To the moon was one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had in any entertainment medium. I am not exaggerating how much I loved the original game; it came at a time in my life were the messages it conveyed were going to hit the hardest for me and the execution of those messages and the story of the game was perfect in my opinion. However, I am not under the illusion that the game was perfect-there were issues regarding the gameplay and the visual presentation in some aspects- but in terms of personal opinion I’d put it very near the top of my list. Thus, Finding Paradise had a mountain to climb right from the beginning; it had to improve certain aspects from the original that were not great and also match the experience I had with the previous one. Fortunately, it improves a lot of the little nitpicks I had with the previous one, introduces a puzzle mechanic that is better suited and more fun to figure out than the previous iteration without compromising the story which is bittersweet, thought-provoking, melodramatic, goofy and engaging. Unfortunately, even though on paper it should top its predecessor it fails to match that experience even with the improvements mentioned. Considering though how much I love “To the moon” that doesn’t make “Finding Paradise” bad; in fact I think the game is great, but it is nonetheless lackluster in comparison.
On its own merits, “Finding Paradise” is a story-driven adventure game with some light puzzle solving, with returning protagonists doctors Eva Rosaline and Neil Watts entering another dying person’s last conscious moments to fulfill their last wish. This is about as much as I knew before playing “Finding Paradise” and that’s about as much as I am going to reveal on the actual story, as I think that is the right amount of knowledge to know before trying it out (also, as noted in the steam description, you don’t need to play “To the Moon” to enjoy Finding Paradise, but I would recommend that you do because “To the Moon” is amazing and enhances Finding Paradise). The plot is- like “To the moon” was- an exploration of memories, love, relationships, loss and other events one goes through life and carries the same heartfelt, melodramatic vibe as well as the goofy and funny banter from the two protagonists to provide levity and character. To start with, Eva and Neil are the best part of the game; their banter provides some good laughs, but they are also characters, meaning they have their own traits, agendas and personalities. Through them we experience the story and get perspective on the heavy subject matter dealt with, the characters they encounter and put stakes on the situations they find themselves in; overall the character work on display is excellent.
Moreover, the plot and narrative of the game are a natural progression of what “To the moon” started; an exploration of memories and events in the lifespan of a dying person, and while the core concept remains the same, “Finding Paradise” explores new avenues and ideas, wrapped inside a twisting and interesting story. Within the roughly 5 hours long playthrough of the game, I never felt like I was playing a rehash of the events and narrative beats of “To the moon”. In fact, while “To the Moon” expertly subverted expectations and delivered excellently on it’s story and mystery, Finding Paradise is a lot more focused as a narrative; it deals with similar themes by exploring different avenues in a more nuanced way (I would love to go into more detail, but that would get into spoiler territory in my opinion and the game is better experienced without any such knowledge beforehand). Overall, the strong writing in terms of characters and story is again present here and is again the standout feature of the game, not only in relation to the predecessor, but also in relation to the current offerings on the market. Another surprising upgrade Finding Paradise got is on the humour as “To the Moon” was goofy and funny at times, but Finding Paradise is genuinely hilarious at spots and really nails the comedy it is going for.
To add to this, the music is again a standout and of very high quality, although I am still more fond of the OST of “To the moon”. Furthermore, there was a redesign of the light puzzle elements, where in the original, memento puzzles were square blocks that had to be moved in order to form the design of the memento which was a break from the story that allowed you to contemplate where you are in the story and where it might be heading, however they were too easy and eventually unnecessary in my opinion; in “Finding Paradise” they are replaced with a match-3 style of puzzles that are more fun, engaging and progressively add more elements and ramp up in complexity as the story progresses; there are also story related puzzles that need to be solved in order to progress and that part has remained mostly the same providing some casual and interesting challenges that act as a mechanism for delivering the story rather than a test of wits.
There are some points I would like to mention that I think the game doesn’t execute particularly well on. Firstly, although the light puzzle solving is improved from the previous game, it is still, unnecessary and not that great. I get why it was included-it provides variety, a break in pace, and a chance to consider what happened up to now in the story- but as it adds nothing to the story, for me it just messes up the pacing of the experience. Speaking of which, the pacing does suffer a bit from the game’s longer duration; the added content justifies that though as the game never drags, however “To the moon’s” shorter playtime meant it could be experienced in one sitting and get a more effective experience, while “Finding Paradise” will likely be experienced in two or more sittings and diminishes the impact as a result. There are also a couple of points that persisted from the previous game into this one. Firstly, the walking speed is still too slow to encourage exploration-even though there is usually nothing to find- its a bummer when you realize that where you are supposed to be to progress, is all the way across the level you slowly walked through seconds ago. Also, even though there are no collectibles or tangible side objects to find, by exploring some levels, you may encounter some extra gags or side stories that fit in nicely to the main plot; they are not necessary but I really enjoyed them. Secondly, the visuals of the game are still very plain 16-bit era pixel art. This isn’t a problem with me as I actually don’t mind the RPGmaker look of the game, although I can see how the lack of progress in the visuals department might disappoint some people; having said that the gorgeous illustrations that pop up occasionally for story moments are still there and still look beautiful. Finally, the narrative part of this game is mostly well done, however there were some exceptions, such as some subplots that-whiled I understand the reasoning for their inclusion- get nowhere or are not resolved at all and the twist of the game-while poignant, fitting and executed really well- was easy for me to predict it; that’s not necessarily a point off for the game, but it made the impact of it less meaningful and being a step ahead of the characters makes for a disjointed experience. In all honesty though, I can look past these criticisms; Freebird games are in a weird-sometimes advantageous, sometimes disadvantageous- place for me. I really couldn’t care less what the mechanics, the look or the story of these games are; I value the experience I have while and after playing them. “Finding Paradise’s” biggest flaw for me was that while playing it I was trying to figure out what was going on and trying to derive meaning and food for thought by its messages, just like I did with “To the moon”. However-and granted these are personal tastes- the mystery, the story and the messages were not as hard-hitting, poignant and engaging for me as its predecessors. After I finished it, I did not pace around the room thinking about my experience over and over again and for days it was not the only think I wanted to think about; it was a great game and I moved on immediately.
That’s not a bad thing to accomplish and, I repeat, “Finding Paradise” is a great game. However, I wanted more, I expected more from the sequel to the game I love so much. In conclusion, I recommend to anyone to experience both “To the Moon”-and its free minisodes- and “Finding Paradise” as they are both excellent experiences; however I experienced and loved “To the moon” first and thus anticipated “Finding Paradise” eagerly and wanted a very specific experience from it-as I do for the all but confirmed continuation for the series- and it just didn’t deliver exactly what I wanted. That doesn’t make “Finding Paradise” a bad experience or a disappointing one; in fact I’m sure that a lot of fans will find the sequel tops the predecessor in every way. However for me it did not deliver a game that felt tailored-made for my sensibilities and my personality like “To the Moon” did and thus is a bit of a drop. But a bit of a drop from one of my favorite games of all time is not a bad end result.