Moon: Remix RPG Adventure is something of a lost classic. Originally released on PS1 in Japan but never localised, even though a translation had apparently been underway, it was coined as an ‘anti-RPG’, subverting many of the genre’s tropes. It probably stands alongside Earthbound as a game that was meta long before meta entered the mainstream consciousness.
It begins as a game within a game where our protagonist is a young boy playing an RPG at night, doing typical hero things like slaying monsters and looting NPC’s houses before approaching the final boss at the castle, only for his mother to tell him to switch it off and go to bed.
Instead, the boy gets sucked into the game world where he’s not just silent but invisible, suddenly tasked with trying to fix this world that’s being devastated by another ‘hero’ who’s going around murdering all the creatures and levelling up over time.
Moon is an incredibly unusual game from the offset. Even its art style, while similar to the early PS1 RPGs that had character sprites over pre-rendered backdrops, is given a twist with its monster designs, which appear to be clay figures that have been digitised. There’s also a surprising amount of freedom in its nonlinear design, even though it’s restricted based on your Action Points.
Essentially, you start off being only able to take a set amount of steps before you run out of energy and pass out, which promptly leads to a game over before sending you back to the title screen. You can recharge your steps by returning to bed and sleeping, but to increase your pool of action points, you have to level up your character, but instead of the traditional RPG route of levelling, you must go around talking to the world’s denizens and sometimes carry out requests for them to gain love. It’s love that levels you up when you go to bed to sleep (which also saves your progress). The more action points, the longer and further you can explore the world without having to rush back home to bed, and later some quests are dependent on you being able to stay up for a considerably long time.
That sense of time means that moon also features both a day and night cycle as well as a calendar, each day indicated by a symbol on the top corner of the screen, where you also have to keep track of both the time and how much time you have left before you’re out of energy (it’ll start flashing while your movements will be more sluggish when time is almost up).
This is all important as virtually all the NPCs run on their own routine, not just based on time but sometimes the day of the week – for instance, a guard at the castle has specific days when they’re relaxing in the evening at the bar.
You’ll have to figure this out for yourself however, because moon shows itself as a product of its time. It’s woefully obtuse compared to modern games where you have a quest marker or reminder micromanaging every step of the way. It should be noted that this is basically a faithful port of the original PS1 game with no extra bells or whistles, so it retains the 4:3 display ratio and even the option for mono audio in the menu.
Even so, a lot of the puzzles, including the ones you have to complete in order to reach the end, are often far from clear, while there’s a few devious ones that are ridiculous memory tests that you’re bare given time to register – the one relief you have comes not from the game itself but the Switch’s ability to instantly capture video, and believe me, you’ll find this helpful to check back on a few puzzles.
Suffice to say a fair amount of patience is required to figure out moon’s bizarre workings. Remembering to go back home to sleep is also key if you don’t want to find yourself unwittingly too far away to rush back and then lose all our progress. You might also just want to hang around for a whole day just to follow one NPC’s routine, and you’ll be surprised by what they get up to, or what secrets they’ll unwittingly lead you to.
The same applies to the many slain creatures around the world, who you can rescue by catching their souls – another way of gaining love. The first of these (unsurprisingly looking like the Slime creatures from Dragon Quest) seems fairly straightforward as its soul appears nearby at night. But as you go on, they also have different routines and conditions for appearing, and you might even have to travel to another location to find them. Again, you’re often left in the dark on how and where they might be.
In any case, these are fascinatingly designed creatures and the rest of moon’s cast is equally charming and quirky in their own way. The game’s visual and audio design has indeed come to characterise much of Onion Games’ own output.
A special mention should go to the wonderful music you can listen to via the game’s MD player. This playlist can be programmed to basically make your custom background music, as well as its strange garbled voices that are actually a random mash of real languages (I can sort of detect English, French and Cantonese in the mix).
It won’t be a surprise if most players find themselves struggling with moon and give up before they’ve even scratched the surface of what it has to offer. Truth be told, even after reaching the credits, there’s still a lot that remains oblivious to me. And yet there really aren’t many games like it.