Drs. Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts are back once more to fulfill a man’s dying wish in Finding Paradise. But once again, the complexities of a lifetime prove dangerous to manipulate.
Developer: Freebird Games
Publisher: Freebird Games
Release Date: December 14, 2017
At my age, I don’t have too many regrets. I regret not working on the student paper in college; I regret not reaching out to some of my friends as often as I should have. I regret all that cheese I ate last night. But looking back over an entire lifetime from the perspective of old age is something I couldn’t quite fathom…until Freebird Games offered me a window to that perspective. Finding Paradise, the sequel to To the Moon, picks up from the same universe with the same kind of question: if you could change anything, what would it be? But even if the initial premise is the same, the exploration of human life, memories, and values in Finding Paradise is dramatically different from the game’s predecessor.
Finding Paradise features the same two main characters as To the Moon: Drs. Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts, employees of Sigmund Corp. Sigmund Corp has developed a technology that allows them to delve into a person’s memories and alter them. If done in subtle, sensical ways, this can let a person truly believe in the false memories created as a result. But due to the danger of the technology, Sigmund Corp only works with those on their deathbeds, sending its scientists in to manipulate memories so a person believes, in their last moments, that they fulfilled some dream or answered some regret that they always had.
Gao has crafted an incredible soundtrack with subtle, impactful themes to support the strong characterizations throughout.
This time, the focus is on a dying man named Colin who seems to have lived a happy, fulfilling life with his wife Sofia and son Asher. His dying wish isn’t immediately clear, but discovering what he means by it is a large part of the story. Rosalene and Watts delve into Colin’s memories, exploring both his recent experiences and his earliest recollections from childhood to determine what factor they can change so that he believes he lived a fulfilling life. Throughout, we simultaneously experience the most important moments in the life of a dying man and the playful yet tense relationship between Rosalene and Watts.
Though you don’t need to have played To the Moon or Bird Story to understand Finding Paradise’s largest takeaway, the subplot with Dr. Watts doesn’t make much sense if you’re not at least familiar with Sigmund Corp’s work and Watts’ cliffhanger ending in To the Moon. Bird Story offers a bit of context to Colin’s plot, and though it’s recapped briefly from the character’s point of view, it helps you understand how his mind works a bit better and may help clever players predict the game’s biggest twist. Given how inexpensive and short they are, I recommend both first.
Kan Gao tried to temper expectations for Finding Paradise as he neared launch, but he need not have worried. His two greatest strengths, writing and the music, remain just as powerful if not more so in Finding Paradise. Gao has crafted an incredible soundtrack with subtle, impactful themes to support the strong characterizations throughout. Every character, from Colin himself to the scientists in his mind to the goofy Barry from the flight school sounds … well, human. I whole-heartedly believed every person I encountered. And the strength of humanity on display both allowed for the hard-hitting questions and conclusions to reverberate, but also let the game’s goofier moments slip into fantasy without disturbing the narrative. I could be moved to tears in one scene, then have the next temper it with clever pop culture references augmented by the fantastical mental world that is most of the game’s setting.
Finding Paradise’s one drawback is the same drawback that To the Moon had: weak gameplay. For the most part, all you do in Finding Paradise is walk around, find objects of interest, and examine them. There are now simple Match-3 puzzles you must solve every time you find a Memory Link, though they never dive quite as deep as I thought they were going to given how many mechanics were introduced throughout the game. And there are far more tongue-in-cheek game genre jokes than in To the Moon, including an RPG boss battle sequence and a sort of fighting game moment. But with those exceptions, Finding Paradise is all exploration and cutscenes.
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If you didn’t like that about To the Moon, you’re probably not going to be interested in Finding Paradise anyway. For me, the strength of Finding Paradise’s story, characters, and writing didn’t allow me to dwell on the fact that I wasn’t really putting forth much effort to progress the story. I was so invested in what they were doing that the object searches were just as interesting to me as they were to them. If you’re here for the story to begin with, as you should be, then it may even be preferable to have the telling be as uninterrupted as possible.
Finding Paradise is short – only about five to six-hours long – and its climax isn’t quite as dark as its predecessor, though it’s equally tear-jerking. But without spoiling anything, I felt that Finding Paradise fit in as a completely appropriate second “act” to what To the Moon established. It tells another “side” of the themes established in a world where Sigmund Corp lets people live unrealities in their final moments. Its characters are beautifully flawed and believably human, which gives the game room to say a lot about the ways we process, shape and contextualize reality (and unreality) without shoving a moral up our nose by the end. The final feeling of Finding Paradise isn’t at all what I expected out of the game. But it’s a beautiful catharsis that I’m happy I played. And even if it takes several more years, my interest is already piqued for whatever’s next for Rosalene and Watts.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.