Kentucky Route Zero’s story might be incomprehensible, but I still find this episodic point-and-click series hauntingly attractive.
Kentucky Route Zero’s story might be incomprehensible, but I still find this episodic point-and-click series hauntingly attractive. Nevertheless, I’m both aware of what this game is and what it isn’t. I know upcoming episodes won’t deconstruct the story so that it will suddenly make sense and I also know the game isn’t a giant puzzle waiting for me to crack it. Everything about this game is open to interpretation and while Kentucky Route Zero might never make sense to me, what I’ll take away from the story is something so personal and intimate that my understanding of the plot (or the lack thereof) isn’t that important.
In Kentucky Route Zero, you play as several characters. The most important one is Conway, a man who’s looking for an elusive address so that he can deliver some antiquities. The house he’s looking for is located in the mysterious Route Zero somewhere in Kentucky and for the past few episodes, Conway and his canine friend “Dog” have been exploring settings in the middle of nowhere and meeting some peculiar characters. Although it’s too early to tell, this might be one of those instances where the journey matters more than the destination.
Trying to articulate the events that took place in previous acts of this episodic adventure is a hard endeavor. After all, the affairs that transpire in the universe of Kentucky Route Zero are both rooted in reality and fantastical at the same time and this dichotomy works remarkably well. But while you might be confused by the unconventional aspects of Kentucky Route Zero, its story will keep you pushing forward. You keep playing the game not because the story will suddenly start making sense, but because you want more of it even if it’s confusing. I found this episode so engrossing, in fact, that I didn’t want it to end.
As in most point-and-click adventure games, the way in which you are exposed to the story is through dialogues. But what’s fascinating about those dialogues is that they let you approach the story however you want and regardless of the option you choose, the other characters will always respond or act accordingly. This gives the story some of your personality, which makes you more invested in the characters and the events that transpire to or around them. Also, it’s worth pointing out that you don’t assume the role a single character: one moment you’ll be controlling Conway and the next, you’ll be speaking as a character you’ve just met.
Another aspect I found particularly captivating is that the game gives you the freedom to see the story at your own pace. For instance, you can ignore certain characters and still make progress with the story. Sometimes, you can head to the next important location ignoring certain everything in between. In the end, the way in which the story is told is remarkable and the devices used to convey this unconventional tale includes flashbacks, an irregular perception of time and other elements that give the game a dreamlike quality.
In terms of gameplay, the game seems like a stripped-down version of a traditional point-and-click adventure and I’m not using “stripped-down” as an insult, but as a compliment. At no point does the gameplay distract you from the story (if anything, it enhances it) and that’s a blessing. In fact, all gameplay elements are kept to a minimum: you select dialogue options, yet they don’t affect how the story unfolds; you inspect your surroundings for specific items, yet there are no puzzles or brainteasers. In other words, the star of the show is the story and nothing but the story.
It’s great to know that the visual aspect is still striking. The camera is cinematic, rotating around important characters and staying far away from the action to highlight large settings. One particularly memorable moment takes place in a bar called “The Lower Depths” where two musicians you have just met perform an evocative song. As musicians Johnny and Junebug play their song, you can select upcoming lines from the poem and the roof of the bar slowly rises, letting you see the clear sky as comets fly by. That moment encompasses everything that captivates me about Kentucky Route Zero: its events might not make any sense, but does that matter when you’re exposed to such a potent scene?
In the end, Kentucky Route Zero: Act III is a memorable episode that features everything you’d expect from the series and so much more. The mesmerizing story, cinematic attributes, unconventional characters and pleasant visuals make this episode one that will linger in your memory for some time.