Finding Paradise developers Freebird Games have been making their own uniquely flavoured RPG Maker based games from a time way before legions of unpolished, clumsily cobbled together offerings clogged Steam. A visit to the Freebird Games website and forums reveals a community deeply passionate about their games with numerous fan theories and discussions about the rich and affecting stories they feature.
Finding Paradise is the continuation of a series started in 2011 with the excellent and often heartbreaking To The Moon, which was followed by a couple of festive mini-episodes and A Bird Story, a novel short story which bridges the gap between To The Moon and Finding Paradise. For fans of the series (of which I am unashamedly one) expectations for the latest installment are high and it is with great pleasure and no small amount of relief that Finding Paradise lives up up to those expectations admirably.
The premise for the game’s universe is that Sigmund Corp. have developed a technology that allows doctors to directly alter a dying patient’s memories, so that they may pass on having experienced their life-long dream or have their greatest regret forgotten. The main protagonists, Doctors Eva Rosalene & Neil Watts are back again, this time to help Colin Reeds, an elderly dying man who wishes to die knowing he had a fulfilled life. By injecting themselves into a simulation of Colin’s memories the doctors must find objects that link to older memories and ultimately put the pieces of the puzzle together to discover that which would fulfill Colin’s life so he may rest peacefully.
Any further exploration of the story would delve too far into spoiler territory and Finding paradise is definitely an experience best enjoyed blind. Suffice to say there are plenty of twists, and red herrings to make sure its six hours of running time are engaging, emotional and enjoyable.
As mentioned before, Finding Paradise is constructed in RPG Maker, albeit a heavily modified version, with delicious custom artwork and assets. Unlike most of its RPG Maker brethren, the game does not feature party based combat, but is wholly narrative driven. Exploring the memories of Colin and his home, talking to his family who are all waiting the inevitable and react differently to the presence of the Doctors provides further depth to the story. It’s testament to quality of the writing how much emotion and attachment you get for the characters despite being represented by SNES era JRPG style graphics.
The keystone to the emotional arch though is the soundtrack. Good Lord, the music. The signature of the series’ games has been the wonderful compositions by studio founder and writer Kan Gao, who writes the type of wonderfully minimalist piano pieces often found in Japanese games (my personal pick being For River from To the Moon) and it goes without saying that Finding Paradise is loaded with the hallmark Emotional Musical Terrorism we come to expect and love from these games. Suffice to say they help do their job of driving deforestation in the name of tissue production.
Of course, despite all my gushing praise, it would be amiss of me to not point to the game’s flaws.
Should you buy it?
The biggest flaw and likely deal breaker for many is the fact that gameplay is minimal. You read some text, you explore, you click on a few objects and then complete a simple mini-game puzzle. If you need more interaction than that from your games, then this is not for you. There is also a very odd change of pace during the first half of the third act which actually pulled me out of the game’s atmosphere for a while. I was quite surprised by its inclusion, although it does ultimately help drive the narrative.
Despite this, I love Finding Paradise. It’s got a cracker of an ending and makes no secret that there is going to be one more sequel to finish off the story arc of Eva & Neil. It’s a rare game I play from start to finish in one session but there was no way I would stop until I discovered the whole story. I thought about the game for days afterwards and there was so much dust in my eyes the whole time I played I’m glad I waited until the house was empty before I started.