In the nearly 23 years between the original and Switch releases, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure (as it was originally named) sat untranslated, officially or otherwise. During that time, it reached almost mythical status in the realm of video game enthusiasts. People who played it in Japanese built a cult following for the game filled with people who had never even played it. I have dreamed of playing Moon for much of that time myself, and I’m happy to say it did not disappoint.
This review attempts to inform you about the game with as little of the game spoiled as possible. If you already plan to play Moon, do yourself a favour and do so before reading any reviews or opinions, including my own. Having a chance to play Moon blindly is worth it. One last note before we begin: the developers released the game’s manual online, and it is a must-read for any new player.
In Moon, you play as a young boy sucked into an RPG world. He is tasked with restoring the souls of animals killed for experience points by a clunking armoured horror known only as the “Hero” and gaining the love of the world’s inhabitants. There is a main story to follow with a powerful message to deliver, but much of Moon is spent just getting to know the world and its characters. Dialogue really showcases the creativity and wit of its writers, and I found myself chuckling often.
Moon‘s presentation could be described as eclectic. Graphically, a couple of scenes look as if they were constructed with hand-drawn paper puppets, and the gameplay itself takes place in a world of 3D backgrounds, 2D sprites, and claymation-style critters. I wouldn’t call it beautiful, but it has a vibe that works. Musically, Moon contains beats from every corner of the musical world. You can collect “MDs” as you explore and use them to build your own playlists. I found each MD memorable and a joy to listen to, and I switched them up regularly. Sometimes your choice of music can even affect characters or the world.
Upon first entry to the world of Moon, a quick realization dawns on you: you’re limited in how far you can explore. After moving about for a certain amount of time, the boy collapses and you get a game over. (The timer does stop during dialogue, so don’t feel like you need to be a speed reader.) In the beginning, this functionally limits the player to Gramby’s house, the nearby town, and the castle contained therein. To save, level up, and reset your timer, you must rest in a bed. The length of time you have to explore increases rapidly with your level, and you soon find yourself traversing not just the initial areas but the entire world.
Despite having a time limit, Moon really encourages you to play at a relaxed pace and search out every nook and cranny of its zany world. Characters have routines throughout the day and week much like Majora’s Mask, and their dialogue changes depending on where and when they are. It’s not uncommon to pop in an MD or two and tap your foot to the music while you wait in a specific location for nightfall or dawn and the accompanying events.
To increase their level, the player must accrue “love,” either by helping and befriending the locals, accomplishing more general goals like restoring a machine to working order, or by catching the souls of animals vanquished by the “Hero.” Soul catching is also one of the few ways to obtain Yenom, Moon‘s currency, so saving the animals is doubly useful. You can spend Yenom at places like the curio, bakery, and restaurant. Eat food to increase the length of time you have to explore in the current cycle or buy other items to gain more love in one way or another.
Every character, animal, and situation is a puzzle to be solved. Unlike the extrinsic puzzles in the world of a Professor Layton title, where characters have created the puzzles the player solves, these puzzles are intrinsic to Moon‘s world. Often, puzzles require investigation as well as an understanding of your options and limitations. For example, one character may challenge you to a strange and hilarious memory game, while another may just need someone to talk to on the weekend. Soul catching is a bit more straightforward: when you find an animal’s body, you can interact and get a little hint right then about how to find and catch its soul. An animal may be attracted to any number of player actions or in-world events, such as the sound of a dog’s bark or the bloom of a rising sun.
I could praise Moon‘s puzzles and writing forever, but it is not without flaws. Occasionally hints can be needlessly obtuse or easily missed. The large amount of stuff to experience is a blessing in one sense but can lead you to forget other points of interest you have come across. Both of these issues could be solved with a self-updating in-game journal that records character, animal, and location information. You’re left taking notes the old fashioned way, so don’t forget a pen and paper or your trusty smartphone. Also, a few dated scenes handle delicate topics inadequately and feel frankly mean spirited and against the themes and messaging of the game itself. Finally, Moon‘s relaxed pace combined with its lack of action may be too laid back for certain players.
Moon is not only a great game, but an important piece of video game history that has clearly influenced Japanese developers and even the modern indie scene through games like Toby Fox’s Undertale. On a personal level, I found Moon a delightful experience that continues to hold my heart captive, and I feel justified in calling it a masterpiece. Relatable, smart, funny, and powerful, Moon is everything I wanted it to be during all those years of waiting and more.