To The Moon
Kan Gao's To The Moon is everything Dear Esther wanted to be. This is a movie story told in game format. Where Dear Esther failed, To The Moon succeeded.
My problem with Dear Esther is that it tries to be profound by being vague and unclear. Instead of being bold and telling its story, it instead leaves everything vague and counts on the player to piece it together. That's a perfectly honorable way to tell a story, but only if there's a complete picture to assemble. If there isn't, you're just being obtuse and hoping people will imbue meaning onto it for you.
To The Moon succeeds in telling a story in non-sequential pieces, and doesn't leave it vague and open to interpretation. No, it dares to make sense. It is a cinematic story told as a series of interactive RPG-style cut scenes.
It's not much of a game. There's very little gaming to do here. No enemies to fight, no death, no chance for failure. The point of the game is to experience the story, and one might think a story like this told as a 16-bit Final Fantasy adventure would weaken it, but it doesn't. It remains strong, touching, and even funny.
I laughed at the mock battle sequence, then felt looming dread at the room of paper rabbits. I laughed at the origami rulebook, and cried when I found out what was behind the blocked memories.
And it all makes sense. It doesn't hide behind ambiguity to make itself seem artistic and deep. There is a complete picture to assemble at the end, and it's quite a picture.
It will turn away players wanting a real RPG, but it will also unite players willing to enter a movie-quality story presented as a video game. It's a wonderful experience. I look forward to the next episode.
Official site, Freebird Games
Cinema quality soundtrack as well: