You know, earlier this week, I was considering doing a gaming related countdown in regards to romance. Maybe top five romances in gaming? Top five online dating sims? You know the ones. Stupid Newgrounds. But the thing is, romance in gaming, let’s be honest here, hasn’t been done very well, the focus in Western Games is primarily on the action. It’s all about the fun that can be had, with first person shooters, third person shooters, figthing games, and even in the case of RPGs, the focus is normally on the complexity of the story, or the depth of the gameplay.
Basically, true romance rarely serves any major role in a Western game. This is where the 2011 indie game, To The Moon comes in, providing a story that creates in my opinion, the greatest love story of any video game thus far.
Sigmund Corp. is a company that replaces memories. Not in a bad way, by any means- they use their tech only for those who are close to death, in order to fulfill their wishes. What dreams did you have, that you never got to accomplish in your lifespan? In this case, Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts, two employees of Sigmund, work to fulfill the dream of one Johnny Wyles, who simply has a mysterious desire to “go to the moon.”
It becomes clear that this desire isn’t as simple as it sounds. Looking through Johnny’s memories, it becomes apparent that this wish isn’t quite literal. What the two Doctors find instead, is the memory of a girl named River, and a story of romance that adds depth to the desire to “go to the moon,” as something tragic, powerful, and heart-rending.
Why Does It Stand Out?
Many games in the Western world do not focus romance- in fact, it’s a rarity for any game to ever even include romance. The most common place for romance in Western video games, tends to be in large RPGs, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and the like. Romance always tend to be a side plot, and while, yes, some stories work better than others, many times, the option to pursue romance in video games is an unnecessary decision, feeling sometimes like it’s shoehorned in.
On the other hand, To The Moon, as an indie game, is very unlike any Western video game, at least that I can think of. Playing similarly to older top-down RPG, such as some of the older Final Fantasy games, To The Moon very obviously does not focus on gameplay- rather, it places huge emphasis on exploring the scenes you’re shown, and exploring the stories of the characters inside.
Simply put, To The Moon doesn’t aim to wow people with gameplay: it is simply telling a story, and this is why it stands out.
I personally feel that To The Moon, despite being at this point almost 6 years old, showed off some off the potential that gaming had to tackle difficult subjects. Asperger’s Syndrome, also seen in the game, was handled marvelously, the romance was done exceedingly well, and the idea of death is treated with respect. Not to say that Western video games nowdays cannot do that, but almost without exception, the general tendency is to prioritize gameplay and epic story far more than emotional depth and complexity- it’s part of why games like The Last of Us stand out so much in Western culture.
Anyways, I just wanted to talk about the game- if you haven’t bought it, or watched it, I recommend doing so. It’s a great story, that I don’t think many people have regretted experiencing. The story of River and Johnny is one that was heart-wrenching, romantic, and showed so much untapped potential for other video games to create similar experiences. Perhaps one day, these kinds of romantic stories will become more common place in video games? Who knows man, who knows.