Chris is a man of many talents. He plays video games, discusses how philosophical concepts relate to these and modern society, and even shares his creative writing and music. Not only that but he has great taste; after a discussion last year, we realised that we’re both huge fans of narrative adventure To The Moon.
We were both pretty excited then when Freebird Games finally released full sequel Finding Paradise in December. Would this new game affect us as emotionally as Johnny and River’s story and have us reaching for the tissues by its conclusion? Or would it fail to live up to emotional heights of the first title and not pull at our heartstrings?
There was only one way to find out: we both played the game last month and got together online to discuss our thoughts. Read on to find out more, but watch out for major spoilers if you haven’t yet played To The Moon and Finding Paradise for yourself.
Kim: How long ago was it that you played To The Moon before starting Finding Paradise? And did you try Bird Story?
Chris: Ah, I thought this would come up! I first played To The Moon about four years ago, I think, and replayed it something like six months ago. I’ve not played Bird Story. You were going to do a run through the whole lot in one go, weren’t you?
Kim: Yes – I didn’t bother with A Bird Story again though, because it’s pretty short and (without giving too much away) I had mixed feelings about it.
Chris: Well, I think you can probably give away A Bird Story at this point.
Kim: Ha ha ha yeah, I’m guessing you figured out what happened in it!
Chris: Is it about Colin as a kid?
Kim: Spot on – before he met Faye. Mild spoiler: you know in the scene where he says goodbye to her and she has wings when they hug? When he was a kid, he had a bird as a friend.
Chris: That makes sense. Let’s just say at this point that there are gonna be spoilers for the whole thing!
Kim: Six months ago is pretty recent. Do you think you enjoyed Finding Paradise more or less because To The Moon was fresh in your head?
Chris: I actually didn’t have To The Moon in mind all that much throughout Finding Paradise, with a couple of notable exceptions where it’s explicitly referenced or I made some connection. It was more afterwards that I could think about comparing them.
Kim: Ah I liked that – the way there was lots of little jokes that referenced To The Moon. When Neil made a joke about twins and Eva told him it was too soon for example…
Chris: It’s definitely still got some humour to it! The opening bit where they nearly hit another squirrel…
Kim: At least they didn’t kill it this time!
Chris: How do you feel about the humour? I know a lot of people who didn’t like that To The Moon brought up the jokes as something that sort of broke the mood the rest of the game was going for.
Kim: I get their point. I mean, here’s this really emotional story that tugs at the heartstrings – with characters who are making wisecracks. It could definitely ruin the immersion for some. But I kind of like the way they inject a bit of humour into the games. Their stories are pretty heavy and those lighter moments are a bit of breathing space.
Chris: I think that’s how I feel about it – a quick break from all the heavy stuff, just to remind you that not everything is super intense!
Kim: Freebird Games have a tagline on their website: ‘Ruining sentimental moments, one badly timed joke after another.’ I guess they live up to that! It would be interesting to hear from someone who had played Finding Paradise but not To The Moon; did the references to and jokes about the previous game affect their enjoyment?
Chris: I’d doubt it; I noticed the references, but I felt like if you didn’t know what they were talking about they’d just come across as harmless jokes or world-building. Like the part where Colin talks about the kids in school who he wants to get sat next to each other, because he thinks it’ll make them happy. I didn’t realise until later that he was talking about Johnny and River, so at the time I just took it as a bit of character development showing that he cares about other people.
Kim: That’s interesting… because I’d replayed To The Moon right before, I recognised the school and knew who Colin was referring to.
Chris: I think maybe having played To The Moon would make some of the jokes seem a bit less… weird, because Neil and Eva (mostly Neil) get established as total weirdos in that game, and by this one they’re making self-aware jokes about their own geeky humour.
Kim: Yeah, I guess they do come across as a bit strange now you mention it! Lovably strange, if you enjoyed To The Moon. Like the fact Eva seems to have a mild obsession with cucumbers…
Chris: And jellyfish, as we now know! Neil’s quirkiness actually started to get to me a bit in this game, because I knew the guy and liked him from To The Moon, but he was acting really suspicious for a lot of Finding Paradise and I was a bit worried we were going to get a Neil villain turn! Stuff like Roxie finding the secret stuff in his office, the fact that he wasn’t using an approved version of the machine… and then when he goes off to talk to Faye alone, I almost thought he was going to enlist her help to take over the world somehow!
Kim: Oh but that ending though… I was practically screaming at the screen: ‘DON’T DO IT NEIL!’
Chris: What do you think he was actually doing in the ending? It might be because the ending was rolling just as I was supposed to be going for food, but I feel like I didn’t fully take in some of the last scenes!
Kim: You know earlier in the game when he went to talk to Faye, he made a backup? After the credits, there’s a scene where Neil is on his office with Roxie and Rob. They ask him if this is the ‘solution’ he’s showing them… and he says: ‘Yes, that’s her.’
Chris: So he’s basically brought Faye out of Colin’s head, so he can use her to solve… some problem.
Kim: Yes! Remember he did a speech to Eva about handing control over to Faye because she’d do a better job with Colin’s memories than they ever could?
Chris: So maybe she can do the same for other people! Hmm.
Kim: I’m guessing they want to use Faye with patients going forward and that makes me very uneasy.
Chris: I do think using Faye was the right choice for Colin, but probably not for the general populace!
Kim: Oh yeah, I’d agree with that. The solution she came up with for him… that was perfect.
But letting her loose on other people… I don’t know. She was very unpredictable in Finding Paradise and doesn’t know anyone else like she knows Colin! Great material for a third episode though.
Chris: I think Finding Paradise did a lot of playing around with its premise. To The Moon took the premise and played it largely straight, in so much as there weren’t any big twists surrounding the ‘outside stuff’ and the story was almost entirely driven by Johnny and River. But Finding Paradise introduced new plot elements to do with the technology and the doctors in the ‘not-memory’ world. To be expected as a sequel, I guess!
Kim: Yeah, lots of different layers to the storyline this time. Neil’s illness still hasn’t been fully explained though… maybe he wants to use Faye on himself? Too much to think about!
Chris: Here’s something I’ve been wondering, right. We know the Sigmund Corporation tech (I forget whether the machine actually has a name) can only be used on people who are due to pass away imminently for ethical reasons, if I remember correctly. So how does anyone know it’s actually worked, when the person whose memories are altered always dies before they can attest to its success or not? It would be interesting to see the effects of altering memories in a still-living person, though – could lead to some odd psychoses, I’d expect.
Kim: I guess… at the end of To The Moon, Neil and Eva watch Johnny and River jet off in a rocket so on a basic level his wish was fulfilled. But did that actually make him happy? We won’t know because he’s no longer around to ask. And we can’t ask him whether it made him happier than his ‘real life’ made him, because he’d no longer remember it anyway! I know I’m getting way to into it now but it would be good to learn more about Sigmund Corp in the next game and what tests they’ve done.
Chris: Even if we assume that in his last moments Johnny genuinely believed that he went to the moon with River, and that made him very happy and gave him the feeling that he’d achieved his life’s wish… that’s the most positive outcome possible through Sigmund, I think, genuine belief, but it’s still extremely bittersweet because… well, that’s not how it really went. River doesn’t get to live this new and improved life, she just died not all that happy (if I remember To The Moon right). Johnny’s family don’t really know what life he died believing he lived but it wasn’t the one he actually had.
Kim: Just think of all the ethical implications… like I said, I know I’m getting way too into it – but I find this stuff really interesting!
Chris: I don’t think we can be getting too into it, this is almost the whole point!
Kim: I liked the way the subject was brought up in Finding Paradise through Colin’s wife. The way she couldn’t understand why he’d want to change his life (or the memories of his life) when the ones she had were so good.
Chris: In fact, the lesson they learned in the end was that Colin didn’t really want to change anything. The only reason he thought he was unhappy is because he knew that Sigmund could give him something different – if he’d never heard of Sigmund, he wouldn’t have been unhappy, so that’s what Faye made him forget. All he needed to know was that the life he had was the one he’d lived and he couldn’t change it, then he was perfectly happy with it.
Kim: Grass is greener, and all that. It certainly raises a few questions about marketing, advertising, and products that promise to give us this perfect life. All they do is make us feel bad about ourselves and as though we’re missing out on something better.
Chris: In epistemology, which is the bit of philosophy discussing what we know and how we know it, one of the more popular definitions of ‘knowledge’ is ‘justified true belief’ (briefly: if you don’t have any justification then you’re guessing, even if you’re right; if it’s not true then you think it rather than know it; if you don’t believe it, then it’s not knowledge you have). If you change your last memories, you’re left with… I supposed justified untrue belief. It’s a fiction, which might make you feel better than your real life, but is it somehow inherently worth less?
Kim: Mind. Blown.
Chris: Would it be worth more if everyone involved shared the memory, rather than just one person believing something nobody else has access to? These aren’t questions we can expect to answer, I think, but interesting to ask anyway.
Kim: But can one person’s happy memory ever truly be the same as another’s? Like… would River have really wanted to go to the moon too? And if everyone around the patient shared the memory, what about the rest of the world? Would that cause problems? Again… Mind. Blown.
Chris: That might be part of why you can’t do an alteration on a living person. Causes inconsistencies with reality. As for whether it’s what River would have wanted… well, I think part of the appeal of Sigmund is that you can use them to live the life YOU wanted, not the one where you compromised with others’ wishes. Which may well mean that you’re really wishing you’d been more selfish and less compassionate. I like stories like this: good tales in their own right, but also raise big deep questions!
Chris: I think I read that the story was inspired by a personal loss, so I’m sure he’ll have had the person in mind when he was writing Johnny’s story. There might not be any actual similarities between the people, but I wouldn’t be able to help thinking ‘would I want my loved one to do this?’
Kim: There were times when I didn’t like Colin’s wife Sofia but I couldn’t help sympathising with her. Would I be able to accept it if my partner wanted to change his memories of our time together, like she tried to? I’m not sure I could…
Chris: I could totally see Sofia’s point of view. Lots of people in the world of the To The Moon series probably take for granted that people change their memories – it’s just something people will have accepted as a thing that people do – but if this technology were actually introduced in the real world, there’d be a lot of resistance at first. Especially from partners or friends who might be offended that the person wanted to change their memories of time they might have had together.
Kim: It’s hard to imagine a place where something that like could ever be taken for granted, but I guess with enough time it could happen. Sigmund Corp would be worth an awful lot of money – and would have to deal with an awful lot of hate.
Chris: Well, it would have been hard a couple of decades ago to imagine something like the internet being taken for granted. Or (much as I don’t want to get political) a world where transgender people, for example, are accepted and it’s just taken for granted that people are the gender they are rather than the one they were born as. There are always big paradigm shifts when new things happen, when new ideas and new perspectives become mainstream, and there’s always resistance at first, but then after a while… it’s just the way it is.
I can see Sigmund being a source of controversy for a few reasons, actually: there’s the obvious emotional distress we’ve already talked about, but then just the fact that memories can be altered is something that could have applications in the military, in torture, in experimental therapy, all sorts. You can bet there’d be people who’d do knock-off versions of the technology which wouldn’t be safe, too! There are a lot of implications… I just had a horrific thought: imagine radical terrorists with the power to alter memories. Indoctrination suddenly got a lot more accessible!
Kim: That’s possibly more scary than any horror game I’ve ever played.
Chris: To The Moon spin-off horror game about a fringe group of Sigmund investigators hunting down rogue operatives using bootlegged versions of the technology for nefarious purposes? We should pitch this to Kan Gao.
Kim: I’d so play that.
Chris: Getting back to Finding Paradise itself, actually, there were points where it did almost become slightly horror-esque, don’t you think?
Kim: Particularly when Faye put in an appearance towards the end, and Neil couldn’t find Eva in Colin’s Over World. I guess it’s possible that one day the doctors could become trapped in a person’s mind… and if they’re planning to use something as unpredictable as Faye in a future solution, then that’s even more frightening.
Chris: I think the game did quite a good job of establishing a vague sense of unease early on, actually; when they were jumping around, I did start to think ‘Oh, hey, what if they couldn’t find a memory link? Could they be trapped there?’
Kim: And the fact they weren’t going straight back in memories, but in a spiral!
Chris: And just before the Faye reveal, when we knew there was something up but weren’t sure what… you can spot that she’s still stroking her hair even when the scene’s frozen…
Kim: What?! I didn’t notice that…
Chris: Yeah, she does some creepy stuff.
Kim: Did you have any clue she wasn’t real?
Chris: I knew there was something wrong and I suspected it was her, but I’m not sure I’d have guessed ‘imaginary friend’. I think my best guess was that she was either a manifestation of some sort of psychosis, or he’d killed her and repressed the memories!
Kim: I guessed she wasn’t real just before the big reveal, but up until then I didn’t realise! I assumed that there’d been some sort of accident, similar to the twins in To The Moon. I did think it was strange how nobody other than Colin interacted with Faye though… and when he’s focusing on his goals, she falls asleep.
Chris: There’s another thing that playing To The Moon straight before will have done to affect your view of Finding Paradise, actually – you’ll have been primed to expect a similar twist, then it pulls the rug out with a totally different one!
