Kentucky Route Zero Review – “A Fantastic Example of Story Telling Within the Indie Video Game Industry”

“Kentucky Route Zero is a paradigm shift from the regular.”

Kentucky Route Zero sets great expectations for fantastic story-telling and imagery within the indie gaming industry. It can be described with so many different adjectives, but the ones that come to mind almost immediately are poetic, romantic, mysterious, and euphoric. There’s something about this point and click that makes you feel like life is missing substance, bringing about a feeling of craving the unfamiliar. It’s not as strong as a sense of nostalgia because there isn’t that pit in your stomach that nostalgia sometimes leaves in its midst. Rather, there’s a feeling of yearning for more and something different. If you ever watched an episode of Black Mirror called San Junipero, it’s almost the same atmosphere and pace. Slow, thoughtful, emotional, and sometimes confusing. Depending on your personal life experience it can be, at times, heart wrenching.

The story follows a middle-aged man named Conway, an introspective antique delivery person making his final drop-off. The shop he works for, Lysette’s Antiques, will be closing down. As he makes his way in the battered van on his way to find the Zero, Conway makes friends and meets strange characters who help him on this journey. You bounce around from one location to another, in an effort to find out where it is 5 Dogwood Drive is, only to determine there is so much more to the world around you. However, nothing and no one is as straightforward as it seems. Each person has a prerogative of their own – some happen to tag along and help you out, some assist you in losing your way, while others are just along for the ride and company.

The short summary and trailers divulge very little, eluding to a mundane point-and-click “adventure” where the whole point may have been reenacting the life of a blue-collar man living in the Southeastern United States. As a gamer more familiar and comfortable with thrilling and competitive titles, Kentucky Route Zero is a paradigm shift from the regular. The trailers and soundtrack was enough to entice me without revealing too much, but it was a much-needed change in tempo.

At first, it was difficult to go through the first couple acts since it felt like I was trudging through just to figure out what was going on. In fact, it was difficult to follow Kentucky Route Zero throughout the entire first act because of how sluggish it sometimes felt. However, the sooner I realized that the writers and developers were trying to tell a meaningful story, the sooner I became enraptured by the mystery and magic. There’s no leveling system or combat, but what it “lacks” in action makes up for in the beautifully paced storytelling, mysticism, and well-coordinated musical accompaniment.

Charmingly deceptive, it allows the controller to discover and wonder as new characters and people introduce themselves – to tell their own story. Meanwhile, you discover how exactly you perceive their lives and how they turn out. Just when you think you’ve got the entire idea all figured out, KRZ throws in another detail or two to throw the player off course a bit. There are androids, medications that cause hallucinations, a mysterious distillery with an equally mysterious population of employees. It seems that not everything is meant to make sense, since it’s a matter of different and varying perspectives, yet everything was connected in one way or another. Some were related through a strong, tethered connection while others intertwined somewhere down the line in life.

Following the game’s pace while making careful dialogue and action selections, I eventually realized that there was no such thing as a wrong answer. In fact, a lot of the interactions are completely optional aside from the ones necessary for the main line to continue. However, no matter what path I created and what choices I made, it just felt right. As the journey continues, players have the chance to respond as different people during particular scenes. In short, this wasn’t just the main character’s story, but often how the player perceived and anticipated it. For example, and to refrain from any spoilers as much as possible, there was an instance where Conway is traveling on a boat called The Mucky Mammoth and, while floating down the Echo River, the crew stops by a spiral of stones. There you hear a story about the marriage between Lock and Lucke. Reading through, players are given the choice to decide what their background is – what was their family background? How did the two meet?

In the end, Kentucky Route Zero portrays the story of several different lives and people including an old hound. Some are the retelling of experiences – whether it be a love story, the discovery of someone’s profession, the journey of how two androids became nomads, battling addictions, or the loss of a loved one. All the while, it’s important to take careful attention and understand that each and every one of them are just as important as the other. Most characters want and desire to talk, to let someone hear what their story is and the events which have led them to this very moment. There are instances where these interactions are prompted by small talk and there are others who love to strike up long-winded conversations, especially with acquaintances who would otherwise stop at “Oh, you know, just another day.”

Sometimes the story is told from an outsider’s perspective, from people you never meet or see. As an in-game example, Shannon Marquez and Conway visit a self-made community of homes – the dwellers share their thoughts and ideas of two strangers waltzing into the community. Some have more pessimistic or cautious opinions while others were receptive and welcomed Conway and the others with open arms. Regardless of the perspective, there are beautiful gems of knowledge and philosophical dialogue that frequently occur and ties everything together. In the gallery below, a few of them can be viewed alongside some quiet moments within the game:

Bottom Line →

Kentucky Route Zero is a fantastic example of story telling within the indie video game industry. Considering how adrenaline rush inducing fast paced games seem to be the focus throughout different genres, Cardboard Computer does a fantastic job at offering a refreshing alternative in the midst of it all. In this crazy world we live in, KRZ offers a place of solace in the form of a thoughtful point and click adventure game all the while introducing you to lovable, unique characters. It forces players to slow down and consider personal trials and tribulations and reflect upon them, just like Conway. Furthermore, the soundtrack was simply well-coordinated and an amazing accompaniment to the game, adding to dream-like atmosphere of the game. Currently, only four acts are available, but the fifth and final act is due sometime this year. It’s available via Steam, GoG, itch.io, and Humble for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

10/10

Hoi Duong2006 Posts

Hoi is an elusive figure at DFTG, whose favorite past-times include chillin' in the Fade, reading manga, watching anime, collecting novelty items, and gaming.

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