Finding Paradise - Brutal Backlog

May 4, 2020
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Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team play through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best titles will stand up to scrutiny today.

I adore To The Moon. It was an utter delight the day I played through it. And that ending. Oh my god, that ending. As such I was so totally up for Kan Gao’s next move. Whilst waiting for Finding Paradise I played A Bird’s Story, and, well, it doused my excitement. Which is why I’m yet to play this game until now. But, surely the true follow-up to the glorious To The Moon can meet my heady expectations? Let’s see. 

Ten Minutes In

Well, it is a proper sequel to the glorious To The Moon. It starts off with the exact same visual style, some kind of 16-bit retro look, and the same two doctors travelling to another dying person, presumably to explore their memories. I suspect the ultimate feeling about this game will again be driven by the storytelling capability of Kan Gao, with the question being – can lightning strike twice?

Thirty Minutes In

I feel like I’ve had the full-on Basil Exposition treatment here, you know. I’ve not even gotten into my patient – Colin’s – mind to work out what his wish was and how to make it happen (this is what we do in this game you see, we play with people’s memories to ensure they remember what they wanted from life, rather than what actually happened). However, I do feel there is more going on outside than before, so I suspect I’ll come to look back on this section with a wry smile, rather than annoyance come the game’s end (spoiler: I did!). 

But what is sea? Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more.

Forty Minutes In

Damn this game. I mean, nothing has really happened yet but it’s still managed to get me all melancholy and thinking about things from real life, like my wedding and my children. The way this guy tells stories and gets right to the crux of the emotional feels, I dunno. It’s witchcraft. As I said, nothing has really happened except that I have found an old photo album. Alongside all the happenings is the music, which is delightful again as one would expect having listened to the soundtrack from To The Moon a hundred times over. 

Fifty Minutes In

Gameplay, then. I’ve just completed one of the ‘missions’ which is basically the two doctors I’m playing as walking around one of the protagonist, Colin’s, memories to learn something and then gain passage to a further memory. This is recent and it’s us learning why he wants his memories changed before he dies, i.e. what I’m supposed to do in the game

The way this happens is all very simple as the focus is on the story. You use the arrow keys to move around, pressing enter when you are near people, or outlines of people, who then say things for you to discover information. Once you’ve found all of these conversations or monologues you will have collected memory orbs and these can be used to prepare a memento. Preparing the memento by way of a mini-game similar to tic tac toe for one person yields passage to the next memory.

I’m still fully expecting a hell of an emotional journey and kicker at the end still. Nothing seen in the last ten minutes has made that any less likely.

One Hour and Fifteen Minutes In

What Kan Gao, the developer and leader behind Freebird Games, has done here is create a life and then distill it into segmented moments for us to play through. It’s not linear, and we’re doing it with a view to changing something – for the better – so the written life of Colin is a cloud of fog slowly being lifted in dotted parts separated from each other at first, and then the gaps slowly closing as we reach the denouement. The story, the writing, is so rich and it’s told in such a magical way that it’s hitting you right in the heartstrings every step of the way. The gameplay is so minimal, and the visual style so totally 16-bit but it all works together, conjoined with the delightful narrative which fuels the entire experience.

Well, don't leave me in suspense, old chap.

One Hour and Thirty Minutes In

Considering the entirety of the gameplay is walking around an environment, triggering memories by pressing return when near something you think is important, and then moving on, you would think it would get boring. Or a little tedious at least. On the contrary, with the lovely instrumental music in the background and the desire to find the memories, learn a little more and progress, it all just kind of works

One Hour and Forty-Five Minutes In

Did I speak too soon? I just found an environment which was a bit cheeky, with lots of dead ends and side-tracks leading to nowhere. However, the developer did put an Easter Egg type joke in there about all the pointless sidetracking, so I’ll allow it. 

Two Hours and Fifteen Minutes In

Ha! A Bird’s Story is related to To The Moon and Finding Paradise. I thought some of the environments and artwork looked familiar…

What is he talking about? The sofa?

Two Hours and Forty-Five Minutes In

So the game’s very helpful in avoiding frustration. If you go to leave an area without having done everything you need to, it prompts you and asks you if you actually want to stay. If you’re struggling to see certain things it will make it glimmer, too. There’s also no horse riding like in To The Moon, which is something anybody who has played that will be eternally grateful for.   

Three Hours and Fifteen Minutes In

I thought we were getting close there. You see, in this game I’ve been jumping from an old to a new memory whilst travelling in the man’s head, with the memories of the two ends of his life getting closer. I was somewhere in the middle and about to see the ending...or so I thought. Turns out I’ve just entered Act II. Hmmm. It’s all very exciting though. I still think the ending will have the emotional impact I predicted earlier, but I’m unsure what that ending might actually be.

There’s lots of fourth-wall breaking stuff going on, too. Which is nice as it mixes it up from To The Moon, in addition to just being a different story. 

Three Hours Forty-Five Minutes In

Wow. The end of Act II brought with it a plot twist and the start of Act III has gone all spooky. This is increasingly bizarre, utterly engaging and totally compelling. I had to stop and tell you all this. It’s awesome. 

Ah, here is an environment which had dead-ends and lots of side-tracking.

A Little Bit Later…

Yep, this has gone totally bonkers. I think I like it, though…

I can’t detail what’s going on (to do that would be unfair) except to say it’s totally unexpected, very cool and thoroughly enjoyable. Now, I think I’m hitting the endgame at last…

Four Hours and Thirty Minutes In

Oh, hell. There’s something in my eye….Finding Paradise just smashed an emotional sledgehammer into my tummy. Freebird Games; Kan Gao, has done it again. This is wonderful. But it’s not finished – there’s the final piece of the puzzle to place. 

Final Verdict

Fuck. Me. Gently. With. A. Chainsaw. Wow. That was...incredible. The culmination of all that had gone before was greater than I could ever have imagined. Kan Gao IS the master storyteller and a genius who has done it again, alongside all the brilliant team at Freebird Games. It’s as amazing as To The Moon. It subverted what had gone before but still delivered a heck of a story, with flair and great technique in telling it. It’s not just the story, it’s how it was told. I can’t say much more except to tell you to just go and buy it now and play it now and revel in the delight of the emotion and the messages and then reflect, as I am, on your life and where it’s at and what comes next. Games – bloody hell.

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Worth playing? ABSOLUTELY - and why don't you own it already?
Luciano Howard

I've been gaming for 35+ years on the Commodore VIC-20 to the PlayStation 5 and pretty much everything in-between. I enjoy all kinds of games but if I had to pick a couple in particular, I'd say I adore Mario and love Dark Souls. I can talk about either an awful lot should you want to!