Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is a niche “anti-RPG” from 1997 that last week made its way westward, for the first time ever, via Switch. While the digital manual provides some much-appreciated assistance, I recently found myself stuck in a game-ending situation that would have been entirely avoidable had I respected the game’s world.
The main conceit of Moon is that you, a young boy that has been magically transported into his favourite roleplaying game, are exploring a world that has already been picked clean by a massive, armoured Hero. Where the cliched “protagonist” has slain and pilfered, however, your job is to assist and restore. Your actions are limited by a metre known, fittingly, as the Action Limit, which can be increased as you earn Love for completing tasks. When it runs out, that means game over and restarting from your last save. As such, it behooves you to pay attention to your Action Limit and gain a good sense of how much energy it takes to travel between various objectives.
Moon’s world may have been ravaged by the so-called Hero, but it’s still a living place. A clock tracks both time of day and day of the week. NPCs go about their business regardless of your presence. Playing the game is a matter of learning these routines and inserting yourself at the right time to, say, meet a castle guard relaxing at the bar after his shift, or gaining access to a secret shop with special items. Very rarely are these decisions life-or-death, but through a lapse in common sense, Moon taught me the hard way to appreciate its intricate world.
I’m at the point in my Moon playthrough that I can get a lot done before having to rest. My Action Limit lasts almost two full days, which gives me a chance to traverse various early game areas to my heart’s content. But that also means that any misstep in my exploration has the potential to erase a ton of hard work, which is exactly what happened to me in Moon’s desert last night.
By the time I reached the desert, I had already accomplished a lot throughout the day. I played a series of mini-games to help a multi-armed hermit become god. I brute-forced my way through a music quiz and became fast friends with the record-peddling hipster who grilled me. I chilled with a corpse in a gorgeous cave until its ghost awoke with the first light of dawn. I was riding high on productivity, so much so that, when faced with the prospect of gaining altitude to save a couple of the game’s ubiquitous spirits, I rushed headlong toward the task at hand.
Moon is absolutely littered with the corpses of monsters killed by the rampaging Hero, giving you ample opportunities to resurrect these monsters and earn Love in the process. The process goes a little like this: You find a corpse. You inspect it. You learn a few fun facts about the monster’s behaviour while it was alive. You find the monster’s ghost. You reunite the ghost with the body. You watch the resurrected monster get taken away by a UFO. You get some Love and a little bit of pocket change as thanks. Wash, rinse, repeat.
After noticing the spirit of a strange, pink blob wandering around atop one of the desert’s tall mesas, I eventually found the body to which it belonged. Mr. Droll, the in-game encyclopaedia told me, loves high places. “Curious about the nightly growy cacti,” it said. Well there it is, I thought to myself. I waited until nightfall, jumped on the first cactus I saw, and watched as it grew high enough for me to step foot on a mesa I thought would be occupied by Mr. Droll’s spirit. Unable to find said spirit, I turned around and stood back on the cactus, now tall in the dark of night, and waited for it to shrink back down to the ground.
And waited some more.
The cactus wouldn’t budge.
That’s when it dawned on me. The cactus wasn’t going to wither away until the sun came back out. I was stranded on this mesa until dawn. Checking on my Action Limit revealed the awful truth: I was going to die on this cliff. There simply wasn’t enough energy left for me to wait out the night and ride the cactus back down in the morning. Everything I had done up to this moment would be washed away by Moon’s game over screen. It was already pretty late, so all I could do was sigh, turn off my Switch, and crawl into bed disappointed.
It was my fault, of course. I had been relying on the general video game knowledge I’d accrued over several decades rather than the small understanding I now had of how Moon worked. Sure, in any other game, the cactus would have been a two-way elevator, capable of taking me up and down whenever I pleased. But as with everything else in Moon, the cactus is on a strict schedule. It grows at night and withers away in the morning, a detail that was blatantly spelled out for me in Mr. Droll’s encyclopaedia entry. A combination of hubris and a lack of appreciation for Moon’s whole deal sealed my fate.
I am very much enjoying my time with Moon so far. It’s fun and funny and the perfect amount of obtuse. I constantly feel disoriented by the world’s rules while never feeling truly lost. There’s always something to do, a new character to meet, or a new monster to save from its grisly fate just around the bend. That said, the game asks something of the player in return. Moon is not a game you play so much as you live for brief periods of time, adjusting your mindset in much the same way as the small boy you control has been transported into his video game cartridge. This was made painfully obvious during my encounter with the cactus, and it’s a lesson I would do well to keep in mind through the rest of the game.