The term “deconstruction” gets thrown around a lot among modern indie game designers who are eager to prove how clever they think they are by subverting tropes. There is rarely any passion behind their vision and often display a gross misunderstanding of what it is they are trying to deconstruct.
In 1997, deconstructing RPGs began to be a bit more mainstream. Final Fantasy VII was a very popular RPG back then, and it defied many conventions of its day. The protagonist was not eager to save the world, and the cast was a bunch of misfits and eco-terrorists. This was groundbreaking back then.
In the same year, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure would take the idea of subverting RPG tropes further than anyone ever has. It would betray all tropes to the point that it stopped being an RPG and became something else entirely. More than two decades later, the west could finally play it in English.
Moon: Remix RPG Adventure
Developer: Love-di-Lic (PlayStation), Onion Games (Nintendo Switch)
Publisher: ASCII Entertainment (PlayStation), Onion Games (Nintendo Switch)
Platforms: PlayStation, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: October 16, 1997 (PlayStation), August 27, 2020 (Nintendo Switch)
Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is an enigmatic peregrination that eschews the tropes of RPGs that were so common up until the mid 90s. Many of the developers who worked on it were former Squaresoft employees, so if anyone knew RPGs well, it would be Love-di-Lic.
The intro has users play a “fake” version of Moon; a game within a game where very obvious RPG clichés are exaggerated. The protagonist will even skip the absurdly convoluted and wordy plot to get to the action quickly. This introduces the generalizations of RPGs as we understand them.
It isn’t long before the young boy who is playing fake Moon gets so absorbed into his game, that he literally gets sucked in. This is where Moon: Remix RPG Adventure truly begins, and the quest to spread love and help others begins.
Just because the protagonist gets transported into a video game world like Captain N, it does not make him the hero. The “hero” is a completely separate character and he comes off as a nightmarish force of nature.
The hero is a model of how most people play RPGs: pillaging everyone’s stuff and killing everything he sees for more power. The denizens of Love-De-Gard are hopelessly at his mercy, and it is on the player to undo the damage the hero has caused.
The protagonist is a boy from the real world who gets isekai’d into Moon. He loses his physical form and becomes a literal nobody. A night cap, vest, big floppy boots, and comical Mickey Mouse gloves become his ensemble that identifies him.
Though it may have RPG, in the title, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is not an RPG. There are no stats to build outside of the boy’s “love level,” there is no combat, and there is not a single party member to recruit. Anyone who has played Chulip before might be able to come to grips with the gameplay.
Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is an open ended adventure game. Progress is largely non-linear, and players are free to explore the island at their own pace and help people as they see fit. The objective is to help others fulfill their dreams, and to rest the souls of the dead that died at the hands of the hero.
There is no hand-holding and since this is a digital only game, there is no manual. This can be an issue since this is a game from an era when it was expected of everyone to read the instructions.
There is a lot of useful information that the game does not tell you about. Love-power drains gradually as you move about in the world, and when you run out it results in a game over. The fact the boy must rest in a bed (which also saves progress) is crucial to advancing.
Granting people’s wishes earns love points, which levels up love-power. The more love-power the boy has, the more he can explore Love-De-Gard to help others. It is not as easy as it sounds, since everyone (including animals) follow a routine based on the day and night cycle.
In many ways, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure was so far ahead of its time. It beat Shenmue to the punch, and even managed to out do it by respecting the player’s time. Time moves quickly, and there is no limit to how late the boy can stay up (so long as he has the love-power). He can also advance time with a nap.
Spreading love and saving the souls of dead monsters is rarely a straight forward puzzle. Many of the objectives have cryptic solutions that make sense when you think hard about them. One of the most beautiful aspects of Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is making these revelations yourself.
The information is out there in the world and the game draws you in to immerse yourself in this strange but incredibly cuddly and comfy setting. Talking to characters and showing them the various items you have typically rewards the boy with new dialogue, keeping things fresh.
There was great lengths taken to make the world and its characters feel organic and less like programmed automatons. The illusion is very effective thanks to all the moving parts working together.
Finding the right person and having the right item is not always a guaranteed way to spread love. Some characters might have you participate in a mini-game, or challenge your awareness. These can be difficult and solutions are randomized, making the test be very real.
The leaps of logic expected from the player is par the course for adventure games. Thankfully, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure does not demand 100% completion. These cryptic moments do add to the personality and charm of the game, and make it more memorable.
The aesthetics and art style is unbelievably creative. Various styles like claymation, illustration, pixel art, and 90s era prerendered CG are mixed together to give Moon: Remix RPG Adventure its alluring and nostalgic flavor.
The atmosphere is a profound mixture of emotions. There is a comforting and pleasant energy that permeates every location and character. It is almost dream-like how the imagery meshes and at the same time feel so natural.
Various characters the boy meets are also highly detailed with an impressive amount of animation and unique frames. The expressions and different angles accounted for is the kind of effort rarely seen in games today.
The visuals have a very similar feel to those in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, and that is because there is a lot of overlap with the same talent. Sometimes the locations resemble adorable miniatures and small sets that blend fantasy and the mundane.
The warmth of the colors and chiaroscuro lighting make every location feel inviting, and it can be hard to let go of this setting when it comes to its conclusion. The finale is a bittersweet ending, and has a cheeky fourth wall breaking to it that is admittedly very clever.
The less you know going in, the more rewarding the experience becomes. A lot of the enjoyment comes from the sense of discovery and immersion of exploring. It may be tempting to look up an FAQ, but doing so robs the player of the point of Moon.
Moon has a very unorthodox approach to music. For the most part, there is almost no soundtrack. Sound effects and ambient noise fill the background to make the setting feel real. Distant bird chirping and the sound of soft loam munching beneath the footsteps of the boy’s feet makes Moon have a connection to nature.
All music is diagetic in Moon: Remix RPG Adventure. Early on the protagonist acquires music player and can find and buy various music disc singles. There are many different musical styles from different artists, and it is an indescribable mixture of beats and rhythm.
It is the sound of peak Japanese-only PlayStation games. An assortment of hazy, half remembered dreams of sounds that feel familiar but can’t quite put your finger on it. It becomes a meta-game in itself to find all the discs to hear it all, and to add them to the boy’s playlist. Conveniently, he can even change tracks with the shoulder buttons and adjust the volume.
One of the harder love-quests involves proving your knowledge of the game’s soundtrack. The questions and music are randomized so there is no way to cheat. The only way to succeed is to become knowledgeable of Moon‘s soundtrack.
Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is an extremely esoteric game that won’t be for everyone. Despite its quirkiness and unconventional design, it flawlessly execute’s the designer’s intentions. Everything is seemingly very deliberate and confident in its design. It may not be an RPG, but it is almost as long as one.
Rarely coming off as cynical, Moon’s writing has such a unique voice that feels authentic. It is a very late localization, but the localization team seemingly did their homework and took great lengths to ensure the writing had a mid 90s flair that was common in RPGs of that time.
This is an unmistakable work of art that takes a look at traditional RPG conventions seen in the likes of the Dragon Quest franchise and others. It is an adventure game that is a profoundly nostalgic tour-de-force for anyone who grew up playing the kinds of RPGs that Moon: Remix RPG Adventure homages.
Moon: Remix RPG Adventure was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.