This 'To the Moon' Sequel Rights the Series' Ship

A game doesn’t need to be completely interactive, but it does need to have a point.

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Dec 17 2017, 8:09pm

All images captured courtesy Freebird Games

There’s a moment in Finding Paradise, the latest game in the To the Moon series by Freebird Games, where a young boy named Colin tells a girl named Faye about the time he saved a bird. He sets it up like it’s a life-changing moment, but really, it’s rather boring.

Colin is disappointed at first that his storytelling didn’t work out, but Faye offers some explanation.

“Maybe the bird was something different to you than it was to them?” she suggests. “Or maybe you just sucked at telling that story.”

This is a reference to Freebird’s previous installment in the series, A Bird Story, the direct prequel to Finding Paradise. It’s only an hour long and depicts Colin’s relationship with a bird that he saves and how it becomes his only friend in a time of great isolation. It’s a simple story that sets up a lot of what the audience experiences in Finding Paradise, including a mid-game twist that was projected in A Bird Story if you were paying attention.

When A Bird Story came out in 2014, reviews were mixed. Kotaku found it “heartwarming” but too short, while PCGamer outright hated it, calling it “dull.” John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun was also disappointed in it, especially after the hit that was 2011’s To The Moon.

There is a running theme throughout these reviews and that’s about interactivity. A Bird Story is only an hour long and throughout, the player gets few opportunities to affect the story, whether by finding the pieces of a puzzle or controlling the character’s actions. This left a lot of people feeling like the game was missing something, a key component of what makes a game a game. Without the interactivity, isn’t it just a movie?

When a game holds back interactivity, it’s usually for a purpose. In a horror game, such as Eternal Darkness, the player is faced with a gradual descent into madness told through taking control away. The less the game responds appropriately, the more unnerved the player becomes. In Arkham Asylum, Batman’s normal cache of abilities is taken away from you as the Scarecrow leads you through hallucinations.

In A Bird Story, the lack of interactivity felt more like a symptom of the game’s length. I had to sit back and watch this story about a boy and his bird, and game-y mechanics would’ve frankly gotten in the way.

what a player can control isn’t just what separates games from other mediums, but is a key component in how creators tell stories.

Either way, in Finding Paradise, the developers are poking fun at their previous game’s reception by directly referencing interactivity. They also make up for the lack of control with this new installment in segments that break away from the point-and-click nature of the series, allowing the player to dive into other genres for a ridiculous moment.

As you collect mementos across Colin’s memories by finding them and clicking on them, you uncover a fragmented mind. You even get to fly a paper airplane—another callback to A Bird Story. Without spoiling anything, there are also real stakes in Finding Paradise, which makes the segment more impactful.

In games, what a player can control isn’t just what separates games from other mediums, but is a key component in how creators tell stories. Maybe the story in A Bird Story wasn’t bad, but the developers just sucked at telling it. Maybe Finding Paradise is an apologetic metatext.