"I guess the music's kinda nice."To The Moon
— Developer's Aunt
is an Adventure Game
designed by Kan Gao (of Quintessence
fame) and developed by Freebird Games. The OST, also by Gao, features Laura Shigihara
.Twenty Minutes into the Future
, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts work for Sigmund Corporation, a company that is able to use technology to rewrite the memories of dying people to allow them to die happy, as a kind of for-profit Make a Wish
foundation. The game unfolds as they attempt to fulfill the request of their latest client, Johnny. Johnny's in a coma, and his last wish is to go to the moon... Except he doesn't know why. As Neil and Eva work backwards through his memories, what is to follow is one of the biggest Tear Jerkers
in any video game.
The game won accolades for its beautiful soundtrack, touching story, and entertaining writing, but was panned by some critics for being overly sentimental and for some instances of Mood Whiplash
, particularly as concerned Neil's dialogue. It has frequently been used as an example in making the case for games as art
. The ending of the game confirmed that it was to be the first in a series, although the name of said series has yet to be revealed. A free holiday-themes "minisode" named "SigCorp", and shows the lives of Neil and Eva at work.
The second instalment in the series, named A Bird Story
was released on the 7th November 2014. Taking place before Neil and Eva's time, the game is an hour-long interactive narrative without any dialogue whatsoever
, that focusses on a boy who will grow up to be their patient in Episode 2 of the series. The boy, who remains nameless in the story, comes from a Friendless Background
, and lives mostly on his own, with his parents only leaving him notes on the door and fridge. However, one day when walking home from school, he rescues a bird being chased by a badger, and the story picks up from there.
According to the ending
of A Bird Story
, Episode 2 will be called Finding Paradise
, and is "coming one day".
It should be mentioned that the games are best experienced without spoilers. Read the spoilers below at your own risk.
This game provides examples of:
Episode 1: To The Moon
"... I've always thought they were lighthouses. Billions of lighthouses, stuck at the far end of the sky."
- Abusive Parents: See Parental Favoritism and Fridge Horror.
- Adaptation Expansion: The creator posted a "novelisation" of the first scene of the game on the Freebird blog which adds a few details, such as Neil preferring to go by Dr. Watts because it makes him sound like a Mad Scientist or super-villain, and recounts how he went as far as buying one-way mirror glasses to avoid meeting the gazes of nosy strangers.
- Adult Fear: The fact that you may kill one of your children by accident is probably a fear most parents share and one that Joey and Johnny's mother experienced.
- Anachronic Order: The order in which Watts and Rosaline experience Johnny's memories.
- An Aesop: Most of what man aspires to achieve is done solely as means to reach another goal entirely. One should be careful to not sacrifice the end for the sake of means.
- Artistic License – Pharmacology: Some beta-blockers, especially propanolol, are indeed used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (although the treatment is still considered experimental), but they usually do not induce amnesia (what they do is more in the line of allowing someone to relive a traumatic memory without experiencing the trauma).
- That said, memory-loss is a rare but possible side-effect by beta-blockers, however it's still a stretch that they were used in a deliberate and controlled way to cause the effect as the game implies.
- Astonishingly Appropriate Appearance: From a symbolic perspective, Johnny and River. Johnny, the common guy who wants to stand out, has brown hair and brown eyes (the most common colours for those traits), while River, who hates standing out and wants to blend in, has red hair and green eyes (arguably the least common (natural) colours for those traits).
- Also applies to their clothes. Johnny tends to wear drab colours - typically browns, greys, and dark greens - while River prefers wearing brighter, more vibrant colours (blues, whites, and the occasional patch of yellow).
- Award Bait Song: Everything's Alright. Covers every single traits of the trope squarely and then some.
- Bad Bad Acting: The fake movie that Eva implants a memory of in order to make Johnny want to go to the moon.
- Batman Gambit: After altering Johnny's memories by "removing" River, and successfully seeing that Johnny makes it to NASA and met River there near the end, Eva admits that while she expected Johnny to reunite with River at that point, there was a probability that it might not have happened.
- Becoming the Mask: Isabelle feels that by acting "normal", her "true self" has been lost.
