Genre: Role-playing adventure,
Original Release: October 16, 1997 (Japan only)
Publishers: ASCII Entertainment (1997 Japan release), Onion Games (subsequent releases)
Platforms: PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mac OS
Played on: Nintendo Switch
I wouldn’t blame you if you’d never heard of this one. I didn’t until a tweet from Toby Fox (which I would love to embed here but on checking older blog posts that feature now seems broken thanks to a certain flappable billionaire’s antics) mentioned that it was one of the influences for Undertale. He had shared a trailer from Onion Games’ Twitter account talking about the re-release that talked about how everyone in the game has a schedule and, as you play, you’ll learn where they keep their love. That last phrase in particular caught my attention because in contrast to the graphics and general vibe of the game it seemed a little ominous. In a way, it is. When I said as much, someone replied that the game was both as wholesome and as dark as it seemed and I was immediately intrigued. So I picked it up, but didn’t get around to playing it until recently.
Moon is now one of my all-time favorite games. It’s not without its flaws and I’ll talk about them, but as my notes consist entirely of things I did in game to keep track of it all, let’s instead begin with a brief summary of the premise.
The game begins with you, the player, loading up a 16-bit JRPG called, fittingly enough, “Moon” in which the hero is asked to defeat the dragon threatening the land of Love-De-Gard. After a relatively short sequence, your mom pulls you out of the experience and tells you to “stop playing that game, and go to bed!” You turn off the game and TV, and go to bed, but the TV turns back on and pulls you into the world of Moon. The thing is, nobody can see you. At least not right away.
So you’ll wander around for a little bit until you find someone who can see you, and they take you in and give you some clothes. Once you put those on, you’re completely invisible other than the clothes. And from there the game truly begins. The way it works is that you’re visited by a mysterious head in your dreams that asks you to collect love from around the world. You do this by helping people you meet in one way or another. So while it’s an RPG in that you’re playing a role and leveling up, it’s typically considered an anti-RPG because you don’t level up by fighting monsters to collect experience to become stronger. Rather, you level up by collecting love which in turn lets you spend more time outside before you need to sleep. And trust me, you need to sleep. Once you’ve finished the opening, a clock appears in the top left with a red arrow marking your time limit. If you stay out too long, you’ll start to slow down as you run out of energy. The later you’re out, the slower you’ll go, and if you don’t go to sleep before your time’s up (the red line on the inside meeting the red arrow on the outside), it’s game over and you start over from the last time you slept. That’s really the only way to game over. Problem is you don’t have a whole lot of time at first. You can extend it with foods like cookies and bread, but that costs money and you don’t have a lot of that for a while. It’s a way to ease you into the gameplay and get a feel for what you need to do and how to manage your time.
I’ll admit that I tend to shy away from games where characters follow a set schedule. Something about it just induces a degree of anxiety that I’ll miss something crucial rather than “well I might have to check this out again in a week’s time in-game.” Honestly that’s the main reason I haven’t checked out Deadly Premonition yet. Like that game is definitely up my alley from everything I’ve seen (the Sinner’s Sandwich cutscene alone is ridiculous and I love it), but something in my head just goes “you’re gonna miss something super important, don’t do it.”
Anyway, Moon is a delightful adventure of a game. It’s weird to think of a PS1-era game that used mainly 2D sprites rather than 3D models (speaking as someone who grew up mainly with Final Fantasy VII, Pac Man World, and Resident Evil 2 among others), but there’s something to be said for games that focus more on their own aesthetic rather than following a trend. I think it makes the game all the more charming and memorable. There’s nothing wrong with early 3D models, in fact I think that particular era is my favorite because I have so many fond memories attached to it, but I don’t think the game would be served as well if our invisible boy had been a chunky model, you know?
Another thing I should talk a little bit about is the animals. Another way of collecting love is to rescue the souls of animals the hero kills in his quest to grow stronger to fight the dragon. There are 51 animals scattered across the game, and each of them has their own puzzle or gimmick associated with rescuing them. You’ll also earn a bit of Yenom (the game’s currency) for each of them and it’s a good way to build up a bit of cash for food and other goods you might need down the road.
The soundtrack is something else as well. The game proper doesn’t have a whole lot as far as ambient music goes. You have a bit that plays in town, and Claire de Lune plays near Gramby’s house, but other than that you’ll have to find Moon Discs (MDs) to have any sort of music playing as you wander around. It’s weird to consider a CD player antiquated at time of writing, but this game is also nearly 30 years old at this point so it checks out. Anyway, there are roughly thirty different Moon Discs you can find and you can program the player with eight at a time. Sometimes you can even get interactions out of the music you’re playing currently so it’s worth trying out! Plus the music itself is legitimately good. In fact, SketchesOfMondays compiled a playlist over on YouTube if you want to check it out. Kera-Ma-Go is my personal favorite (in context it left a huge smile on my face for the rest of the evening) but there’s so much variety in the soundtrack that you might prefer something else and that’s totally okay!
That said, I did promise to talk about my gripes. I don’t have a lot, in fact really just one and it ties into the main gameplay: everyone’s schedule is very rigid and some of them have a very tight window to solve their relevant puzzles to find their love. Others are a lot more lenient so if you’re just exploring you’ll likely find some way to pass the time as you need. But as you level up you’re able to stay out longer, to the point that you can be out for days at a time and might just turn in long before you need to sleep to move time forward. It can get a little tedious but it’s not the worst thing in the world. None of the puzzles are especially obtuse at least.
One thing I remember from my first playthrough is that my sister made it a point to say that the game was really cute. And I agree with that. It’s weirdly wholesome while having some sinister undercurrents but keeps things lighthearted enough that you can’t help but laugh or at least smile. I love RPGs so much, but every now and again something comes along that not only pokes fun at the core concepts but does it in such a way that it gets you thinking. Moon is very much a loving parody of RPGs at large and the localization does a great job. One day maybe I’ll be able to read enough Japanese to play the original and make comparisons, but I’m not in any rush. For now, I’m more than content with giving it my seal of approval. That is love. This is love.
If you’re interested, it’s about $20 on Steam, Switch, and PS4. I’d argue it was more than worth the price, personally. Love-de-Lic did a wonderful job making a memorable game and it’s so good to see their legacy live on through Onion Games.