Finding Paradise Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: Freebird Games
Since its initial release back in 2011, To The Moon has expanded into a self named series with numerous mini-episodes having been released over the ensuing years, most notably 2014’s A Bird Story. All before its long awaited sequel was finally released in 2017 by the name of Finding Paradise.
Finding Paradise centers around Colin Reeds, an elderly man who turned to a company known as Sigmund Corp in order to undergo a procedure to have his memories altered before death to ensure that he will pass away peacefully and without any lingering regrets. Thus it is up to the returning Neil Watts and Eva Rosalene to help him fulfill this desire by travelling through his memories in order to pinpoint his grievances and ensure that Colin may pass away after having found true happiness in his life. Or paradise if you want to stretch the meaning of that word.
More specifically, the story has Dr. Rosalene and Watts bouncing around various key points in Colin’s life, observing everything from his childhood to his twilight years and learning his life story in a more indirect way. As to be expected, that story is one filled with joy, sorrow, love, triumph, all reinforced by a strong emotional pull perpetuated by the writing behind Colin and those important in his life along with the slightly melancholic presentation of it all.
It is a compelling and well devised story with a series of interesting twists and turns, steady development for its central characters, and a lot of heartfelt moments, yet I feel that it repeats the same general mistake of its predecessor with its desire to push more of a, how should I put it, hyperbolic narrative. Not to delve into too many details, but the final third of the game deals with some very specific subject matter with loose science surrounding it in a way that is incredibly engaging and interesting as the action plays out. Yet upon further analysis, it brings up a wide number of questions about the human mind, and how the writer believes it can mingle with the technology featured in the story.
It is very much not as big of an issue in Finding Paradise in comparison to its predecessor, though I do bear umbridge with the game’s use of brief and silly asides throughout its first half. Instances where the game deliberately references something else or indulges in some form of shenanigans that really do not feed back to the story properly, and are added into the game primarily for the sake of humor. I am nowhere above not filling stories with things such as this, as every novel I have written is littered with benign references and goofy nonsense, even the most “serious” one, but I do not feel that this type of humor really works with this kind of story. In a serious emotional and heartfelt narrative such as this, a scene wherein a character pulls out a “hookshot” and makes a reference to Gurren Lagann before pulling a planet out of the sky (while in Colin’s mind) are just odd.
Shifting over to the gameplay, it consists of walking around and interacting with thing of interest before finding a momento that will allow the player to jump from one memory to another. In order to activate each momento, a brief puzzle must be completed, and despite there being some interesting mechanics within the puzzles the game introduces, they are relatively easy to get through, as to not prevent people from being unable to progress in the story. There are also a few other diversions thrown in as well, which mostly serve as narrative driven genre flipping setpieces that are at the very least an interesting change of pace for this type of game.
Its sprite art, while not the most well animated, does feature a lot of small details throughout it, and has a very notable sense of beauty to it, enhanced by various lighting techniques and filters to make the game feel a lot more serene and majestic. However, things can look a bit stilted at times, and I cannot help but feel that this game’s presentation, among other things, are being held back by its RPG Maker engine. The engine itself is capable of doing some impressive things with enough modification, but it does not appear that many changes or alterations have been made in the 6 years between this game and To The Moon. When To The Moon had plenty of room for improvement.
Because of these limitations, Finding Paradise comes off as rather clunky and dated, despite how it came out in November of 2017, which is quite a shame. The game looks like a blurry mess when playing it in fullscreen on a 1080p monitor, which it defaults to every time it is run. While its 640 by 480 display resolution is only a fraction of that thanks to the forced letterboxing. Everything is tiny when played in windowed mode on a modern monitor, making it difficult to appreciate the artistry that went into the sprite work.
Finding Paradise certainly shines with its well rounded story that kept me invested from beginning to end, before culminating in a melancholic conclusion that nicely caps off the story proper. Yet the various technical shortcomings that affected To The Moon series are present here, with the game effectively using the same six year old framework that was already dated when it was first used. It can be a gorgeous game with utterly lovely musical accompaniment, but these shortcomings, combined with some oddly inserted comedic interludes, prevent the game from being quite as remarkable as I feel it easily could have been.