Moss by developer Polyarc is the charming, fairy tale-like story of a mouse named Quill. An action-adventure with puzzles, light combat and a load of charm, Moss attempts to use virtual reality as not only a way to immerse the player into the world of Moss, but also as a way to strengthen your relationship with Quill as both of you share dual protagonist duty. It’s an interesting dynamic.
Moss is technically a third person action adventure game. While you may play as a ghostly blue expressionless creature called “the Reader,” the main action takes place as you help guide and control Quill through dangers and around obstacles. As the Reader, you have the ability to interact with certain objects in the world—such as pulling a block to bridge a gap for Quill. You can also grab enemies to help disorient them so Quill can dispatch them with her sword.
Now, I may be describing this in a way that makes it sound like you don’t directly control Quill, but you do. Moss brilliantly sets you up as an active observer, and despite having direct control over Quill in most circumstances, makes it feel like she’s a separate entity from yourself. Quill does gesture towards you and complete some actions on her own, but the majority of the time you have direct control over her movements. Strangely, despite this, Moss allows you to actually form a bond between you and Quill as if she was her own entity. Even while under my direct control I would find myself verbally urging her along.
Moss’ story is told in a literal storybook fashion. You, the Reader, are sitting in a large cathedral-like building, reading the story of Moss in a gilded, magical tome with animated pages. The entire story, including the narration and dialogue, is told through a single voice as if it is being read to you. The narrator’s voice takes on the effect of several characters as if you’re being read to by a parent. It’s a great device that is used excellently here, and often I forgot it was a single person doing all of the parts. The semi-animated pages of the Moss tome are also extremely charming, and make you feel like Sebastian in 1984’s Neverending Story–not just reading the story, but being a part of it.
The story of Moss is a simple one—Quill comes across an artifact that allows her to bond with the Reader. Her uncle, upon discovering this, sets out to prevent Quill from having to face the dangers this artifact brings, ironically setting Quill off on an adventure to save him. There is a prologue story about a mouse society exodus due to the machinations of an evil wizard and a large snake, but that just serves as an introduction to the world of Moss, and a vehicle for the simpler rescue story.
While loaded to the brim with charm, it’s just too short. Often with short media, you’ll see people say “it ended just when it started to get good” and with Moss that fits perfectly. I was able to play through Moss in less than 4 hours of actual game time. My total time would have been significantly lower, also, if I wasn’t struggling with Moss’ compulsory motion-tracked controls. The problems become the most apparent in hectic combat when you will be grabbing enemies as the Reader and fighting others as Quill. Despite my PlayStation VR setup working for every other game, Moss was extremely finicky. Eventually, after struggling with drifting issues in my headset that were making me nauseated and tracking issues with my Dualshock 4 (there is no Move controller support) I opted to just stand up, which fixed most of my issues.
Moss doesn’t particularly benefit from being a virtual reality game, either. You are literally placed into Quill’s world as the Reader, but besides the novelty of being there, it doesn’t add much to the gameplay or story. Most of Moss VR is broken up into small diorama-like sections. You can move your head slightly to see down a passage you might not immediately be able to see from the front, but you’re still mostly fixed. You can’t rotate rooms or do much else besides stand there moving Quill around what’s essentially a box, finding your way to the next box. Quill’s size does little to add to it, either. There are areas that emphasize just how tiny Quill is, especially in a striking scene with a deer hanging out in the background, but most of what Quill interacts with is mouse-sized, despite existing in a world with human-sized stuff.
Still, Moss is undoubtedly well made and charming, and I found myself growing attached to Quill. Despite my disappointment with the length of Moss, I would love to get back into that world and help Quill on whatever adventure she takes on next. While it doesn’t smash any barriers, it helps take virtual reality forward ever-so-slightly, and tells a gorgeous tale in a storybook fashion. Moss is available now for PlayStation 4’s PSVR.