Kim: Yeah, I think I expected Finding Paradise’s storyline to be more like To The Moon than it was – and I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t.
Chris: I was getting really convinced that the black hole in the middle of their spiral orbit was going to be him murdering Faye out of jealousy or something. She was talking about maybe it being time to leave him, so I thought he might accidentally kill her and then repress the memories super-hard. So when Roxie said there was no record of her being in a plane crash I was like ‘YES I WAS RIGHT’ and then it turned out there was no record of her AT ALL so I was… close?
Kim: Yeah, I think we can go with that! So I’m I right in thinking that the black hole was when Faye left?
Chris: I’m pretty sure that’s what it was, yeah. I can’t think what else it would have been, and it’s in about the right place on the timeline. I’m not sure whether the black hole was actually caused by that memory being super painful or by Faye not wanting them to get to it, though.
Kim: Forgive me for saying this, because I’m possibly being over-critical or judgmental: did it seem as though Colin was a little too old to be an imaginary friend? I think I would have realised that plot twist a lot sooner if he had been younger, if that makes sense.
Chris: I think it’s established that Colin doesn’t really have anyone else, and throughout growing up his social situation doesn’t seem to improve all that much, plus Faye’s always the one to motivate him to do stuff so I can see why he kept her around so long. I do think that potentially he may have had some sort of learning disorder or mental health issue – in much the same way that River was heavily implied to have Asperger’s or something similar, but it was never explicitly stated. It might explain why he was a) able to create Faye so vividly that she could actually materialise, which had never happened before (people imagine stuff all the time, but Eva and Neil hadn’t seen a person actually appear to be real before) and b) so unwilling to let go of her. I’m not sure what, if any, diagnosable condition might explain those things, but it seems like something Kan Gao might have had in mind when the plot was coming together.
Kim: Ah, that’s a very good point you make there – the fact that this was the first time the doctors were able to actually see an imaginary friend. That could do some way towards explaining why Neil made the backup and is now looking at using her in some way. Everything just keeps circling back to Faye.
Chris: It’s kind of along the same lines as what I was saying before: To The Moon was about Johnny, with River as an important side character. Finding Paradise is about Neil, Eva and probably most of all Faye. Colin’s the one rejected to side character status here!
Kim: Which is kind of weird, considering it’s his head that most of the game takes place in.
Chris: He’s more the… what do you call it, the landscape or the stage or the setting, rather than a character.
Kim: I guess he got enough stage-time in A Bird Story ha ha ha! So admit it: were there any tears?
Chris: Errrrrrr…. no.
Kim: What?! You’ve a heart of stone, sir.
Chris: I’m not really a person who cries, which I attribute to being emotionally stunted.
Kim: Don’t worry, I think I shed enough for both of us.
Chris: Well, I almost think I was confused as to who to be saddest about. Am I sad about Faye, or Colin, or Neil, or… life in general? It’s like me with me new SNES Classic: too many choices for great games leaves me not playing any due to being uncertain which to play first! I wasn’t sure what emotions to feel because there were a lot of people there might be potential to empathise with.
Kim: I think I was most sad for Sophia and Asher… they were saying goodbye to their husband and father, not knowing what he died believing.
Chris: Ah, yeah, their story may well be the saddest actually.
Kim: I also think it was memories of To The Moon that added to it. I was expecting Finding Paradise to be emotional because of its origins, and then ended up getting more emotional because of that (if that makes any sense).
Chris: You were emotionally primed to expect sadness!
Kim: Yeah, that’s exactly it!
Chris: I was too, which made the slight horror elements more surprising.
Kim: Does that mean it wasn’t as sad as you were expecting?
Chris: Hmmm… it may have just been that I was more in a thoughtful mood than an emotional one, because I found it more philosophical than sad!
Kim: That makes sense… it’s only really digging into the storyline with you now that’s made me realise just how many questions and implications there are…
Chris: This is why I go by ‘OverThinker’ – it’s what I do naturally!
Kim: Come on then, no putting it off any longer: overall impressions of the game?
Chris: I enjoyed it a lot and I thought the story was great and well-told. Some of the gameplay could have done with ironing out, but the point of the game wasn’t the gameplay so I could forgive that. It… wasn’t fun as such, but neither is War and Peace! And the soundtrack was great. Not as good as To The Moon in my view, but still really good.
Kim: It’s silly how I can’t listen to any of these tracks without getting slightly tearful…
Chris: Yeah, they do know how to write emotional tracks. There’s some use of a thing called leitmotif – basically reusing little tunes across multiple tracks. Makes it sound familiar and evokes an emotion – interestingly I’m pretty sure Sofia plays Faye’s Theme on piano at one point.
Kim: Ah that makes sense… if I heard any of the tracks, I’d instantly be able to tell they were from Finding Paradise. I’m learning a lot today!
Chris: The best use of leitmotif in gaming – getting off topic, but I know you’ve played this recently so might interest you – is Undertale. Whole dissertations on that subject around the internet! I think the instrumentation is key too – that string line opening the menu theme of Finding Paradise instantly says ‘THIS IS THE SAME AS TO THE MOON‘.
Kim: Which game did you prefer?
Chris: I think Finding Paradise might be more interesting and do more with its premise… but To The Moon is my favourite of the two. I am not fully sure why. I think they tell different stories, and as someone who works with, has friends who are, and am indeed myself, what you’d call not neurotypical, that story resonated with me more. It’s just a personal thing – I’m sure Colin’s story will hit closer to home for a lot of people.
Kim: Yes, another good point raised. As you mentioned earlier, To The Moon’s focus was the central characters of Johnny and River; while Finding Paradise was more about Faye and external factors, rather than Colin himself.
I think To The Moon will always be my favourite, purely because it was one of the first indie games I’d ever played and it opened my eyes a bit. But I can appreciate how it and Finding Paradise compliment each other… and even how A Bird Story fits in now, even though I didn’t like it much previously. To be honest, I can’t wait to see what Kan Gao has got up his sleeve for the next episode – I want to know what Neil is planning!
Chris: Yeah, I’m really interested to see how the next episode shapes up. We’ve seen they can tell a good self-contained story and now that they can do overarching story arcs and play with the premise too, so… as long as it doesn’t get TOO kudzu-plot-y, it should be good.
Kim: Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another six years for it!
Chris: We shall see!
Kim: That kind of seems like a good place to round things up… anything else you’d like to add before we try and piece this all together in a post?
Chris: Yeah, I think we’ve covered most bases! I would say…. I still sort of feel that the memento mini games are a bit pointless and perhaps just an effort to be more of a game rather than just a story, but… I almost don’t see it as a game, y’know? It’s a story in game-esque form.
Kim: My other-half had never heard of To The Moon before and ended up watching while I played some of it. He actually questioned why the whole memento thing was there – not as a story element, but as a gameplay mechanic.
Chris: Yeah, I don’t feel it adds anything to the story – if anything, you wonder what the story reason for the puzzles is.
Kim: Would it feel as if something was lacking if those parts were removed, do you think? Or could it do entirely without them?
Chris: I think it could do without them quite happily. It might feel a bit… er… slow if it didn’t have some sort of gameplay to break up the story, though, so perhaps you’d need to replace it with some less incongruous mini game like a point-and-click finding clues or something.
Chris: We have many suggestions! What about you, overall thoughts and improvements you might suggest?
Kim: I think playing To The Moon again so close to Finding Paradise was both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it enabled me to understand all the little references and jokes, and appreciate how the world and stories complimented each other. But on the other hand, it caused me to compare the sequel to its predecessor more than I probably would have done if I played the games further apart.
But the way both titles handle emotion… they’re very sincere, and remind you of the things that are important in life. Give them to anyone who says video games are just pixels and they’ll probably change their mind after playing them. I won’t deny that I shed tears at the end of both of them. And I’ll probably do so again, after replaying both games before the third episode.
Chris: Sincere is a good word for it. It’s not preachy, it just tells a story which feels like it’s about real people, and lets you decide how to feel about it.
Kim: I can’t think of a better way to sum up what these games are about. Perfect.
Chris: Well, then. I think that covers… most of the stuff!
Kim: We’ll have to book in another conversation for the third episode.
Chris: My calendars looking pretty clear in 2024 at the moment…
Kim: I’ll stick it in the diary.
So there you have it: if you enjoyed To The Moon or are looking at something full of story and emotion, we can highly recommend Finding Paradise. To steal a quote from Chris, it’s a game which tells a story which feels as though it’s about real people and lets the player decide how to feel about it.
Thank you to Chris from OverThinker Y for another fun collaboration – hopefully we’ll be able to do this again when Freebird Games’ releases the third instalment in the series! In the meantime, if anyone would you interested in taking part in a conversation and critique post and have a suggestion for a game we could both play, please do get in touch.