The best way to describe Moon, the cult classic “anti-RPG” that was originally released in 1997 on the Sony Playstation in Japan, begins with its opening act. The main character is simply referred to as “The Hero”, and is depicted playing a standard JRPG where the hero has to slay a dragon that’s trying to eat the moon or something to that effect. It almost feels like you’re playing through a checklist of RPG tropes as the hero accomplishes tasks like raiding the dressers of local villagers, fight standard JRPG monsters like slimes in automated battles and even obtain an airship over the course of his adventure, culminating in the final confrontation against a dragon. Although the opening largely plays these tropes straight (at least in comparison to the rest of the game) there is some degree of humor in how everything is presented. In particular, how the various houses in the village have absolutely nonsensical room layouts, and should you attempt to leave the village before having already done so, a prompt will appear telling you not to forget to “always look in the dressers in peoples’ houses.” However, it’s the end of the hero’s journey that the game truly begins.
This early example of the Japanese isekai genre has your character literally sucked into the TV and thrust into the world of the game they were just playing to relive the journey from another perspective. While Moon bills itself as an “anti-RPG”, it’s better described as something of a point and click adventure where progress is completed primarily by presenting the right item to the correct NPC. The character levels up not through gaining experience by fighting monsters, but by “finding the love” in the wide assortment of NPCs. This task is far easier said than done. The various NPCs operate on a Majora’s Mask like schedule that spans across seven in-game days. While an early NPC can be appeased simply by buying them bread at the bakery, many other NPCs hide their love behind complex quest chains that in many cases require knowledge of their schedules and relationships with other NPCs to complete.
While no giant moon may be threatening to destroy the world, there is still a bit of a time crunch. At the start of the game, the character can only stay awake for half of a day and should time run out, they will be rendered unconscious and be forced to redo whatever tasks were accomplished during the day. Completing tasks for NPCs will allow the character to stay awake longer to explore more of the world and complete longer sidequests.
For the most part, this style of gameplay is quite enjoyable but there are some points where progression feels somewhat obtuse or it’s difficult to see what needs to be done next. These moments present themselves far more sparingly than something like a classic LucasArts game as Moon generally explains what to do next more often than a typical point-and-click style game. A hint system built in helps a lot but in some instances consulting a guide is an easier course of action. This is forgivable because so much of the game is easy enough to understand without much of a headache. What’s less forgivable is the slow pace. The character moves across the land at a leisurely walking speed and between that and how much time is spent waiting for things to happen or characters to do certain things, the absence of a fast forward option is very noticeable.
The lack of any modernization may be attributed to a desire to keep Moon as close to its original release as possible. The game mentions the amount of blocks of memory used for save data despite the fact it’s no longer utilizing a Playstation memory card. The localization stays true to the same kind of quirky personality as other JRPG localizations of that era, with many of the characters even speaking in strange accents as was fairly common in English localizations of the time. This dedication to an authentic retro JRPG experience is admirable but it also means a lack of the fancy bells and whistles that other PlayStation games have received on Switch.
The developer, Onion Games, even took the time to localize the original manual but this is somewhat of a moot point given that there’s no way to view the manual ingame. Even the support information page on the Switch home screen doesn’t suggest that a manual exists. This is especially unfortunate because many of the mechanics rely on the player having read the manual that can only be obtained outside via the internet. Some may be able to figure out many of the mechanics through trial and error, but many may become frustrated with a lack of information.
The superbly written story more than makes up for any frustration arising from its shortcomings. A number of overarching plotlines are spread throughout the game, including seeing the Hero’s journey through the perspective of the various NPCs that are met along the way. All kinds of well hidden story bits are just waiting to be uncovered that flesh out both the world and the characters within. The world of Moon is incredibly detailed to the point where many of its intricacies could be missed without a careful eye. It’s a shame that a lot of interesting details will likely go unseen but it provides an excellent reward for exploration to those willing to uncover Moon’s many secrets.
Only so much can be said without potentially spoiling the story but rest assured, Moon is a one of a kind experience. It’s bizarre humor and captivating world have made this easily one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences released on the Switch this year. Dozens of incredible moments contribute to Moon being an undeniable masterpiece. It’s cult classic status is well earned and safe to say that the english speaking audience is going to be absolutely over the Moon for this game.
- Charming characters and writing.
- Well thought out and mostly straightforward puzzles with very few truly cryptic moments.
- Bizarre sense of humor.
- Fascinating hidden story bits that flesh out the already captivating world.
- Incredible, thought provoking ending sequence.
- No fast forward option.
- Lack of tutorials largely force the player to figure things out on their own or consult a manual that is not included with or mentioned within the game.