to the player, the brother character is no more than a cardboard figure which is worthless. To replace the memory of the wife with that of a dead brother explained briefly by stating that there are so many wives to choose from but only one irreplaceable brother, while, as a character in the game the brother is virtually nonexistent, this is a narrative blunder,an easy way to make the pieces fit together.

    Maybe the regressive story telling method was too demanding, but the problem is not only in the technique so much as in the commitment and genuineness. This is after all a niche game which, you may think, would be addressing an intelligent audience, therefore, you may want as a writer to keep away from the cheap soap opera moments. It is so cheap, especially in those crucial moments, underdeveloped and so soap-opera like – lacking any precision or any commitment to deliver a story that could have otherwise been as powerful and as well written as any other valuable piece of literature. And you can’t even blame the medium, the fact that the ‘game’ came in the way, because the interaction is minimum or separated from the story.

    I’m sure that many of the ideas were thrown at the game on the fly, as I’ve mentioned, the roadkill and many other empty symbols may be nothing more than an after-thought, content to beef up the game, to give it an unnecessary narrative roundness. Which is something that you just don’t do, you don’t just punch in some fluff and expect to keep the story focused and clean. And the ending which just doesn’t settle, lingers in so many more unnecessary scenes, that the total impact is so much lessened, diluted. End your game already, will you!

    Of course, there are so few games with genuine stories, stories developed by an actual author, rivaling real writing/story-telling. It can be done, and this game proves it, but it proves it in such a heart breaking way. It is a game to make you weep, but rather because it could have been so much better, an example of genuine heart touching literature in games.

    • johann tor says:

      Thank you for this. I wish I had read this before spending three hours of valuable time (and ten bucks).
      What does it say for a game narrative when even the author feels compelled to finally wink at you at the ending when a character turns and says that all this was a “bunch of sappy cheese that sort[s] itself out“.
      However cleverly nested the narrative is, that it does not trust the player with even the slightest agency within that narrative is absolutely inexcusable. I cannot comment on its apparent power to move people. It left me pretty cold.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      I would say that all three roadkill are foreshadowing Joey’s accident, and the one at the wedding is of particular significance because it’s a dead rabbit. The fact that it is a rabbit affects River because it symbolises their relationship, and it should have twice the resonance to Johnny because it’s a road death. Instead, it means nothing to him because those two memories were lost.

      The brother’s existence is important because their mother’s favouritism for Joey is what drove Johnny to want to stand out from the crowd – it’s one of the reasons he’s interested in River (this is brought up in the conversation they have about the toy train, and the memory of the carnival).
      The death is important because Johnny’s reaction is to assume some aspects of Joey’s persona – evidenced by the love of olives and the animorph books in the later memories. The change in Johnny is almost certainly influenced by his mother struggling to come to terms with the death (she even calls him ‘Joey’ at his wedding decades later).
      I don’t think Johnny is too young to be traumatised, especially since he might feel guilt for envying his brother before his death. In the memory he seems to blame his mother – perhaps the medication was treatment for that? As a more extreme explanation, perhaps the mother gave him her medication?

      Even though I disagree that Joey is a worthless character, I think the ‘replacement’ is meant to feel wrong to the player – Eva’s actions certainly seemed like a mistake to me. Even by the end, I was left wondering if the memory rewrite is really a good thing or if it disrespects the fates of real people like River and Joey by overwriting the true memories with a ‘fairy tale’ ending

      I struggle to understand your argument about unnecessary narrative. While I agree that you could tell the story in fewer words, I think every element has a justified purpose in the story. I certainly wouldn’t use the word ‘fluff’ to describe anything in the game besides the comedy.

  24. costyka says:

    Dave, I’ve got a question for you – which of the boys is present in the picture at the start of this article?

  25. yakkasak says:

    It’s John. What kind of condescending question is that?

  26. h0r4z0n says:

    I understand Eve’s choice very well and I’m sure it’s 100% the right one. The bond between twins is the strongest of bonds, one that shouldn’t break. They are each others best and most beloved friend.

    I know because I have a twin bro too. This game means so much to me :)

    • taylordcraig says:

      Different strokes for different folks.
      To me, family are friends that were forced on you.
      My ties with friends will always be more meaningful because I chose them.

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