Finding Paradise is the sequel to To the Moon, a fairly solid indie game from… wow, 2011? Walking Simualtors aren’t generally my favorite thing, nor are RPG Maker games. So obviously, the correct solution was to play a walking simulator made using RPG Maker. What could go wrong, right?
But as is always the case with such things, it’s all about the story and execution. And as with To the Moon, Finding Paradise is an overall emotionally solid experience with some niggling flaws.
The premise of this game, as with the first game, is that you are two doctors working for the Sigmund Corporation, a company that goes out to dying people and hooks them up to a machine so that in their dying moments, they can experience the life they’ve always dreamed of. They do this by going back through the patient’s memories in reverse chronological order, linking them all together via mementos found in the various scenes, and looking at various memories (collecting “memory orbs” in the process) to access new memories.
However, this can be tricky, as patients don’t always know exactly what they want – which ironically makes their jobs a lot harder. Of course, there are many routine cases, but much like To the Moon, Finding Paradise is anything but routine.
The standard order of things quickly breaks down. The patient’s wife is opposed to the procedure, resenting Sigmund and wondering what it is that her husband wants so badly, while the patient himself seems to want to resolve a bunch of minor regrets, tweaking things to just be a little better, rather than completely rework his life. But while this all seems simple enough, it becomes increasingly clear that there’s a much larger regret that he simply did not voice…
The game is pretty melancholic – the game itself is about someone dying with some vague unresolved regrets, who feels vaguely dissatisfied with how his life went, but not in any sort of concrete fashion. This leads to a lot of focus on regrets, on little things that went wrong, or were imperfect, which, over about four hours of flashbacks, is quite a lot. The game occasionally mixes this up with a bit of comedy, which sometimes helps to make the story feel a lot less bleak and to make the doctors feel more disconnected from the patient, but at the same time sometimes feel rather jarring. This is especially the case because things get pretty weird towards the end, which ends up leading to almost an hour before the climax of the game where you suddenly take a break from the main story for a series of plot twists and a whole segment of the game with a pretty wildly different tone to it, before you get back to the serious times as the patient’s life comes to an end as they’re desperately trying to get everything in order.
Overall, I liked Finding Paradise. I think that despite or perhaps to some extent because of the tonal inconsistencies, it manages to deliver on its emotional impact by the end, and the final play through of the character’s life in flashback gives us new context that gives the audience a sense of emotional catharsis, even if it is ultimately a pretty bittersweet way for the game to end. The music works well to support the game’s emotional impact, and the visuals, while simple, mostly do a good enough job at showing us the story. There’s a few moments that are a bit weird, but there are also a few moments where the sprite-based nature of the work ends up letting them do things that would be harder to do in 3D.
This is not a game for people who are craving gameplay; there is very little on offer here. Instead, this is a game for people who crave story, and who like melancholy ones. It’s not the best thing since sliced bread, but I enjoyed it on the whole, it made me cry a bit at the end, and I am interested in seeing where the meta-narrative goes – there’s implications that something is going on with the doctors at Sigmund, and the game furthers that vague plot from the first game.