After To The Moon and the semi-sequel known as A Bird Story, Kan Gao and Freebird Games set out to make a true sequel to their first commercial title, known as Finding Paradise. I remember both me and my sister being quite excited for it, while still being mixed on whether the previous titles needed to be structured as games. Maybe it was the easiest medium to adapt this story into for the developers, as both titles received praise and warm reception by both critics and fans. Even as a snarky gamer myself, I was hyped and ready to get emotionally invested and having tears running down my cheeks for a third time.
More than just a 90s comedy-drama
Work is never truly done, and the same goes for the duo Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, still employees at Sigmund Corp. Their line of work revolves around helping dying people fulfilling their last wish before entering eternal slumber. This is done by altering their memories in order to achieve it, which those requesting this service are aware of. The duo’s next customer for this title is the retired pilot Colin Reeds, now on his deathbed. Rosalene and Watts aren’t met with the warmest welcome from Colin’s wife, but are invited in and strap on to find a recent memory of Colin to find out what he wishes for. His wish is a complicated one: make his life fulfilling while changing as little as possible.
The story will take you through Colin’s memories and are well told with an interesting time travel element within his memories, jumping between his childhood, and back to adult-hood until you get to his halfway point in life. It really creates a nice progression where everything comes together in the middle, almost like having the missing link be the answer to the questions. Colin has gone through events that are troublesome, joyful, calm and more, making all memories have a clear purpose or importance to the client. However, the story is easier to decipher as you are never spoonfed anything to gain a big conclusion for his goal, but rather get a twist that is more of a side-effect to his memories. It is still an interesting and fulfilling story with emotions and progression feeling meaningful, despite also being easy to see the conclusion of.
In fact, while the progression is happening through making Colin’s wish come through, the actual story centers around the Sigmund Corp. We are delving more into the controversies surrounding their ability to change someone’s memories and how this technology can be interfered with by unseen elements. A nice addition is how the more technical aspects are optional, while the perspectives on the matter are told through story, making it a nice way to choose how much lore you actually want, while still being provided the essential parts. It is a nice way to get you invested as the lore and philosophies behind the corporation are intriguing, and it makes our duo more interesting to be a part of it, with different viewpoints on the matter. The latter, making sure that the perspectives is not siding with either aspect, but rather gives insights to perspectives, which helps in letting the players make their own conclusions.
Speaking of, all the characters are memorable, such as our client being a diverse person with different likes, dislikes, approaches and such, and Rosalene and Watts serving as nice contrasts to each other. While Rosalene has definitely found a more playful tone since the last game, she still is the sterner one, while Watts is more laidback. This is probably a good point to express that while Finding Paradise is filled with emotional and effective scenes and dialogues to get you invested, it leans more on a comedic side. It is not afraid of chucking jokes constantly, be they puns, observations, or subtle. Impressively, this is always done in a respectful and believable manner. It is important to keep your head up whenever moments are dire, but it shows that this is a normal working day for the duo, and the jokes are always entertaining and make me laugh out loud, such as the gag directed against customization in RPGs, or the small nods to lighten the mood slightly enough to counter hopelessness.
While I wish there was a stronger focus on the actual client and more philosophical moments, as they are certainly present, what is provided here is still something great. Humorous and strong dialogues, scenes that touch your heartstrings, relatable and personal characters, and questions that are important to ask. It could definitely have made for more insight to either the client or not make the ending leave on a cliffhanger, but it is hard to say I was not satisfied and had a smile on my face with a couple of tears running down my cheek.
Story Score: 8/10
If you read my previous reviews of either To The Moon or A Bird Story, you are probably not surprised that I dislike the title’s lack of interactivity. In fact, it is worse here than before. Similar to To The Moon, this is an adventure-title wherein each memory, you will have to walk around and explore in order to further the plot. Inside the memories, this is done by finding upwards to five orbs, that represent something of importance to the character, be it events, an item, or a person. These will yield an orb each, and when you have enough, you can trigger one Momentous, which is an item that will take you to the next memory after you have finished a puzzle.
