Because That’s What Heroes Do

HIGH Saving Perogon.

LOW Every second playing the awful spaceship minigame.

WTF What happens when you follow the Baker home from the bar.

The stated values of role-playing games tend to be somewhat anodyne — peppy teenage heroes fight for goodness and light, defeating darkness and evil. The values encoded by these games, embodied by their verbs and reward systems, are generally more insidious.

Players are encouraged to go where they will, take what they want, and kill whatever they encounter while the heroes preach the power of love. Even games that construct affection as play, like Persona and Fire Emblem do, embed it as mechanical advantage for the player, reducing friendship to a buff.

An RPG of just this kind is displayed in the early moments of Moon, with a clanking armored hero who stomps off heroically to slay dozens of monsters, pausing only to despoil a townswoman’s cabinet. Then, however, we start to see that world from a different perspective. The hero has been slaughtering peaceful animals — not bloodthirsty monsters — and his effects on the world are far from positive. The main character is tasked with repairing this damage and gathering love in its world.

Accomplishing this depends, to a large degree, on what I would usually characterize as walkthrough-baiting bullshit of a kind typical for adventure games from the era when Moon was made. Nobody can complete Moon without finding events that have extremely narrow time windows, or buying random, seemingly unimportant junk from a store (but only at night) or showing various items in the inventory to a weird duck wandering around town.

This is more forgivable in Moon than in most of its contemporaries because much of it fits with Moon’s desire for the player to inhabit the world. This is an experience built through slow play, and although it has numerous puzzles, it primarily rewards patient observation and conversation. It’s essential to follow characters (and animals) through their week, talk to them to see what they want, and watch how the world changes from day to night.

This approach leads to dozens of rewarding stories and incidents, many of which don’t require the player to particularly do much — and sometimes nothing at all. It’s enough just to listen to the weirdo who wants to be tied to a post. It’s enough to be there for the divorced father who wants to fulfill a promise to his son. It’s enough to realize that one creature’s ghost just really likes cacti.

When Moon tries to implement gameplay on these quests, it unfortunately stumbles. A regrettably large portion of the campaign, including several parts of the critical path, consist of memory challenges. One of these had three separate phases of 5-9 steps of randomized audio and visual memory tests. They were both dull and far too long — characteristic of these parts of Moon.

Fortunately, most of Moon consists of the gentler stuff, and a player can resurrect numerous critters and gather tons of love without playing too many annoying memory games. The main inconvenience early on is that the main character passes out after half a day (a game over) if they don’t go to bed in time. Increasing their “love level” extends the waking time to several continuous days, but Moon feels too tightly limited at the beginning, and overall would have been better without this mechanic.

For players accustomed to modern affordances and styles of play, Moon may be a challenge to get into. Its graphics, a mix of Claymation-esque renders and spritework, have not been updated, and neither have the more tedious aspects of its gameplay. Even so, there’s something moving about inhabiting this world, loving the weird denizens, and bringing them what happiness we can. And isn’t that the way it should be? If goodness and love win, shouldn’t they win with goodness and love?

Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Lovedelic and Onion Games and published by ASCII Art and Onion Games.It is currently available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Violence, Crude Humor, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco. Several characters drink in a bar, and the main character, a child, may order and drink alcohol there, and will also drink alcohol to the point of passing out in a critical-path quest. The player character also consumes apparently hallucinogenic mushrooms and also encounters numerous dead animals that must be resurrected. As part of an optional quest, the main character can hear an episode of domestic violence. Considering all of this I think the T rating is probably appropriate, even though the player character himself does not perform any acts of violence.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Most dialogue is subtitled (a few lines uttered by the player character’s mother at the beginning and end of the game are not). Subtitles are in white text and cannot be resized or customized. Several critical-path and optional puzzles in this game rely on sound cues, in some cases without any accompanying visual cues. Additionally, multiple minigames and sidequests are easier to complete with sound. I feel that this game is not accessible for deaf and hard of hearing gamers and they may need assistance to complete it.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Movement is controlled by the left stick and actions, inventory access, and menu access are controlled by the face buttons.

Sparky Clarkson
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