If you've never heard of this game before, well you're in for a treat; post-SNES/SFC era, some Square programmers, artists etc. left the company and went to do their own start-up, Love-de-Lic, headlined by Kenichi Nishi, and they set out to create some very unique, original and inspired gaming experiences, beginning with Moon: RPG Remix released in 1997. While called the "anti-RPG" by those who've played it, this descriptor is more apt in terms of the genre tropes and themes it provides deconstruction and commentary on, for the actual play structure is much more in line with a point-and-click adventure game mechanically...just without the point-and-click part.
The game focuses on a young boy who gets sucked into a literal JRPG game world, seeing beyond the typical scripted events and realizing that, to the entities within, it's a very real and whimsical world, characters with their own personalities, motivations, dreams, and pursuit of Love. Love plays a major part in this game: you do activities with and find items for characters to gain Love, you find the souls of departed animals to gather Love, etc. And with the Love you gather, you increase in your levels; these level increases increase your active time gauge, which determines how long your main character can stay about on foot before they get tired and need to go to bed. Stay out too long and he'll pass out, bringing a Game Over, though there are items you can acquire which can aid in staving this off.
One of Moon's greatest strengths is how well-realized its world is. The game has its own calendar system, its own (semi) astrology, its own world creation backstory, currency etc. While small by today's standards, the world invites exploration and has a semi open-world approach insofar as allowing the player to venture where they want, the only limiting factor being your stamina level. And, unlike many other open world games of today, practically every inch of Moon's world offers something for the player that is meaningful, whether that be items to procure, characters to meet, lore to discover, or most often, a mixture of all three. The world gives a very lived-in atmosphere, with the type of fun-hearted, whimsical, charming magical weirdness you'd only get from a Japanese indie developer of the '90s.
So, it sounds like a guaranteed recommendation, right? Wellll, yes and somewhat no. While I firmly believe everyone should at least play the game a little bit to experience its charms, for me some of the quirks in certain game design choices show their ugly head towards the start of the last third of the game. These issues have nothing to do with basic game mechanics, mind. Things like controls, collision detection, event triggering, data integrity (no save game glitches like certain surprising modern games) etc. all work perfectly. Singular game mechanics like gathering and using items, catching animal spirits and the such are very well done, and work together.
However, if you're understanding of the fact that Moon has a lot more in common with an adventure game than a JRPG, that should start to give you a hint to perhaps some of the rather deceptive and obfuscated logic you'd need to utilize to solve certain challenges later into the game, this exacerbated by the fact the game operates on its own rules of logic that, most of which, aren't predicated on the world in which we live in. This makes instinctual transfer of certain knowledge born of logic in our lives, almost nullified WRT worth of use in Moon: RPG Remix.
Now, I can enjoy a perplexing puzzle or two, and heading into the late game this should probably be expected. However, unless you're using a guide and/or doing extensive notetaking, you're likely going to have a very difficult time solving a lot of the latter puzzles, because unless you are absolutely intimately acclimated to the game's lore and worldbuilding like the back of your hand, you're not going to be able to solve many of the later puzzles by feel-only. Part of this is due to the nature of these puzzles; they aren't just usually logic-based, but also depend on timing.
And this extend beyond timing dexterity with catching certain things; you will also have to acclimate yourself with the game's calendar system. The various NPCs within the game world...ALL of them have their own daily routines, including doing certain tasks at certain times of the day, or only on certain days. If you don't either familiarize yourself with these schedules, or use a detailed guide, you WILL repeatedly miss out on key events to do to gather the Love you need to complete the game. Combined with the stamina system (which acts basically as a time limit), and you can easily find yourself reloading saves or cutting adventuring well short to go save your progress. This can also end up forcing the player to compartmentalize their Love gathering into very small bite-sized chunks, else they might run the risk of passing out due to no stamina, and getting a Game Over.
Basically, a little past the halfway point, Moon can start to become deviously difficult, much moreso than the general mood would let on, unless you are doing certain micro-management of puzzle events for Love and using a guide. However, the ever-increasing role of these two things feel very contrariwise to the open-ended, freeform, chilled nature of exploration Moon seems to give off, or at least it did for me. This feels like a game where I should be able to venture about however I feel, with little to stress about in terms of timer resources or complex NPC schedules & calendar systems, just meeting the characters and gathering on the lore.
Granted, this is supposed to be a game at the end of the day; there has to be some type of challenge present, and mechanics/systems in place to gradually challenge the player over the course of the game. IMO, if Moon: RPG Remix were just a tad less obfuscating with its logic within the game world itself, a tad less focused on micromanagement with certain game system resources (particularly past the halfway point)...then it would have the perfect balance and pretty much be the type of game I'd unquestionably recommend to everyone. And, while I still recommend everyone to try it out at least up to the first third or so, I personally had to put the game down after reaching (IIRC) Love Level 22. Even though I'm sitting on a save file needing only 7 more Love (IIRC) to complete the game (and DO plan on picking it back up in the near future), the feeling of needing to constantly consult a guide and micromanage the calendar & scheduler systems just to make progress, just didn't feel great to me. Taking my attention away from the game world to refer to outside info just so I'm not wasting half an hour (if not more) just attempting to complete one of the latter events for Love (and in some cases, realizing an imminent failure forcing a saved game load), just felt counter-productive to the spirit of the game.
If you're looking towards playing Moon: RPG Remix, I recommend you pick it up either on the Switch, or (when it arrives to them) PS4/PS5/Steam early 2022. The price should be cheap enough, and it's worth the pickup. You can also find a translation of the PS1 version to play via emulator if that's your bag, though some of the dialog isn't necessarily translated (tho the parts that aren't, are inconsequential). I recommend it; just be mindful that around the last third of the game can feel more like a light exam study course and time/scheduler micromanager rather than the sort of chilled, kickback oddball experience the game feels like it should be (and thankfully, does realize in full up until the last third, at least IMO).
Love-de-Lic would go on to create a few other games for later systems, such as L.O.L: Lack of Love for the Dreamcast, and Chulip for the PS2 (technically Love-de-Lic was no longer around by the time Chulip released. However, former Love-de-Lic employee Yoshirou Kimura, directed Chulip, so it's a Love-de-Lic game in spirit). I've yet to play these other games, but they're on my list to do in the near future. The same goes for Endonesia on PS2; while Love-de-Lic was not the developer, Vanpool was, and they were comprised of several Love-de-Lic employees. Sadly there's no English translation yet, but there's always the hope that one comes about in due time.
Anyway, have any of the rest of you played Moon: RPG Remix? If so, how has the game been for you? It'd be neat to see how the experience was for others; you don't find games like Moon that often in this industry, especially ones that feel this (overall) well-done.