By Tyler Lubben / April 24th, 2014
Author’s note: This is part of a series where oprainfall will briefly cover publishers that specialize in bringing lesser-known titles to the forefront, be it publishing independent games or bringing Japanese titles Westward. Fans of indie games or Japanese gaming and anime should pay close attention to each of these publishers. The best way to support them is by purchasing the titles they publish. So, without further ado, we present this month’s publisher:
This month’s Spotlight is going to be a little different from the norm. While we usually look at companies that have published many games for the enjoyment of fans, I’m basing this entire Spotlight almost completely on the merits of a single title. Freebird Games is a small indie studio that develops and self-publishes their collection of games. Actually, these titles are less like games in the traditional sense, and more like interactive stories – and incredibly engaging ones at that. I myself didn’t hear about Freebird until I played their highly emotional title, To the Moon. As far as I’m concerned, that game alone earns this company the spotlight this month. It may not sound very significant, but I’m sure anyone who has played the game agrees that Freebird Games is a company that certainly deserves as much attention as possible.
Before we talk about To the Moon, however, I thought we should look at Freebird’s earlier projects. I’ve professed my fondness for companies who make sprite-based games in the past, so I’m happy to see Freebird going with this model, as well. Founded by designer and composer Kan “Reives” Gao, Freebird Games is more concerned with presentation and atmosphere than anything else. So, while that may mean the gameplay isn’t usually much more than walking around and interacting with the environment, the great art, music and writing means that the time spent with any given title will likely be memorable.
First is possibly Freebird Games’ most ambitious title, Quintessence: The Blighted Venom. With a sizable cast and a story that spans 11 chapters, Quintessence tells the tale of a young man named Reivier, who has his memory wiped to forget certain events in which he was involved. However, he soon learns that it isn’t so easy to run from your past. The game plays similarly to an action RPG, with a fairly simple battle system and an emphasis on puzzle solving. Even then, these mechanics are still largely trumped by the game’s story. This might be annoying if it was happening with another company, but with Freebird, it seems strangely appropriate.
Definitely the strangest of the titles in Freebird’s library, The Mirror Lied puts players in the shoes of a little girl with no face. While not technically a horror title, the game comes closer than any of Freebird’s other projects. There is almost no dialogue as players explore an empty house, looking for keys and other items to advance. Gameplay is silent unless players open a music box found in the game. The music starts nicely enough, but begins to sound more sinister as things progress. There may not be any jump scares, but the feeling of dread that follows you around as you play means that you’ll constantly expect something terrible to happen for the duration of the short game. Plus, the ending is pretty open to interpretation, so The Mirror Lied will surely keep its hold on you long after you finish it in more ways than one.
Do You Remember My Lullaby? is a short, non-interactive story about a woman making a birthday cake for her young son. For such a simple premise, I was surprised to find it to be the most emotional of the company’s earlier works. Aside from advancing the dialogue, players simply watch as the story unfolds. Dealing with themes of love and sacrifice, it can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but even it can’t hold a candle to the next game.
And now, we reach the main event. While Freebird’s previous games were just fine in their own right, the company’s biggest claim to fame is their incredibly emotional and memorable science fiction title, To the Moon. The game tells the story of two scientists, no-nonsense Eva Rosalene and goofy Neil Watts. The pair works for a company called Sigmund Corp with the fairly noble goal of helping the imminently-deceased fulfill their greatest dreams before shuffling off the mortal coil. With the use of a special kind of Inception machine, the scientists enter a client’s mind and rewrite their memories to make that wish come true.
The events of To the Moon follow the scientists as they help their newest client, Johnny Wyles, fulfill his wish to become an astronaut and go to the moon. Things get complicated quickly, as the team must go deeper and deeper into Johnny’s past to discover the reason behind his wish, and what stopped him from fulfilling it. Tragically, the pair may also need to make drastic changes between Johnny and his late wife, River, to ensure that his wish comes true. With an incredibly heartfelt story and an amazing soundtrack, To the Moon is an instant classic that any fan of interactive media owes it to themselves to play. This is also the only game from the company that isn’t free, but, for this kind of quality, it’s worth much more than the $10 asking price.
Freebird also released a short Christmas “mini-sode” featuring Doctors Rosalene and Watts back in December 2013. The story takes place some time after the events of To the Moon, so it would be a good idea to play through that before tackling this episode. While you would think it should be a happy story based around the holiday season, there’s a distinct tension in the air as it starts to become clear that not everyone is happy with the work Sigmund Corp is doing. My gut says the events of this short episode will somehow connect to later games, but just how remains to be seen.
On the horizon, we have A Bird Story. Telling the tale of a young boy who finds a bird with a broken wing, the game is said to contain almost no dialogue, with everything told, instead, solely through the characters’ actions. While not a direct sequel to To the Moon, Freebird did say that the little boy eventually grows up to be one of Doctors Rosalene and Watts’s clients. There will also be recurring characters and other elements to connect A Bird Story and To the Moon. No release date has yet been announced, but it certainly looks like an interesting concept, and, given the company’s track record, I’m sure it’ll be another great experience.
One of the best things about Freebird Games is that almost everything listed here is available for the low, low price of free! Aside from To the Moon, you can download every one of their titles straight from the website, free of charge. To the Moon itself has been making its rounds on the usual online store circuit, like Steam and GOG. Even if they aren’t trying to make a whole lot of money off their projects, Freebird Games certainly deserves a great deal of recognition for their work, and the fantastic titles that they consistently release.
Keep up with Freebird Games’ latest projects:
a bird storydo you remember my lullabyFreebird GamesPublisher Spotlightquintessencethe mirror liedTo the Moon