"... I've always thought they were lighthouses. Billions of lighthouses, stuck at the far end of the sky."
To The Moon is an Adventure Game / Visual Novel 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 a company that gives false memories to dying people, 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.The game won accolades for its beautiful soundtrack, touching story, and entertaining writing. It has frequently been used as an example in making the case for games as art.A free "Minisode" taking place after the main game and featuring Neil and Eva was released on December 31st 2013 and can be downloaded from the Freebird Games website.A sequel was confirmed to be in development in August 2012.The game is best played without spoilers. Read the tropes below at your own risk.
This game provides examples of:
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 does not induce amnesia (what they do is more in the line of allowing someone to relive a traumatic memory without experiencing the trauma). There is no way beta-blockers could have completely erased all the memories of Johnny's life with his brother, except maybe as an incredibly rare and unexpected side-effect. And the idea that it could have been done on purpose in a controlled way, as implied in the game, is even more absurd.
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...
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 bonus holiday special implies that this practice is highly controversial as protesters group outside the Sigmund Corporation offices.
Dying Dream: With the added suspense of Eva and Neil needing to finish the contract before Johnny dies.
Exact Words / Literal-Minded: Johnny asked River to go watch a movie with him on their first date, River interpreted it as watching the same movie, at the same time, in the same movie theater regardless of if they do it together.
Which comes into play during The Reveal, as River likely used the same rationale to explain Johnny's absence the next year at the fair.
Foregone Conclusion: Johnny is dying. There is no changing that he dies at the end of the story.
Johnny admits in his memories that he doesn't really remember much of his favorite childhood book series, The Animorphs, and doesn't really read them anymore. This can be attributed at the time to the fact that people's tastes do change. It is eventually revealed, however, that this is because he never really cared for the books. His brother Joey liked the series, not him, and he simply forgot due to the beta blockers.
The bunk beds in Johnny's room.
Johnny's mother calling him Joey.
Neil suddenly stepping out of sight to do something while Eva gets the roadkill makes more sense once you see The Stinger.
Forgotten First Meeting: Johnny and River had met for the first time in a carnival when they were children, something he forgot because of his memory suppression. Deconstructed in that this causes a great deal of resentment in River toward Johnny.
G-Rated Sex: In the memory of Johnny and River's wedding, they are shown spending their entire wedding night in the lighthouse with their silhouettes dancing.
Highschool Sweethearts: Johnny and River, in the game's reality. Subverted when Eva forcibly removes River from Johnny's high school memories, only for her to return in his young adulthood.
Hollywood Autism: Averted. They are both females, have a mild version of the disorder and have managed to lead lives as fulfilling as a neurotypical person can be expected to.
Ill Girl: River. In addition to suffering from asperger's syndrome, she also fell ill prior to the events of the game, but declined treatment so that the money that would go towards her medical bills would instead go towards building Johnny's dream house.
I Just Want to Be Normal: River, which leads her to carry resentment when Johnny tells her otherwise. She starts making the origami rabbits to remind him she once told him this when they met.
I Just Want to Be Special: Johnny. This is largely why Johnny becomes interested in River in the first place. At least, that is how he rationalizes his interest.
Important Haircut: River cuts her hair and starts folding paper rabbits to try and remind Johnny of their promise to meet on the moon if they ever got separated when she finds out she's dying. The hair length and rabbits are significant to their very first meeting as children, which Johnny can't remember.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Neil starts as a rather sarcastic guy who doesn't seem to take things seriously... until the end, when he is confronted with deleting River from Johnny's memories. He then shows how much he cares for Johnny and River's happiness, and is actually not so cynical.
Journey to the Center of the Mind: The memory technology works by backtracking through a subject's memories to reach childhood, then implanting their dying wish in their childhood to alter their memories from then on.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When the scientists get to the alternate memory of Johnny at NASA, they note that the best parts of a rocket ship are the top and bottom, then pity those who can't get to them. Of course, the player's overhead view of things means that those are the exact parts we can't see.
Lighthouse Point: Johnny bought a house near a lighthouse, which makes River very happy, though Johnny doesn't know why. It's because when Johnny and River first met they discussed stars, and River believed they were lighthouses. River names their lighthouse Anya.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Deconstructed, Johnny desires to be unique so one of the reasons he is attracted to River is because she is a quirky girl, but River is extremely self-conscious of her "weirdness", these two opposite forces end up greatly contributing to their emotional rift.
Meaningful Echo: River asking Johnny to describe her origami rabbits is a direct echo of their first meeting.
River: Describe it... what else?
Memento Macguffin: The stuffed platypus. Johnny gave it to River at a carnival when they were kids. Ditto for the hacky-sack, which explains why River was so attached to it when Johnny threw it away (at her direction as a test).
Moon Rabbit: In a non-traditional appearance. Namely, Johnny and River see the clusters of stars above and below the moon as the rabbit's head and feet, and the moon itself as its body.
Noodle Incident: Neil mentions a particularly difficult patient called Nora who caused them some trouble in the past. That's all we get, though.
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.
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."
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.
Science Marches On: River's condition is listed as "pervasive developmental disorder", which is no longer in use as of the DSM 5.
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.
Stylistic Suck: In the holiday minisode, 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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
Eva: Didn't you see it in his room, Neil? ...Johnny slept on a bunk bed.
Immediately followed by:
A bigger one much 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: