Early in this reviewer’s career, one of the first titles he reviewed was a small title by the company Freebird Games called To the Moon. Freebird Games is a small indie studio that was started by Kan Gao, and the style of Gao’s “games” are more of an interactive narrative with very little gameplay. When To the Moon was released in 2011, that was the general feeling of it. Hardly any gameplay to speak of, but a great overall story. It was also pretty clear that this would not be the end of the series. Over the years since then, several short chapters have been released in the series, but there had not been another full entry into the series, until now. Released on December 14th 2017, Finding Paradise is the first full sequel in the To the Moon series. The first game had a delightful story, a good sense of humor, very enjoyable characters overall and the soundtrack was probably the highlight of the whole experience. The major downsides to the game were that the story came across very heavy handed at parts with a message about mental health, but with a game that touches on the very heavy themes that To the Moon dealt with, this was not that big of a problem. Finding Paradise makes some changes to the style of game, but overall has a very similar feel overall to its predecessor. Considering how little the gameplay matters in a game series that is so heavily driven by the narrative, this review will be very heavily centered around the story of the game, and whether it is as enjoyable of an experience as the original game. That being said, Finding Paradise is still technically a game, and so must be judged as a game, and so with that, the judging will now commence!
The main story of Finding Paradise follows two characters, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, who work for a company called Sigmund Corp. Sigmund Corp is a company that has a very special technology, which allows what is essentially the granting of one final wish. If a person is nearing the end of their life and has always had something that they regret not doing or something they failed to accomplish, Sigmund Corp has a machine that can grant this wish. To do this, the patient’s body is hooked up to a machine and doctors step inside the patient’s memories, rewriting them to make that person believe they accomplished whatever it was in life they failed to do. The only catch is that the process will inevitably lead to the death of the patient. The doctors accomplish the memory rewrite with the help of the patient, getting in content with their most recent coherent memory and establishing a link from this to their earliest memory, and transferring the wish back to that point with a catalyst found somewhere in their memories, either the getting rid of the thing that initially caused them to give up on their dream, or finding a good place to introduce this desire where the person’s memory will be most susceptible to the change. What this means for the patient is giving up something, generally their whole life’s memories. What this means for the player is that there will be no “happy ending” from a game in the To the Moon series. In
The story for Finding Paradise is broken up into three acts. The first act -titled “Tell me… What do you want to change?”- covers the re-introduction to Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts, and the introduction of the new patient. One of the major differences in story between Finding Paradise and To the Moon is that the patient, Colin Reeds, is not all alone this time and is still choosing to go through with the procedure. Alongside the new patient are his wife and son, both of whom seem opposed to the idea of Colin undergoing the procedure, which is understandable since that would mean that Colin could be giving up the whole life he has built with his family, depending on what he wants to change. Unlike the patient in the last game, Colin’s wish is much vaguer. Overall, Colin just wants to be happier with his life. He feels as if something is missing, but does not know what it would be. At the same time, Colin does not wish to lose any of the memory of his family life. Even after being informed that with a wish so vague there could be no guarantee of success, especially if he is not willing to give anything up, Colin still decides to go through with the procedure.
For the most part, the story of the game is very similar in some ways to the story in To the Moon. Both of the patients have something they want to fulfill without knowing or remembering exactly what it is that they want. Thankfully, their actual lives are different enough that the story does not feel as if it is just a repeat of the first game. Colin’s life is overall a happy one, with small regrets throughout that the doctors feel as if he may want to be addressed. The biggest change in the story between both games is the mystery element. In the first game, the patient’s memories are for the most part coherent until the point that a huge tragedy in his life was forgotten and had to be recovered. Colin’s memories, on the other hand, seem to be broken, for lack of a better term, in a different way. Instead of the doctors experiencing the memories from most recent to earliest, the memories seem to be occurring in a spiral, with some major event happening in the center of his life’s memories that seem to have shaped his life so greatly that his memories are all focused around this one point. It can be said that the series does appear to have a major focus on tragedies to a degree, but when the central focus of the game is fulfilling a dying person’s wish, this is to be expected. The mystery element in Finding Paradise is actually much stronger, and the build-up to the reveal is handled just as well as the first game. Colin’s memories in his later life seem focused mainly on his family, primarily his wife. His earlier years, however, are all focused on a girl who used to live across the street from him. The big mystery the doctors are attempting to solve is if there was a major event that caused his life to switch from his apparent first love to someone else altogether. The big reveal was actually a surprising turn of events, making this game and the original two of the only times this reviewer has actually been surprised by a mystery reveal. As it turns out, the human imagination is a powerful thing, and the subconscious mind will put up a fight if pesky doctors try to meddle in memories they have no place in.
The primary thing that is connecting the series together and making it more than just singular contained stories is a subplot that received a small amount of attention in the first game, and has a much bigger part in this game, while still remaining a back seat to the main story of the memory altering. Dr. Watts is unhappy with the way that the company is handling things and has been making his own modifications to their machinery. At the same time, he appears to have his own issues with a pain pill addiction that interferes with his work in a big way in this game, whereas in the last it was barely mentioned as a footnote near the end of everything. The ending sequence this time has Neil and some new characters discussing their plans for something major, though it is not revealed exactly what it will be, clearly setting up another entry in the series. Overall, the story of the game is still very strong, with the only really distracting thing being the humor. Some of the jokes and puns are painful, but that is part of the charm of the characters and does seem to be intentional. Beyond the story, there is very little to the game, however.
The music is once again very strong, which seems to be the thing that Kan Gao is most passionate about outside of storytelling. The music provides a sense of eeriness to the game, and tugs at the heartstrings in all the right places. In both games there has been a single song with lyrics, each tying to the major theme of the game in one way or another. This song in Finding Paradise is probably the weakest piece of music in the game but is still not a bad song. It just feels similar to when a Disney movie has a pop star perform one of the main songs from the movie, which always ruins the song. The gameplay in Finding Paradise almost exactly the same as in To the Moon, using a slightly updated version of the RPG Maker XP engine this time from the previous resulting in slightly higher quality sprites, which mostly just means that they can look more expressive. Instead of doing a picture flipping match game to unlock new memories, Finding Paradise has the player play a strange version of a match three game, where the whole grid can be moved until three pieces match up and explode. This is a very small piece of the game but is really the only actual gameplay beyond moving from zone to zone and collecting pieces of memories to move on.
Overall, Finding Paradise feels a little too similar to To the Moon to be a resounding success of a sequel. The story is different enough to be good, but at the same time the structure of the story is predictable in that there will be a sad moment that reveals some sort of mental issue in the patient’s life, and this will need to be overcome. While the build-up to this is handled much better in Finding Paradise, the actual reveal is not nearly as strong as losing a twin brother while still very young. Colin’s life was, for the most part, a pretty good one, and the game did do a good job of bringing closure to that while leaving his memories of his family untouched, but the fact still remains that an imaginary friend is not as big of a deal as the game wants it to seem. That being said, there was still much sadness, though no actual tears shed on stream at least. While the music is just as strong, and the matching game is less annoying than the picture game, neither really make a huge impact on the overall quality of the game. Still, the game is only a little over four hours long and the story is good enough to play through at least once. If gamers are looking for a good story that can be very moving and jokes that will cause them to cringe, then this game will definitely appeal to those tastes. While it is not as good as To the Moon, the story is still very strong in its own regard, and that combined with the music is enough to grant a B to this title.
With that, this review is at an end! Do the readers enjoy these short indie games, or do they prefer longer RPGs with more to them than just the story? If you have played throught he game yourself, did you cry this time? Was the game as emotionally impacting to the readers as To the Moon?? Have any of the readers seen the streams of either Finding Paradise or To the Moon That have been done on the site? If not, then this would be an easy way to experience the game for anyone who does not want to bother with any of the gameplay at all! For now, Thank you all for reading another of Durga’s reviews, and be sure to tune in for the next game!
Title: Finding Paradise
Developer: Freebird Games
Publisher: Freebird Games
Platform Reviewed: Microsoft Windows
Release Date: 14 December, 2017