'Kentucky Route Zero' Pays Off on Nine Years of Hope and Doubt

There are light spoilers for the previously released Kentucky Route Zero Acts I-IV below. If you want to know nothing else, know that whether you have been playing this game episodically during it’s now seven year long release period or if you have been waiting for the full package, it has my highest recommendation. Also, content warning for discussion of dentistry .


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgjma/kentucky-route-zero-pays-off-on-nine-years-of-hope-and-doubt-review
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This was beatifully written, hats off Austin. I’ve never been one to see thematic threads easily, so this was an extremely interesting read.

I finished Act V an hour ago (after playing the first four late last year, and the interludes last night) and I’m not sure how I feel. At the point where I am with Kentucky Route Zero, good or bad isn’t really a part of the equation. I can recognize it from different angles that resonate in some way or another, but none of them seem to stick, and I’m trying to figure it out.

I would still recommend KRZ as one of my absolute favourite games, but neither in spite of, nor because of the final act. But by the same note, I wouldn’t call this something that doesn’t stand out or on its own. This feels so damn weird.

I’m discouraging myself from reflexively trying to make myself like it in the ways Patrick and Austin talked about on the podcast (which is something I’ve had difficulty with in the past) because unlike so many other games, KRZ was something that I hadn’t heard talked about in specifics before playing, and thus has felt more personal for me.

Sorry to dump this here, I just needed to put down my thoughts in this moment here, so that I can think about it some more.

E: Hey, do yourselves a favour and go to WEVP.TV if you haven’t already.

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In a way, I think I’m glad this game took so much time to be completed. I first played KRZ around the time Act III released – around five or so years now – and after just seeing the game all the way through to the end for the very first time, all I can think is how I’ve grown alongside it. Five years ago, I never really thought too much about Capitalism other than my own micro-level, everyday experiences with it. I had the idea that I was queer, but I never took the time to ask myself what that actually meant while I was too busy trying to fit in with everyone else. I never really thought of places as “haunted” or recognized the tragedy of daily struggle so many deal with. I simply moved along in a way that felt safe and expected.

I only just completed Act V. I spent most of yesterday and part of today playing all of Kentucky Route Zero from the very beginning (yet again). The prose always had a pull to it for me, but this time around I felt something deeper: more personal, more intense than even the very first time I played Act I. Following Conway and Shannon and Blue and everyone felt so much more empathetic for me as the player. Their cynically romantic words shared with one another pierced me and any pretense I might have held thinking I was “just playing that game again.” It was as if I had heard Johnny and Junebug talk about ‘playing’ their identities for the first time; as though I had never really recognized why Ezra’s all alone when you first meet him. Maybe I was just dense as a player before, but as I played Kentucky Route Zero this time, I felt as though it was truly speaking to me like it never had in these five years I spent with it.

The final act – I won’t spoil anything here, even in blurry form – exemplifies this feeling for me. Worrying less about narrative conventions, and focusing more on who all of these people are, it ultimately left me wistful and empowered and bruised. From the fifth act’s very first moments of interaction to the climax that somehow manages to top Act IV’s – these last several years waiting from acts IV to V were not wasted for me. As I grew personally – more knowledgeable, more confident, more sympathetic to those living lives I can only attempt to understand – I also grew as someone who could see what Act V seeks to offer its patient players. And now I leave it with the reassurance that I am better than who I once was.

But what can you even say about a game with as long-lasting a presence in the cultural zeitgeist as this one? Now that the bow has finally been tied upon it? For me – I suppose – I’ll always remember it less as “my favorite game” (though it certainly is that), but more as a work that truly, honestly made me want to be and do better: to neither fret over others’ evaluations or apparent expectations toward me. Kentucky Route Zero made me realize over these past five years that I can appreciate being me. That even if I happen to live within a cold system that seeks to commodify my very existence until I one day die, I can always look toward myself and those I choose to hold close, and I see a better life then what was once set out before me. I can see that despite it all, I can go another way instead.

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Oh, I also wanted to add: if you own the PC Edition, you can open the game’s program files and find the entire soundtrack for all five of the major acts there – you know, if you’re ever in the mood for some ambient lap steel guitar or sad bluegrass!

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I think I adored the finale. After sitting with it for a couple of days, especially with some of the supplements, Act V was the quiet that I always want for characters I love.

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There’s been so many good words written about this game that I can’t say anything really new about it. But I’ve played through all acts over the past week (roughly one act per night – I did play through act 1 a few years ago) and I can’t just not say anything.

Because this game did a lot for me. Through its ambience and music. How good the framing is. How its style of dialogue encourages you to engage with the story. And how, while it may be a very American story (I can only take y’alls word on that), many of its themes stretch across the Atlantic to the rural areas of my cold country, where relatives and friends try their best to survive in a political climate that is leaving them behind.

Also it took me until this morning to get the double entendre in “The Consolidated Power Company.”

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Oh god dammit…

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Where’s that Phoenix Down moment thread now?

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I had the EXACT same revelation this afternoon on the train home and audibly gasped!!

…I still don’t get it. D:

It’s a power company that’s consolidated other companies, and a company of consolidated power!

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Oh I was thinking it was something dirty.

Haha, yeah I wasn’t intending it to be some real revelation or plot point. I just think it’s a neat detail.

Replying to this thread because I finally finished getting all the way through KRZ today [after starting it not long after Act 5 was released]…

…and because I’m something of a dissenting voice. It’s not that I didn’t like KRZ, but it just didn’t resonate with me the way it seems to have resonated with Austin, and many of the commenters here. As I mentioned in a longer piece in the What Are You Playing thread, I wonder if KRZ is just a very “American” game, and that I’m just not of quite the right culture to get all of the things it is trying to tell me in the ways it is trying to. (I admired some of it’s more striking narrative techniques… but was left cold by some of the set-pieces, equally, that Austin seems to have been most struck by.)

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