So let me start off by saying that I absolutely, positively LOVED Kan Gao’s masterpiece,”To the Moon”. The game was heartbreaking, it was funny, it was thought-provoking, it was clever, it was profoundly moving, and it contained what I will say is absolutely one of the best romances I’ve ever seen, in any medium. It is brilliant.
“Finding Paradise” is the sequel to “To the Moon”, and I had been looking forward to it for a long time. And the longer I waited, the higher my anticipation built.
So what did I think of it?
Okay, before I go on, I’m going to keep spoiler free for “Finding Paradise”, but I will be talking freely about “To the Moon” since this is, after all, a sequel. If you’re curious about this review, only keep reading if you don’t care about spoilers for that game. I will suggest, however, that you play it first, since it’s AMAZING and partially structured as a mystery; spoilers make a difference.
All right, let’s roll.
“Finding Paradise” was different. For a lot of it I was wondering what the point of it even was.
And then you realize…you’re supposed to be doing exactly that.
“To the Moon” basically expected you to take its central conceit in stride, and follow the story under the assumption that you more or less agree with the concept of changing somebody’s memories so they believe they accomplished their dreams on their death beds, which is the premise of the game. Being the introductory game, this does make sense, because it gets you acclimated to the concept and what they’re supposed to be doing with it without burdening you too much with the philosophy early on.
Given this, “To the Moon” structured the patient’s life as a mystery: What’s with the paper rabbits? What’s with the platypus doll? Why does River act so strange? Why do certain things about Johnny’s life just feel…off? And most importantly, why does Johnny even want to go to the moon?
Finding the solutions to these mysteries make up the game, but the heart of it is how it tugs at your heartstrings. The climax of the game comes like a punch to the gut, and is absolutely devastating.
“Finding Paradise” felt almost like a philosophical problem. This time, our patient Colin’s dream isn’t really a dream. After seeing the advertisement for SigCorp’s memory alteration process, he starts to get a vague uneasiness about all of the mistakes in his life, but he doesn’t really know why. So he calls SigCorp in with the vague instructions to make him happy without altering any memories about his family.
As the player avatars, scientists Neil and Eva (who are both entertaining characters themselves), travel through Colin’s head, you start to get the strange feeling that you don’t really need to be there. Every regret you comes across is small and fleeting. He had a guy spell out his proposal in the sky and spell the word marry wrong. At a fancy date with his wife he spills a drink. On his final flight (Colin being a pilot) his landing is a little rough. When his son is born he walks in immediately after the delivery instead of during…all stuff like that.
Eventually you start to form the idea that a girl in Colin’s past might be filling him with feelings of lost love, but this still doesn’t seem quite right. And you get the strange sense that Colin’s memories with his family are barely dwelt upon, which shouldn’t really be the case for such an important part of Colin’s life.
But when you realize why, and who exactly that girl is…Well, I won’t spoil it. But I’ll try and ask a question:
How many of you are satisfied, as a whole, with the life you lead? I’m going to guess that the answer at least for a sizable percentage of my readers is that you wouldn’t change a thing.
Now imagine you could wave a magic wand and change it right now. Fix every mistake. Right every wrong.
NOW how do you feel? Is there still nothing you would change?
And even if you DID have those niggling regrets, SHOULD you change it? If things work out differently, is that necessarily a good thing? Would you even like it? Is having the power to alter reality in ways you can barely understand a power people should have?
Instead of opting for the extreme emotional gutpunches of the original “To the Moon”, “Finding Paradise” instead opts to really dig into the philosophical implications of what exactly SigCorp is doing, and whether or not the payoff is worth the potential cost. And when Neil and Eva have to make their choice – and when you see Colin finally let go of his childhood and choose to grow up – the consequences of their decisions are undoubtedly moving and affecting.
“Finding Paradise” is an excellent game (or more accurately, really, interactive novel). The story moves slowly at first but the payoff is more than worth it. It’s funny, sometimes hilarious, it’s moving, it’s clever, and it tackles bold philosophical questions with intelligence and great humanity. Kan Gao really does do it again, and I give “Finding Paradise” my highest recommendation.