Moon: RPG Remix Adventure Import Review
Every year I buy myself a treat for my birthday, and for 2012 that meant Moon: RPG Remix Adventure. I’d been keeping my eye on a copy in my local store for almost a year, but hadn’t picked it up immediately because of its rather formidable price tag — $60 for a PSX title. This was obviously a title with a following, to keep its price so high.
Moon is a difficult title to describe, as it both is an RPG and yet is not. “RPG Remix” is a good place to start, though. The basic concept takes a very generic RPG in the style of Dragon Quest and deconstructs it, turns it inside-out, and adds a heaping helping of surreality. It’s no coincidence that its development studio, Love-de-lic, rhymes with “psychedelic.”
The first ten minutes or so are a dedicated lampoon of old-school RPGs. The introductory lore, presented in text on a virtual television, continues screen after screen, getting more wordy each time, until it culminates in a solid wall of text. The player follows the experiences of the Boy across several game saves as he wallops monsters and makes his way to the evil dragon’s castle. His gaming fugue continues for hours and hours until his mother finally yells at him to turn it off. Hesitantly he does, only to have the game turn itself back on and drag him into its digital depths.
This is where things get weird.
As said above, Moon deconstructs the essence of an RPG, and the results aren’t necessarily pretty. Instead of a land under siege, the Boy finds a place that is definitely not suffering despite the strange disappearance of the moon’s light. The Hero is in fact a silent, helmeted sociopath obsessed with XP and leveling, and the landscape is littered with the corpses of innocent monsters caught in his path. It’s a twisted mirror image of the worst sorts of RPGamers — those who really play just to win, and who are willing to destroy everything in their path. In other words, munchkins. The designers put a lot of thought into just how a “real” fantasy world would think of a house-breaking, pot-smashing, loot-stealing, monster-slaying hero, and the Hero is often on the receiving end of a joke or insult just by being what he is.
In his dreams, the Boy meets the Queen of the Moon, who tells him to go and seek out love. Love and kindness in all their myriad forms take the place of experience in this game. By interacting, helping, or sometimes just listening to the inhabitants of Moon World the Boy gains bits of love that help him level up while sleeping. His stamina increases with his levels, allowing him to broaden his horizons and explore more thoroughly. The game works on its own internal clock and calendar, with different characters doing different things according to the time of day. In order to see and do everything, the Boy must be able to stay up for quite a long while in the final stages of the game, so it is imperative that he find all the love he can. The way in which the game defines love is very broad, ranging from admiration for the night guard in the castle rocking out in his underwear to helping the mushroom-loving monkey-things resurrect a coelacanth. Simply finding all the love in this game can take hours of experimentation, exploration, and in one case a purple monster suit. There seems to be an order of events, but there’s no real reason to follow it if one possesses the proper information ahead of time. The only real complaint would be that there isn’t enough interaction between the NPCs or variation in the routine later in the game. Having character behavior evolve as the game progresses would definitely have opened up a lot of opportunities.
Within the allowances of his stamina, the Boy has complete freedom to explore the world, and for such a simple thing it is very enjoyable. There is a lot to discover just by walking around, especially in the middle parts of the game, when the world really begins to open up.
About the only thing he does not do is fight. Combat in Moon takes place solely in the opening sequence, often referred to as “Fake Moon” by the fans. In “Real Moon” the Boy must find and catch the wayward souls of monsters slain by the Hero, allowing the Queen of the Moon’s servants to revive them and take them into safety. Finding these souls can be as simple as waiting for the appropriate time of day. It can also involve bizarre fetch quests, weird item interactions, and possibly psilocybin. Examining a monster’s body gets the Boy information about that particular monster, which can be used to figure out how to catch it. To be honest, half the fun lies in figuring out just what to do.
While the game can conceivably be finished in the twenty hours shown on the Boy’s saved data in “Fake Moon,” anyone playing the real thing without an FAQ will find the going much tougher. This is because Moon often plays more like Myst or Riven in the way that the solutions to puzzles must be found through investigation and innovation throughout the game. There are hints a-plenty for those who can read the Japanese, but even so this is definitely a game that’s more about the journey than the destination.
Graphically, all is bright and colorful in Moon. The visuals are about on par with those in SaGa Frontier, which is to say technicolor claymation when it’s not trying to be impressionist watercolors. At times it seems like it’s trying to be larger than life, and other times it’s riffing off genre tropes. The monsters in particular are a very mixed bunch, with everything from the usual slimes and oversized insects to a pair of monsters that look for all the world like pictures of eggplants photoshopped onto stilt-like legs. The locales have all the variety of an Alice and Wonderland adaptation, complete with the occasional psychedelic substance.
Even the sound and music fit into the remix theme. Every character in the game is voice-acted, but not in the way one would expect. Instead, it seems like recordings of people in various languages were sampled, directed, and then strung together randomly to create speech. Each character has his, her, or its unique source for voice sampling, but the end result is intentionally gibberish. The soundtrack is unique in that it allows the player to mix and match different tracks taken from “Magic Discs” scattered throughout the game. These MDs contain a wide variety of musical styles by various contemporary artists as well as Love-de-lic’s in-house group, the Thelonious Monkeys.
From its overly generic intro to its bizarre ending, Moon is a game that challenges the traditional concepts of RPGs and the people who play them. The ending is a piece of work in itself, striking a perfect allegory of the player’s empty life being represented by the faceless, impassive Hero, while the Boy is that childlike innocence that wants to have a fun time. The moral, it would seem, is that the only way to really win is to stop playing the game, go outside, and enjoy life. In a way Love-de-lic has made the RPG equivalent to the Game or an art-house film. It’s convoluted, philosophical, and takes a while to get your brain around. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s easy to see where it gets its cult status.
Interesting premise and execution
Soundtrack succeeds in rocking out
Some very interesting characters
Good command of Japanese is a must
Definitely structured to be an adventure title
Mini-games are ridiculously unfair at times