- Bittersweet Ending: In the end, Johnny's memories are altered; he lives a full life with his brother still alive in his new memories, and he gets to fulfill his dream and promise. But he never actually did any of that, never truly remembered why he wanted to go to the moon, and his wife died knowing he never did. Also The Stinger shows Neil, clearly in some sort of pain, quickly taking some painkillers, giving dark implications to his own health...
- Cannot Spit It Out: When River realizes that John has forgotten about their first meeting, she tries reminding him. However, because of her condition, she is mentally incapable to properly explain the entire situation. This is the reason why she starts making the many paper rabbits.
- Chekhov's Gun: At the very beginning of the game, Eva and Neil run over a squirrel as they arrive at Johnny's house. Later in the game, Eva and Neil find that they can't travel any farther into Johnny's memories because they were suppressed by beta blockers shortly after a traumatic event that took place in that scene. Incidentally, the smell of roadkill was present in the brief glimpse of said memory, so they were able to use the scent of the dead squirrel to get Johnny to remember the full scene.
- Cruel to Be Kind: Eva appears to callously delete River from Johnny's memories to ensure that he remains motivated on becoming an astronaut. Instead, she simply sent her away so Johnny would continue to strive toward his goal, and trusted that Johnny's love for River would ensure he would subconsciously bring her back later. He did, they still got together in the end, and with the bonus of Joey still being alive as well.
- Dramatic Irony: In universe example, since Eva and Neil travel backwards through Johnny's memories.
- Dream Weaver: The main characters are this. Their job is to alter dying people's memories so they believe they managed to fulfill their failed life goals. The SigCorp special implies that this practice is highly controversial as protesters group outside the Sigmund Corporation offices.
- Driven to Madness: It is said by Eva that Johnny's mother mind snapped after she accidentally killed her favorite son, Joey.
- Dying Dream: With the added suspense of Eva and Neil needing to finish the contract before Johnny dies.
- Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: Kinda Foregone Conclusion, since the main point of the game is manipulating memories, not reality, it means that the happy ending is only experienced by the main character, while the real life counterparts suffered and died in vain.
- Opaque Lenses: The novelisation of the first scene on the Freebird blog reveals Neil actually wears one-way mirror glasses.
- Parental Favoritism: Johnny's mother is shown to have had a preference towards Joey, which might explain why after Joey was killed, Johnny became his Replacement Goldfish in his mom's mind.
- Please Wake Up: Done by Johnny after his mother backed over Joey.
- Precision F-Strike: The only uncensored curse in the game comes in its Wham Episode when Eva realises that the memory they are in is the day Johnny watched his brother Joey die.
- The Promise: The real reason why Johnny wants to go to the moon.
- Red Herring: The rabbit that got run over on Johnny's and River's wedding day has nothing to do with the paper rabbits she obsessively makes later in life. Though, given that rabbits hold a special place in River's heart because of their first meeting, it certainly did affect her; it just wasn't for that reason.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Neil as red, and Eva as blue. Also, Johnny (blue) and Joey (red).
- Reference Overdosed:
- The corporation is called "Sigmund," as a shout-out to Sigmund Freud. The game's use of repressed memories and childhood events having an effect on future behavior also makes it a Meaningful Name.
- Neil at one point claims his name is Lorenzo von Matterhorn, which is an alias that Neil Patrick Harris's character on How I Met Your Mother uses in one episode.
- There is a point where Neil fights clones of green Evas, comically named "Zombievas," with potted plants. The reference makes sense, considering one of the two people responsible for the music in the game.
- Whenever Neil breaks the memento, you're guaranteed to get a comical one:
- Upon looking at a piano, Eva and Neil discuss how someone would manage to put a piano in the TARDIS.
- Upon answering a phone: "Morpheus?"
- Neil was expecting Zordon to appear on one of the screens at NASA.
- You can find a Princess Luna figurine on a desk at NASA. Additionally, during the horse-riding segment, Neil's (blue) horse briefly appears with a rainbow-colored tail and its speed is described as "nineteen percent more than I can handle", referencing the character Rainbow Dash and her quote "20% cooler"
- The mentioning of real-life researcher Dr. Tony Attwood gives a huge clue as to what River's condition is.