So why is this not engaging? Simply because of the linearity. There is really nothing to explore, as the orbs or other items for progression are easy to gather unless you are completely blind, and in some instances, it is just a hallway or the important items blink. It is a shame, as it really feels lackluster to not be involved in any aspect of the interactivity. There are even some ideas that just get shoe-horned in, such as the ability to change between who of the duo you control, which is just removed after the first part of the game. It really does not help that there is no run-button once again, yet you will be able to do so whenever the game automatically makes the character sprint.
The puzzles for going to another memory has changed since To The Moon. Gone are the tile-flipping ones, to be replaced with an interesting “connect the colors” puzzle set in a 6 by 6 layout. Think of this as Yoshi’s Cookie, only with no penalty. Simply put: if you just combine the right symbols together you will get further, despite the game trying to add in varied obstacles like arrows changing the layout or lines you can’t move, it is always easy to solve all of these. I was only stumped once, and even then, it only took me 20 seconds.
This is a huge problem with this title: it has no working variety. It is linear and too forgiving to be enjoyable. I do like the idea of exploring, but when there is nothing that makes the exploration intriguing or even puzzles interesting for that matter, it feels meaningless to play. There are actually two sections in the end-game that change up the title completely, and while simple, where fun ideas used for dramatic effect! Both lasted just a couple of minutes, but really dampened and saddened me for what we could have had. You might just as well watch a Let’s Play at this point, with all honesty.
Gameplay Score: 1.5/10
While Finding Paradise still uses the same RPG maker as the previous title (XP), everything simply looks better with more impressive visual effects added in. There are plenty of subtle animations, facial-expressions are stronger and more diverse than before, and we have more immersive assets, such as blur to make areas look more uncertain, and vanishing to new areas are done pixel by pixel. Even eating an apple and spitting it out has impressive animations. It is really a technical marvel of visual effects, and how they made even close-ups look as engaging as they could here, is something I will never understand.
The characters still are well designed with unique attires or visual highlights, but compared to To The Moon, Finding Paradise is much brighter. It is not better or worse, simply an interesting contrast that works, as this game is much more lighthearted in tone, which is reflected in the visuals. There are more varied areas to visit as well, such as the aquarium, up in the sky, away on exotic vacation, and more, making areas more intriguing, but still keeping elements at a believable tone unless bizarre imagery is supposed to take you out of the comfort zone. The film-grain and washed-out colors are still used to simulate going through memories, which works to make it almost seem like a rewind of a VHS. I simply love the details in this game.
The grand pictures in pixels or hand-drawn style still looks great, and overall, it is just a visually pleasing game that knows when to let the moment sink in, and uses clever techniques for cutscenes, such as camera panning to signify an important scene. I really can’t praise the visuals enough, and the same goes for the audio. Sound effects are solid and varied to make immersion strong, but of course, the star of this all is the soundtrack.
While the wonderful piano-work of Kan Gao is still present, there is more emphasis on the guitar and stronger use of a couple more instruments, instead of focusing on the piano. It really helps to make it feel more lighthearted with the calm guitar and is similar in tone to the visuals in contrast to To The Moon. It is again a marvel of a soundtrack with plenty of varied songs that all have excellent build-up, with even a couple of songs from the first title getting fantastic remakes. There is even one song made utilizing only the scales of a Cello, which sounds wonderful. There is definitely an artistic genius behind this title, and it literally shows.
Finding Paradise is another stellar title that is the most hilarious of the three titles so far, with a lovely presentation that has gotten better, and strong moments that will leave you with something valuable after the end-credits have rolled. However, as a game, it is probably the worst in the series, with nothing really worth calling “interactivity”, which makes what you actually do, feel meaningless. If you can take this as more of an experience with story and presentation to keep you engaged, you will definitely be enthralled. If you are looking for a game, hopefully you don’t mind the equivalent of a DVD-remote controller.