As the current console generation draws to a close, it and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to shake up not only the gaming industry but the entire planet. It’s understandable if some are finding that it’s easy to get burnt out on gaming after the many months that players have found themselves stuck at home forcing their way through their backlog. Unfortunately, given the current year, video games and escapism are needed more than ever right now, so being understandably burnt out on gaming can have the downside of having a negative impact on one’s mental health. In a somewhat ironic turn of events, it’s due to feelings like this that I (perhaps selfishly) can’t imagine Love-de-Lic’s PlayStation title Moon: Remix RPG Adventure finally receiving a 23-year overdue English localization at any better time.
For the uninitiated, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is an anti-RPG game released by Love-de-Lic in 1997 for the original PlayStation. The game was directed by Kenichi Nishi who, while working for SquareSoft in the 90s, worked on the likes of Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. After directing Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, Nishi would go on to work on Chibi Robo and Captain Rainbow at Skip Ltd. Meanwhile, one of the game’s designers, Yoshiro Kimura, would produce other cult classic titles, such as Chulip, Little King’s Story, and the infamous Rule of Rose, before joining Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacturer and eventually leaving it to create Onion Games, the studio responsible for finally localizing Moon all these years later.
While this type of history lesson isn’t necessary for most games, anyone familiar with any of the previously mentioned games can tell that Moon: Remix RPG Adventure undoubtedly holds a lot of value as a game that not only led to some of the most unique and experimental works in gaming, but is still seen as an inspiration even to this day, with Yoshiro Kimura recently commenting that most of the reason Onion Games was even able to release this Moon localization was thanks to the renewed interest the game received after Toby Fox, the creator of Undertale, sparked after discussing Moon as one of his main inspirations.
All of this begs the question though…What the hell is Moon?
To reiterate, Moon is an anti-RPG game. The game opens with the player character playing through an RPG game called “Moon” on his GameStation. Upon finishing the game, he is sucked into his GameStation and ends up in the world of Love-de-Gard, AKA the world from the video game; however, he awakens as a separate character to the “Hero” from his playthrough and is essentially tasked with cleaning up the mess his character has made. The game’s design basically acts as a deconstruction of the RPG genre, tasking the player with helping out characters around the world of Love-de-Gard and returning the souls of the animals the Hero has killed to the moon in exchange for Love, which acts as the game’s experience points.
While Love is the game’s equivalent of experience points, leveling up in Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is, quite like a lot of this “anti-RPG,” not like leveling up in the traditional sense. Since there are no battles in Moon, there is no need to upgrade the player’s stats every time they complete certain objectives. Instead, earning Love and leveling up in Moon acts more as a progression system for pushing the player further towards being able to complete the game, with level 23 being the minimum requirement for finishing it.
On top of this, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure runs off an in-game 24-hour clock system, within which each NPC will go about their daily schedules, and certain events can only take place at certain times. As sleeping is required for leveling up, the player is only given a certain amount of time a day that they can explore the world before they will collapse, resulting in a game over. While this starts out as quite limiting as the game’s map is quite broad, after a few days the player will be able to stay awake for up to 3 days, with some fast-travel options to make exploring the world less tiring (literally.) What’s most impressive about Moon‘s in-game clock is that the game predates both Shenmue and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask by 2 full years. While Majora’s Mask and Shenmue were not the first games to feature day-to-night cycles by a very large margin, their worlds felt groundbreaking due to the scheduled NPC interactions; however, Moon‘s world feels just as good as both games’ and arguably deserves more credit for doing it in a 2D PlayStation RPG as opposed to sprawling 3D open worlds. As a matter of fact, even just going around helping NPCs is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Perhaps Eiji Aonuma was a fan.
Unique mechanics aside, what really ties Moon: Remix RPG Adventure together is just how endearing the world and cast are. The game balances excellent 2D/3D sprite-work reminiscent of Super Mario RPG with some gorgeous clay-modeled character designs for the monsters, creating for a distinct style that could only have come out of a 90s RPG. Each NPC features just enough characterization to be memorable without featuring full-blown character arcs, and the strange, sampled gibberish audio used for characters’ voices leads to some Banjo-Kazooie-style hilarity upon first encountering a character.
The only element of Moon: Remix RPG Adventure that feels unfortunately outdated is one that permeates throughout its entire run time, and it’s that progression just constantly feels too obtuse. Knowing when, how, and why to interact with any given character is completely down to luck, and I know I am not the first reviewer to admit that I had a 2006 Gamefaqs walkthrough up alongside me from the 2-hour mark until the end of the game. In a lot of ways, the game almost feels more like a classic point-and-click adventure game more than an RPG as most of the player’s time is spent traversing the map to interact with characters at specific times or with specific items than it is actually progressing the story, which didn’t even rear its head until I was about 5 or 6 hours into the game.
If you don’t mind using a walkthrough or banging your head against purposefully obtuse game design for hours or maybe even days on end, it may not be a problem for you, but for somebody wanting to see the game through, it began to make the experience mundane around the 10-hour mark. It also doesn’t help that the game’s fishing mechanics are completely randomized, so when the game requires the player to fish for some very specific items near the end of the game, not being able to find the item I was looking for after multiple attempts required me to walk back to the town’s shop every time I ran out of fish bait, which is placed halfway across the entire game’s map. Usually, design like this doesn’t bother me, I’ve been playing point-and-click adventure games for long enough to be thick-skinned for this type of monotony, but it becomes such a huge part of Moon near the end that it feels like the developers wanted the player to become fed up with the game.
Antiquated game design aside, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is arguably the game 2020 needed more than 1997. A powerful expression of love and a heartfelt deconstruction of one of the most important video game genres, Moon is a game that will stick with any JRPG fan as one of the most unique experiences this genre has to offer and one of the games that will define both its past and future.
Publisher: Onion Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 27th August 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Moon: Remix RPG Adventure was supplied by the publisher.