Few indie games have touched as many people as deeply as To the Moon did. Several YouTubers cried during their playthrough, and from personal experience, we understand why. Just over six years have passed since then, and in December Freebird Games finally released the game's sequel, and with it a long wait has finally come to an end.
In Finding Paradise, we once again play as Dr Eva Rosalene and Dr Neil Watts, who work for the company Sigmund Corps. Their task is to meet the last wishes of patients through artificial memories, and the first time we met them their patient wanted to visit the moon, but that turned out to be something more than just a trip to the moon. This time we meet Colin Reeds, a man on his deathbed and who asked Sigmund Corps for one last service before he says goodbye. His dream, however, is not as clearcut as Johnny's was in To the Moon.
We met Colin in 2014 in the short episode A Bird Story, and the idea was to release Finding Paradise shortly after, but it was sadly delayed for a long time. Even then, we were told that Colin was a lonely boy without friends who dreamed of being a pilot. This is explored more in the recently released title, where we also learn that his mother and dad were rarely at home. He was alone but found comfort in his neighbour Faye, with whom he was constantly spending time. She accompanied him during his flight lessons, helped him learn how to play the cello, and advised him when he met his future wife, Sofia.
The game is constantly jumping between the patient's memories and it seems quite clear that Colin has never been really happy. It won't be long before we get to know more about him when he's an adult, at which point he lives comfortably with his wife and a son. He spends most of his childhood completely alone and therefore you might think he would be happy now that he has everything he seemingly wanted. Instead, he's constantly gloomy, absent and complains, among other things, that his son didn't give him any grandchildren.
The premise is still the same, with the sequel based on exploring different memories and interacting with different objects or people while collecting pieces of a new memory, then visiting it and learning more about Colin's life. It is, and has always been, quite repetitive, but despite a well-constructed story that lasts for a long time, it doesn't work for the most part. The first game's length was roughly three hours, which was great, but Finding Paradise is just over four hours long, which feels a bit too long for the experience that it offers.
Added to that the visuals are virtually unchanged and once again lands with its cosy pixel style. Unfortunately, you're not able to change the resolution, which annoyed us enormously (until we eventually got used to it). One thing that stands out is the images that are included in some interstitials, which are so bad that they could have been done in Paint. Fortunately, these are the exception and not the rule.
To the Moon was primarily about love, while this sequel tells a story of mental health which could have been really interesting. Unfortunately, the story didn't really resonate with us, and it never feels like the game really gets started. Unlike Johnny, Colin is a rather uninteresting person to get to know and it never becomes very clear what his wish really is. Eventually we're given insight via plot twist but, unfortunately, this fell quite flat.
There's great potential in the story that Freebird Games wants to tell, but it feels sloppy when you quickly move past the interesting parts of Colin's life. We wanted to see more of Sofia, their marriage, their happiness at having children, but also the challenges he seemed to experience with family life. His memories do not contain any conflicts at all, which is a bit of a shame as this could have added to the inner conflict that Colin suffers from, but also it could have made for a better plot twist.
Something that also felt disappointing was that the dream of being a pilot seems to have been forgotten. Here he is suddenly a trained pilot, rendering A Bird Story unnecessary. The decision to look back at the entirety of his life and not to explore his greatest childhood dream is a very strange one.
To continue in the same vein as the brilliant first game was always going to prove difficult and, sadly, Finding Paradise never comes close to emulating that quality. The jokes often come across as contrived and out of place as they break the flow of the story. On top of that, the puzzle pieces that let you see new memories aren't very exciting. They also lack meaning and their existence feels like they were added to extend the playing time, which rather harms the experience rather than contributing positively to it.
Make no mistake, though, we enjoyed a lot of things. Among them, the music deserves to be mentioned as again it creates a magical atmosphere. Kan Gao, the game's developer, continues to offer beautiful piano music that is constantly in touch with the tone of the game, and there are few games that can deliver such joy and sorrow thanks to the music. If you want to pay a little extra, the game's soundtrack is worth investing in.
Finding Paradise is a nice little game that's definitely worth playing if you appreciated the original. The story, on the other hand, doesn't hit the same highs, and that's a shame is it's supposed to be the main strength of the game. It's an entertaining follow-up, but sadly it doesn't deliver to the same extent as its predecessor.