Review Summary: Kan Gao creates a soundtrack to an entire life, with all of its ups and downs.
What if you could live your life all over again, without actually reliving it? In the humble indie adventure game To The Moon
, that question sets up the plot to the single most emotional story I personally have ever experienced in any medium. The story is one of many emotions, conveyed through its dialogue, its action, and more than anything, its music.
Each song on the soundtrack is heard throughout the game at one point or another, some appearing only once, others many times. They drive the game along and set the tone for each scene. When songs like “Uncharted Realms” or “Beta-B” begin to play, it immediately instills a sense of panic or fear in the player, creating an uneasiness which sticks until the song stops or changes. On the contrary, “Take Me Anywhere” depicts a scene of merriment and free spirit, allowing the player to just sit back and smile. Every song has a mood attached to it that it never fails to instill, even without any experience with the game itself. Perhaps the best tracks, including the title theme, “Everything’s Alright”, and “Having Lived” amongst a few, though moving on their own have an emotional strength like no other when attributed to the pivotal moments where they begin to play during the game itself.
Despite the variety in moods, each song typically consists of some sort of combination of piano and strings, with the occasional music box. Only two songs actually have vocals (the two songs featuring Laura Shigihara, the composer of the “Plants vs. Zombies” soundtrack), but these two songs are both used for very specific occasions. Something to note is that as with many other soundtracks, the songs that do not contain vocals are typically composed with looping in mind, causing each to generally end rather abruptly. Apart from that though, each song flows very naturally and most of them do a great job of remaining unique. Violins weep in sad songs, piano rejoices in cheery ones, a music box innocently turns in a humble one, and Laura Shigihara lends her marvelous voice to beautiful ones. Some shorter songs (or parts of standard length ones) contain trace amount of electronic sampling, but it never feels awkward or silly (unless it’s meant to) and adds some interesting textures.
Several songs have “partner songs” (“Born a Stranger” and “Lament of a Stranger” for example) which are normally similar either thematically or musically. Though these songs are more often than not related, they remain distinctive. As a whole, the songs compiled on this are usually on what would be considered the short side for length (around one and a half or two minutes on average), but it must be noted again that almost all of these are written with the intent of looping in mind.
Although she only appears on two songs, Laura Shigihara contributes enormously to the track list. On “Trailer Theme – Part II”, she lends her angelic voice to an already excellent song, and will incite a wave of chills like none other when played with the trailer. Combined with a heavenly composition of aforementioned piano and strings, Laura adds a much appreciated level of authenticity and sheer beauty to the soundtrack. What makes “Everything’s Alright” the perfect song on the album would be a major spoiler, but even without the association from the game, it stands as a highlight.
As with any other soundtrack, this is best experienced alongside the game, as every song will appear throughout it and will have an added visual element to it, not to mention amplifying the emotional intensity of each track. To The Moon
is the most touching story I have ever experienced which is very largely due to its genuinely magnificent soundtrack. It will make you smile and cry, and quite frankly, neither of them have ever felt so good.
As an album: 4/5
As a soundtrack: 5/5