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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (388)

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Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5

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Finding Paradise   PC (Steam) 

Heartbreaker Dreammaker    4.5/5 stars

“Finding Paradise” is the long-time-coming second episode in the series of narrative-driven Adventure games produced by Canadian Indie developer, Freebird Games, which began in 2011 with the release of critical darling, “To the Moon.” A whopping six years later (admittedly with a handful of so-called ‘mini-sodes’ released in the intervening years), “Finding Paradise” plunged players back into writer Kan Gao’s heartfelt and emotionally-saturated storytelling, albeit with a few change-ups.

Presentation
“Finding Paradise” does little to shake-up the presentational paradigm set in place for this episodic series by “To the Moon.” It’s still made in the woefully outdated RPG Maker XP and features mostly-generic sprite-work from the variety of RPG Maker asset packs available for budding game developers to purchase. However, “Finding Paradise” does include quite a bit more custom sprite-work and custom artwork than “To the Moon” did, which goes some distance toward giving this episodic series something resembling a visual identity. One of the biggest improvements in animation that I noticed is that the wheels on vehicles actually appear to rotate now, while in “To the Moon” cars just scooted around like they were on ice. Still, like its predecessor, “Finding Paradise” only runs at SD resolution (a limitation of RPG Maker XP) with copious letterboxing and ultimately feels like the art team put the least amount of effort into the project as a whole.

Like “To the Moon,” the audio in “Finding Paradise” is spectacular, with an array of original compositions focusing on piano, cello, and vocals. The canned RPG Maker XP assets are put to good use again, as well. “Finding Paradise” is still unvoiced, which is disappointing in a narrative-focused game, but understandable.

Technically, “Finding Paradise” is functional. RPG Maker XP games can support Xinput out of the box, but tend to do so in a weird way, with unorthodox button mappings that don’t jibe with what most gamers are used to. While “To the Moon” included such weird Xinput support, “Finding Paradise” cut out that feature entirely, requiring players to either type and click at the game or manually map keybindings to a controller using a third-party application. Mercifully, click-to-move has been replaced with arrow key movement, and the game does a much better job than its predecessor of explaining new control schemes that pop-up without notice… however, I have never played an RPG Maker XP game that felt responsive and smooth with ANY control method, and “Finding Paradise” is no different. The good news, again, is that “Finding Paradise” isn’t a buggy, crashy experience, and playing through the whole thing in one sitting is in no way problematic.

Story
“Finding Paradise” is a direct continuation of the story begun in “To the Moon” revolving around two scientists, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, who work at Sigmund Corporation, a high-tech company that edits the memories of people on their death beds in order to grant their patients’ final wishes, but only in their minds. Using fancy VR headsets, the Sigmund doctors virtually enter a dying person’s memory, trace backward from their last active memory to their earliest memories, and try to figure out what needs to be changed in the patient’s personal timeline in order to achieve the desired result.

“Finding Paradise” revolves around the final wish of a new patient named Colin Reeds. Like their other clients, Colin is an old man who has fallen into a coma at the end of his life. Unlike the previous patient that Doctors Rosalene and Watts assisted, though, Colin’s final wish isn’t something as straight forward as going to the moon, but is instead the rather more nebulous desire to ‘be happy.’ Not only is Colin’s request more vague and intangible than most Sigmund patients, but he further qualifies it by forbidding the Sigmund doctors from changing anything to do with his wife and son. As it turns out, it’s not just Colin’s request that’s unorthodox, but even the structure of his mind and the way his memories are linked together is like nothing the team from Sigmund has ever seen before.

After playing “To the Moon” and NOT suffering an emotional breakdown, as did so many other reviewers, I swaggered into “Finding Paradise” expecting to, once again, walk out unscathed. However, I personally found Colin’s story to be much more relatable on a personal level than the previous story about John Wyles. This time around, Kan Gao’s writing punched through my emotional armor like so much tissue paper and left me a weeping, broken mess with its beautiful and heartfelt conclusion.

Continuing what was started in “To the Moon” and continued in the subsequent mini-sodes, “Finding Paradise” also drops tantalizing hints about a larger overarching mystery taking place within the labs and offices of Sigmund Corporation, and one of our dynamic duo of doctors is right in the middle of it. Fortunately, this year (2020), Freebird intends to release the third full episode of this episodic series, entitled “Impostor Factory,” which seems to have little to do with either of the previous episodes, but I guess we’ll wait and see – which seems to be the modus operandi for episodic games in general.

Like “To the Moon,” “Finding Paradise” is a very short experience, clocking in at 4 hours. Likewise, there’s no replay value due to the game largely being an interactive story, and the fact that there’s only one achievement to hunt, and everyone gets it just for completing the game.

Gameplay
Like “To the Moon,” “Finding Paradise” is a Walking Simulator-style Adventure game inexplicably assembled in an engine designed for making Turn-Based RPGs. Also like “To the Moon,” “Finding Paradise” takes place over the course of three Acts with different gameplay in each.

Act 1 features the most core gameplay, with players exploring fixed points in Colin’s memory in search of colored spheres. Collecting enough spheres in each point of Colin’s personal timeline allows the player to break the barrier on a ‘memento,’ which is an object linked to two points in Colin’s memory, allowing travel between the two scenes. Upon breaking open a memento, the player must solve a simple match-three puzzle (instead of “To the Moon’s” flipboards).

Act 2 features next to no gameplay elements, while Act 3 throws in a handful of half-assed videogame parodies ranging from ‘Gradius’ to ‘Street Fighter’ to actual Turn-Based RPGs, but in every instance of actual gameplay appearing, there’s no real build-up or payoff to any of it, as the gameplay is primarily ‘there’ for narrative purposes. However, the surprise appearance of such disparate gameplay mechanics combined with such poor RPG Maker XP controls means that failure is definitely a possibility this time around.

Overall
“Finding Paradise” is a fantastic follow-up to “To the Moon” and a real credit to the Renaissance man that is Kan Gao and his team at Freebird games. It’s inexplicable to me that this second episode in the series has gone largely unnoticed by critics and gamers alike, since it’s just as good in most ways and better in others. Yet, according to Steamdb.info, it has only moved roughly one-quarter as many copies as the first episode. Regardless, I look forward to what Freebird will produce in the future, especially the upcoming Chinese anime adaptation of “To the Moon.”

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 5/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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Chris Kavan

Chris Kavan- wrote on 03/25/20 at 09:21 PM CT

 

Finding Paradise is on my wishlist, I just haven't pulled the trigger yet. Based on your review, I will bump it up on my purchase list!

 
 
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