After purchasing the PlayStation VR at launch I’ve had phases where I’ve been completely enamoured by the potential of the hardware, but mostly I’ve had my VR headset put away waiting for that potential to finally become a reality. This is where Polyarc’s adventure game Moss comes into play, not only does it provide a window into the potential for VR in the future, but it also delivers on that potential right here and now.
Moss follows the story of Quill, an adorable young mouse who finds an ancient piece of glass that allows them to see the Reader; which is you the player. Together Quill and yourself will work together to rescue Quill’s uncle and save the land of from the evil Sarffog. The narrative itself follows the typical archetypes of the unknown individual being chosen for greatness, but in this instance the plot never feels generic due to the overall charm of the world and its characters. One of the major reasons the plot succeeds so well is due to Quill’s lovable heroic nature, Quill is kind of heart but will do anything to save her Uncle and the land of Moss, despite the odds being stacked against her.
Moss doesn’t have actual cut scenes; instead we are treated to some beautiful artwork within a story book. As exposition is delivered by the narrator (who provides the voice of every character in the game) in a story book retelling format, players must turn the pages of the book to further the story. It’s such a charming delivery method for exposition and plot that I found myself completely enthralled during each of these scenes. One of Moss’s greatest shortcomings is the length of the plot itself, which can be beaten in about 4 -5 hours; possibly less if you avoid attempting to find collectables. While it doesn’t stay around long enough to outstay its welcome, I found myself disappointed that such a fantastical adventure didn’t go on for a lot longer. I guess this is a testament to the quality of the story, but it is also quite a shame we didn’t have some extra time with Quill.
Each level of Moss is set within small 3D diorama-like levels. Utilising VR you are able to lean in, look around and interact with the world. As previously stated, Quill and the player must work together to progress, but Quill is also fully aware of your presence and will also try to interact with you. I cannot emphasise how delightful it was to finally defeat a section of enemies, only to then see Quill look at me directly with her hand open for a high-five. These minor details help turn Moss from a typical platformer, into a charming story book adventure.
Puzzles within Moss start out fairly simple, as you control Quill with the analog sticks on the DualShock 4, while also using the controller tracking from the PlayStation camera to interact with the world. Utilising the triggers on the DualShock 4 you are able to manipulate objects to help guide Quill through each location. While none of these puzzles will have you scratching your head for hours on end, the puzzles do require some thought later on. Especially when the game requires you to multitask quite heavily utilising both the controller tracking and analog sticks at once, sometimes with many enemies thrown in. Moss also features some light platforming, and while Quill’s jumps are responsive and weighty there were a handful of instances where Quill became stuck in the environment. These instances could mostly be rectified, but it did occur enough that it requires mentioning.
Like the aforementioned puzzles, combat within Moss is fairly straight forward to begin with. Moss uniquely allows you to reach inside the world and interact with enemies, either incapacitating them or even using their own weapons against their fellow comrades. It’s an interesting mechanic that is made more challenging during the final third of the game, as your Reader abilities are also the only way Quill can heal in battle. This causes interesting, on the fly decision making, as you must determine when to incapacitate an enemy, when it is safe to stop Quill in battle to heal, and when Quill’s only option is to keep attacking. I loved the multitasking facets of battles and it truly emphasised the bond between Quill and the Reader, as you must truly rely on one another to survive.
Quill’s physical abilities in battle are limited, with only a jump and attack button mapped to X and square respectively, while a dodge can also be used when pressing both buttons simultaneously. I found the fact Moss focused on so few buttons to be a problem in combat, as there were many times where I’d jump or attack rather than dodge, simply because I hit one button slightly before the other. This problem could have simply been avoided if dodge was mapped to another button, but even when it did cost me my life, checkpoints in battle are fairly generous and load times are quite fast.
Moss’s charming and whimsical nature is greatly heightened due to the story book-esque world Quill explores. For a PlayStation VR game these are some of the best and varied visuals I have experienced within a full release, ranging from an underground cavern, lush forest, and even a little mouse town. The fact the VR allows you to lean in and explore every nook and cranny of each diorama also adds to the visual depth of the world, offering something non-VR titles can simply not provide. While the diorama locations look fantastic, the vast and expansive backgrounds of each location add a grand scale to each scene. At one stage there are life-sized deer in the background that get startled by Quill’s presence, it is a minor moment and it could have easily been removed from the game without effecting the experience, but it further adds to Moss’s charming details.
The same whimsical nature can be found within the music itself, which has a charming fairy tale vibe that worked with the art style perfectly. Moss even has an incredible finale song that is truly moving, which helped cap off this great adventure. But if I was to point out my favourite piece of audio within Moss, it would be the added page turning sound effect that accompanies each scene transition. Once again this is an added detail that simply emphasises the fantastical adventure Moss offers, and these charming details continued to add up throughout my adventure.
Moss is one of the most charming, delightful and fantastical games I have played in a long while, and it provides a VR adventure that I have never experienced before. It transported me to a world I never knew existed and allowed me to interact with it in ways that only VR gaming can truly offer, leaving me smiling throughout my entire journey like a child hearing their favourite fairy tale for the first time.
While Moss may not justify the price of entry into the PlayStation VR headset itself, it is a must play for any PSVR owner and a fantastic game to truly showcase the potential of virtual reality for the future, and now.