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For those who don't know, this is Kan Gao's much awaited sequel to "To the Moon" and "A Bird Story" video games. As with the previous releases, this is an RPGMaker visual novel more than a game, where visuals are simple but effective, the music is strong at the right places (here again with Laura Shigihara's beautiful vocals), and it's all about telling a deep, moving story about life, death and appreciating what we have.
Even though it is said that you don't need to play the previous games to enjoy this sequel, I would strongly recommend against it, for there are some pivotal moments referring to previous plotlines. You can still play it without the previous games, but you will miss some key moments in the storyline without realizing it, so it will be an incomplete experience.
For once, the protagonist in this story is the same one from "A Bird Story", where events that happened in that storyline will be explored and expanded in surprising ways. If you have not played that game, you may not realize the identity of one of the characters in this sequel, and what she means to the protagonist. Nonetheless, the story will still make sense even if you don't know those things. My recommendation is that you should play the games in this order: "To the Moon", "A Bird Story", and then "Finding Paradise". There are also the mini-stories that add depth to the main characters.
Like before, the strong point with this game is the story, and how it is told. In "To the Moon" it was told backwards, and though "Finding Paradise" initially starts that way, events eventually spiral out of order. I could break this into 3 different stages, and as a matter of fact, the story is told in 3 acts. It is difficult to write a review without spoilers, so I will not discuss the plot and what happens in it.
One of the first things that may break the whole experience is the fact that "To the Moon" was the ultimate masterpiece that not even the author could beat in his other games. That is a point of reference that rose the bar so high, and created such high expectations that on their own could spoil anything that came later.
Coming from there, "Finding Paradise" is not "better" than "To the Moon", but it instead improves the game experience by adding a much more complex storyline, new in-game puzzles and mini-games, and some extra animations that enrich the experience. In act 1, the plot is presented with a similar setup as in "To the Moon", with the same characters with a new patient who is about to die. This is where the new storyline is initially presented.
In act 2, we have the story development, where a number of mysteries present themselves, pushing us to keep playing to find out what is going on. This part can be a bit confusing, most likely on purpose, and with some possible explanations. While we had a very straight forward procedure in "To the Moon", in this game we will spend a good part of the game trying to figure out HOW to help the patient, who this time claims not to know what he wants for his final experience.
As opposed to the original game, in this sequel we are not immediately pushed to empathize with the patient. The first reaction is that we feel somehow detached from him, which sharply contrasts with how the story was told in previous games. I was asking myself if I would have the same kind of strong emotional reaction to the story if I didn't particularly care for the old man, and at the same time, I couldn't tell in what direction this story was going.
As I said in the beginning, the plot is more complex this time, and it finally starts to heat up and thicken on act 3, the final chapter. This is by far the most rewarding part of the game in all aspects. A new plot is presented, creating a new layer to the whole story, and it certainly has its twists and surprises. If until now you felt emotionally detached from the old man and the story around his life, think again.
We have to consider not everyone can write a story backwards, and still keep it engaging when we already know how it ends. Here again, Kan Gao has pulled the strings masterfully to make it happen, where the final scene closes the story and everything that matters in a simple, but effective way. With so many games we have nowadays with disappointing endings, "Finding Paradise" provides the ultimate satisfying ending that goes back all the way to the original premise, and closes it with flying colors. From your side, there will be laughter and, of course, there will be tears - keep a box of tissue paper close by. It's well done, and it is beautiful in its own way, even when using a quite limited game engine.
But wait - there is more! After the ending credits finish scrolling, we are shown a bit more of the story, juicy bits that complement it, and also spice up the events for the next sequel. It took 7 years for this game to come out, but hey, good things take time and come in small bottles! Even though this game cannot surpass the original "To the Moon" masterpiece, I am happy I have played it and the closing scene was moving and memorable. A worthy sequel to a masterpiece.