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.
Overall, the overwhelming majority of my time with Moon was whimsical and memorable. I enjoyed the remixed take on the traditional RPG and the meta-commentary it provides. Exploring the world and uncovering its intricacies in the quest for love was enthralling when it wasn’t revolving around waiting for something to happen. I love so much of Moon, but the barrier for entry could be high for some as it definitely requires an instruction manual and maybe a visit to a guide or FAQ. That being said, it’s a pleasure to be able to experience this 23-year-old game in English after all these years, even if it aged a bit.
There are times I loved Moon. I really enjoyed training Tao and adore my Gramby. I liked talking to and reviving flowers. There were also times when I felt completely lost and flummoxed, wondering what it is I was supposed to do. I admire what Moon does and think Onion Games should be commended for bringing it to a wider audience. It’s an important piece of history. Though, while time spent with it won’t be a waste and I think even people who don’t “get” it could find things to appreciate and love about it, it is admittedly not for everyone. Still, those curious should absolutely investigate it, spend a lot of time learning about it from its manual, and maybe give it a chance.
With a bit of good old determination, however, Moon's flaws and frustrations are easily overcome. Despite being almost 25 years old, Moon remains a thoughtful, beautiful experience that has a lot to say about the static nature of video games, how the way stories are presented affects our perceptions of reality, the rewarding nature of kindness and stewardship, and how simply being a part of the world makes us important and valuable. I don't think I'll forget my experience in Moon World anytime soon, and should you embark on this journey and see it through to its conclusion, I doubt you will, either.
Moon is going to be a hard sell for a lot of people, as it's hard to get across just how bizarre and unique it is. It has its frustrating moments and the fact that the developers have asked fans on Twitter to seek out the manual for the game is telling, as it comes from an era where nothing is explained. Once the player comes to terms with the annoying parts and things start to click, they will find a game that's strange, engaging, and unforgettable all at once, with a story that may change how people look at RPGs in the future.
Whether or not Moon is for you ultimately depends upon your tolerance level for aspects of late '90s game design and your overall interest in the RPG genre. As a standalone product, Moon has plenty of amusing commentary about RPGs, but much of this is likely to be lost on those who don’t much care for them. Strip away the satire, and you’re left with a mostly entertaining but somewhat simplistic point-and-click-style adventure laden with fetch quests. We’d give Moon a recommendation to those who are fascinated by its legendary status as a niche classic or to those who really enjoyed the narrative style of Undertale, but if you don’t fit into either of those groups, this might not be for you.
Ultimately moon too often hides its often blinding originality behind unclear design and an unnecessarily slow pace. For those with patience this is a game worth investigating – but for most this is a cult classic probably best avoided.
The story of moon is that you are a little boy playing an RPG called Moon. After your Mom tells you to go to bed, you get **** into the game world. Instead of being the Hero in the game, you now play as a walking set of clothes, tasked by the Queen of the Moon to gather Love.
moon is deconstructive because you are not the Hero of the game. No, you're the person cleaning up after the Hero by resurrecting dead animals, preventing the slaughtering of the innocent, improving the lives of the towns folk, etc. The game instead shows the selfishness of heroism and great man fantasy: murder for personal gain, rummaging through people's stuff and taking their items, even cruelty for the sake of getting things over with quicker--such as using a LVL 20 spell on a LVL 5 enemy. Instead of gaining experience, moon asks you to gain Love. You gain Love by finding a slaughtered animal's soul & returning it to their body and helping out people with their issues. Gaining Love increases your Love Level, which increases your energy to walk farther and explore more.
Mechanically, the game is most reminiscent to Chibi-Robo and Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. From Chibi-Robo, you have the gameplay loop of improving people's lives to gain more Love/happiness points which allow you to explore more areas to help more people. From Majora's Mask, the games takes NPCs having unique schedules, melancholic and off-beat humor, and running out of time gets you a Game Over. In moon, though, you get a Game Over by running out of energy. So you want to gain as much Love as possible so you can explore and help people to your hearts content. In order to level up, restore your energy, and save, you need to sleep in either Gramby's bed or your own. Eating food also gives you a bit more energy.
The game's aesthetics combine 32-bit sprite work, claymation, and pre-rendered graphics to create an almost Henry Selick looking world that is both cute and off-putting. The music and ambience are excellent as well. Though, the music is handled in an interesting way. Most areas are silent, so can make your own playlist of songs to play in the background. These songs range from electronic to hip-hop to jazz to rock and are all quite good. This adds to deconstructive nature of the game by giving you more agency than usually, reminding you that you are still in a game.
The hardest part of the game is the beginning. You have such little energy, are still getting used to the game, and are only given the direction of finding Love. It can feel trial and error, where you have to repeat the first day a few times just to understand your own limits and the easiest ways to find Love so you can start truly exploring and getting lost in the world of moon. I won't lie and say it wasn't frustrating at first. But once you start racking up Love Levels, the game becomes far more forgiving. If you want a tip: either expect to do the first day a couple times or be conservative by spending the first few days gaining Love and immediately heading back to bed. But once the world opens it, it's easy to get lost in--in a good way. The best video games are the ones that immerse you, and playing moon makes me feel like I'm inhabiting its world.
Of course, it's also an old game, so modern qualities of life don't exist in-game. There is no auto-save in a traditional sense, the game instead auto-saves once you sleep. Game Overs take you back to the last time you slept, which can be unforgiving. The games is also inspired by 90s adventure games it seems, as you have to figure out a lot of things on your own (though, the publishers provided a pdf of the manual which is extremely helpful). You also move slow which helps makes those first couple days frustrating and came to a head when I had to follow a dog to find his hiding spot only for him to out walk me every night I tried. The pace itself can feel slower than comparable games. Majora's Mask only had three days to worry about; moon has a full week. The path forward can be obtuse. The game is non-linear, so there is a lot of stuff that can be missed the first time around in terms of story, context, and content. But I don't find that last part a flaw, really. If we can laud Dark Souls for a similar feature, then then I find it part of the reason going back to moon can be so enduring: to really dive headfirst into a game's world.
Despite the game's own anti-escapist musings, I found moon to be quite absorbing. Even after getting far on some in-game days only to lose progress due to a lack of time management on my part leading to a Game Over and then quitting in fruition, I found myself loading the game back up less than an hour later because I was so invested. It has flaws. It shows it age, it can be unforgiving, the pacing is slow, and it really throws you in the deep end as soon as you gain control. However, once the learning curve is conquered, it was a deeply rewarding experience in richly written world.
It's a unique game with a rather obvious influence on a lot of games that came after it. It does a fantastic job of making you actually want to explore the world, interact with everything, and learn about the inhabitants. There's a few nitpicks I have, like the game not explaining some mechanics very well or being somewhat slow and tedious in a few spots. But it is an older game that expects you to have read a manual, which is available online and I highly recommend you flip through it a bit before you play so that you're not too lost or frustrated.
Imagine if Luigi's Mansion, Zelda: Majora's Mask and Mario RPG had a child. This is Moon. A unique "Puzzle/Adventure" that makes satire of the old school JRPG tropes of games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy and makes you win over the love of monsters, instead of killing them, and help out NPCs with their daily needs and life goals. It's a slow-paced, cleverly designed game where you need to observe the patterns of the world's inhabitants, plan your next moves and discover the world, one step at a time. It's full of humor, great characters and charm.
SummaryMoon is full of so many subtleties in the characters, their strange personalities, and idiosyncratic ways of communicating. We wanted to do even more testing than usual to make sure all of that came through clearly, felt special, and guided you properly through its world.