To the Moon: Life, Love, Loss, and a Lighthouse
To the Moon, by Freebird games, is a simple point and click adventure game. The player controls two scientists: Dr. Watts and Dr. Rosaline, as they treat their latest client: Johnny. The team travels around John's memories and re-writes them according to his deepest desires. It also made me cry, hard.
In this story, a person can have their memories changed. Due to the massive ethical problems this poses, the procedure can only be taken by people on their dying bed. Sigmund Corporation, the company responsible for this procedure, can change a client's memory so that their deepest, most sincere wish will be granted. The client must make the wish carefully, for it will be the last thing they will ever do.
Johnny's one wish: to go to the moon. The problem is: he doesn't know why. It is up to our intrepid duo of Rosaline and Watts to delve deeper and deeper into Johnny's past and figure out how, and more importantly, why, Johnny wants to go to outer space. The doctors explore and interact with John's memories, collecting 'shards' or objects with strong emotional attachment, and then jump to an earlier times in the client's life.
This is not a happy game. John dies at the end. But the doctors will be damned if he dies unsatisfied.
The central figure in John's memories, his source of happiness, and his ultimate sadness is his wife, River. River is... different. Her mannerisms and reactions to the world lead to an interesting relationship with John. Simple statements and observations about John and River early in the game have devastating consequences as you delve further and further into the couple's past. I credit the creators for tying almost every stray detail into something coherent and touching.
This author experienced actual 'heartache' during an infamous scene in a lunchroom. I can only say that kids can be cruel. A few times, I wondered if I could make it through without becoming a soggy, weeping mess.
The player characters Rosaline and Watts have good chemistry as co-workers, and consistently and humorously take the piss out of each other whenever the other gets too exuberant. Their frustration in this difficult case helps break the melancholic mood with the scientific equivalent of "kick it until it works".
The game is not perfect, I actually got into an 'frozen' game state, and had to reload a previous save. The horseback riding segment was not intuitive and took a game guide to navigate through. These are minor quibbles that did not distract the fact that I spend 4 hours riveted to the story of John and River, telling myself I wasn't going to cry.
The ending comes complete with a somber song, "Everything's Alright", performed brilliantly by Laura Shigihara. Simultaneously reassuring, optimistic, and resigned, we observe the end. And then I cried.