- Hidden in the computer code during the memento unlock sequence is the phrase "Step twice into the river of life." This is a reference to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus' quote, "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."
- Animorphs books show up more than once.
- A book on origami is described using text cribbed straight out of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.
- When Neil is looking for the key to the "funny room in the basement", you come across a book called "Dusklight": "The tale of a girl who fell in love with a zombie who emitted the smell of daisies when showered with gentle sunlight."
- Rewriting Reality: Rosalene and Watt's job. The technology they use alters people's perception of the past. But since doing so carries a lot of very troubling implications and has many possible ways it could be misused, it is only legal to use on people who are dying.
- Rule of Symbolism: All over the place... Much of it tied to River, ironically enough, given the hardships many people with autistism have when it comes to symbolism.
- She is heavily symbolically tied to lighthouses, spelled out by herself when she explains that she thinks that stars really are lighthouses that are trying to communicate with each other over vast distances, mirroring how she is trying to communicate with other people over the "distance" her condition imposes.
- Her favorite plushie that she carries with her her entire life is a platypus, an odd Mix-and-Match-ish Critter that doesn't seem to fit in anywhere with its duck bill, otter body and beaver tail, much like how she, herself, is the odd girl out with unusual hair and eye colours, a very unusual name and a condition that sets her apart from most people... The moments when she cannot be seen with her platypus close at hand is generally when she and John are connecting with each other.
- One of her favorite childhood stories is The Emperor's New Clothes, a tale about how only someone who does not understand social grace and guises can see that what everyone else for social reasons pretends is real is not so, which is especially poignant in light of how John and Isabelle are both faking who they are. John by having been Joey for the most part of his life and Isabelle by having acted like she's "normal", both of them having been at it for so long that they've forgotten who they really are.
- Self-Deprecation: Every time the name "To The Moon" or the song "For River" comes up in game they are given a gentle ribbing. The dreadful film Eva makes up is titled To The Moon and dismissed as pretentious by one viewer (saying it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi), and For River is described as an odd song using the same notes over and over.
- Self-Imposed Challenge: Try to complete each memento puzzle in the minimum number of moves. Failing has no effect on the ending.
- Supporting Protagonist: The scientists. The story is really about Johnny and River.
- Take That: To Twilight — sorry, Dusklight. If you try to read it, your character says "maybe another year", and when you find a key hidden in the book, a comment is made that "[Johnny] sure knows where to hide things".
- The Stinger: One with unpleasant implications, and a Sequel Hook. If you look carefully at Watt's sprite after the flash, he's holding the bottle of painkillers, implying that he may be hiding a debilitating illness.
- Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Subverted. The beta blockers Johnny takes after Joey dies make his childhood memories inaccessible, causing him to also forget the first time he met River and his promise, see also Laser-Guided Amnesia.
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: It seems the only difference between the game's world and our own is Sigmund Corp's memory rewriting technology.
- Unexpected Gameplay Change: A few: the Whack-a-Mole game, avoiding the zombies and spikes summoned by Eva, and the fake RPG battle near the beginning. Although the last one is more of a parody of this trope.
- Unusual Euphemism: Dr. Rosalene has a few of these, mostly vegetable-based.
"Oh, what the corncob."
- You Know The One: The words "autism" or "Asperger" are never uttered. Autism spectrum disorder is always referred to in-game as either "the condition" or "it".
- You Shouldn't Know This Already: At one point, you are asked what David's main morph was in Animorphs, and you can speak to a character nearby to get the right answer. This is simple enough, but it becomes a problem if the player is familiar with the books and knows the answer because the game gets it wrong. The expected answer is a cobra, but David's actual main battle morph is a lion. Marco is the only one who ever morphed into a cobra. This was likely changed to keep people from solving the puzzle too early.
- Wham Line:
Eva: Didn't you see it in his room, Neil? ...Johnny slept on a bunk bed.
- Another one later, at the culmination of Eva and Neil's contract, when you discover Johnny and River's real first meeting, finally revealing the tragic reason that Johnny wants so badly to go to the moon:
Johnny: We can always regroup on the Moon, silly!
- After the game's credits:
- White Void Room: A suppressed memory is just a white void.
SigCorp Holiday Special
- Breather Episode: It's more of a fun holiday special than an important part of the canon storyline. The only point that is established to the canon at the end of the game is that SigCorp's work is more controversial as we thought, as the episode ends by showing the protest group outside of SigCorp.
- Stylistic Suck: Neil makes a video game based on the events of the main game. All characters are represented by disembodied heads, the scenery is extremely pixelated (one pixel of the scenery is the size of one RPG Maker tile) and story is extremely vague, being told by Neil getting items from various characters and placing them elsewhere to open doors.
A Bird Story
- A Boy and His Bird
- All Animals Are Dogs: The bird and the kid play fetch with a paper-airplane he makes.
- Bittersweet Ending: The boy is forced to set the bird free, and everything becomes bleak to him, as even though he has become popular at school, he still misses the bird. However, when the bird returns to him and shows him its new friend, he realises that the bird will be where it belongs, and although the two say their final goodbyes, the boy is happy that the bird will be able to live its life, and stops throwing paper airplanes for it to bring back.
- Chase Scene: There's a bizarre and hilarious sequence where the teacher and the vet chase the kid through a number of Scooby-Dooby Doors. He even pretends to be following a passing duck as one of its chicks at one point. It's like something out of The Benny Hill Show.
- Fandom Nod: A Lets Player by the name of Cryaotic requested that Kan put a blender in the next game after having played To The Moonnote . The presence of one in this wouldn't necessarily count, were it not for Kan Gao confirming the nod in his comment on the video.
Kan R. Gao
: Cheers Cry, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Consider the blender in it your virtual property. c:
- Friendless Background: The boy has no friends, and at one point sits on one side of a see-saw with no-one on the other side. He ends up befriending the bird instead. Averted near the end of the game when he becomes well known and has people happy to acknowledge and play with him after bringing the bird to show-and-tell.
- Lighter and Softer: The creator has gone on record as saying this isn't intended to be as complex or as much as a Tear Jerker as the original game. It's a simpler story with a fair bit of humour, though it does still have a few sadder moments.
- No Dialogue Episode: You won't see a word after you click "begin". Even the note the kid finds is obscured, and when characters speak the content is implied or represented by an icon in a speech bubble. And yet, somehow, the facial expressions and animations manage to perfectly convey emotions, and the story still manages to be as engaging as the last.
- No Name Given: All of the characters in the story, although the boy will probably be named by necessity in Finding Paradise.
- Not a Morning Person: After staying up late reading the boy wakes up bleary-eyed and with a special "groggy" version of his home's music, "Bright and Early".
- Oh, Crap: The boy's reaction when the vet appears in his classroom.
- Parental Abandonment: The kid comes home to an empty house every evening, finding only a note on the fridge, implying his parent or caretaker is never able to see him. There seems to be some affection there though as he gets an umbrella left out for him on rainy days and he keeps every note he finds. The closest interaction they have is when he falls asleep reading and finds someone has put a blanket over him while he sleeps.
- Schedule Slip: Intentionally averted for Episode 2 at the end of the game - instead of giving a release date, the text just says "Coming One Day".
- Scenery Porn: One Imagine Spot features a flight over some truly beautiful landscapes.
- Scooby-Dooby Doors: The kid engages in this in an attempt to avoid the vet and his teacher, complete with a Suspiciously Similar Song of Yakety Sax playing.
- Shoo the Dog: Eventually the boy is forced to give up the bird at let it fly free.
- Sequel Hook: The game ends with a picture of the boy's timeline, ala Johnny's in To The Moon, shows he'll grow up to be the next patient for Sig Corp, and will feature in the sequel Finding Paradise.
- Unreliable Narrator: The game appears to be a mix of memory and imagined scenes (like the flight on the paper airplane depicted on the logo). We see locations blending together and the landscape literally changing to force him to where he needs to go. It's unclear whether the more realistic scenes have been embellished too.
- Visual Gag: Where do the boy and the bird get sent when he's boosted into the air on the see-saw? To the moon, of course!