Note from the editor: This article includes some spoilers for the Kentucky Route Zero plot.
The music fades away slowly.
It pulls the camera out. For a moment, I dried my face.
Those are the tears? The horses are buried and it is over for the funeral. That might not have been “Kentucky Route Zero,closing “‘s moment, but it was definitely the emotional high point.
Those horses meant a lot to that poor place, and they meant a lot to me, as I’ve found out in the months since I finished the game. Hearing the song played in this scene even now, as I write this, moves me to tears.
In a few places, I’ve stated that for years, Kentucky Route Zero has been my favorite game of all time.
And I’m not expecting this to change. But the thing is, until January 2020, the game was not really over.
Along with the console version, Act V was released, completing the experience that started for me when Act I was released in January 2013. Yeah, some of those tears were for the horses, but I think the bigger cause was that it would no longer be part of my life to anxiously wait for the game to end. I’ve been waiting.
And was waiting. But my enthusiasm never wavered, and my faith in the cardboard machine never waned. I knew that when it was ready, it would appear, and my confidence in the team was rewarded.
The most amazing, confusing, and involving game I have ever played is Kentucky Route Zero. The game felt at every moment like the developers had drilled into my mind and decided to create a game that delivered just what I expected from an experience, equal parts stage play, folk festival, and Lynchian horror show. The game never stops adding moments, thoughts, or songs that left my mouth hanging open from the amazing Museum of Dwellings to the Lower Depths bar – the best gaming moment I’ve ever encountered.
What makes it unique is that, depending on what dialogue you pick, the mood of the game changes drastically. In this game, much of the world you encounter is full of forgotten things. Forgotten people, forgotten places, attitudes that have been forgotten.
And you have the option to fill this world with more bleak pessimism, but with positivity, you can fill this world as well. Most of the dialogue, as portrayed, has a silver lining, amid all these discouraging elements.
As long as you have the willingness to discover it.
And that’s really what I find enchanting.
The world is a dark, wretched place, but if I can find a way to shed a light on the relics concealed in “The Zero,” I can take some of that to the real world for sure, right?
Yet this experience has more to it. They’re the little moments, the little stuff.
You’re just not in a rush to do something or get somewhere, so why not spend some more time combing the map? In the deepest corners of the game, there are whole stories concealed that I would have totally overlooked if I had been in a rush. If I had never found the church in Act I, how different would I have felt about the game? Or a coffee house where there are no lights? Or the video store on the Mucky Mammoth aboard?
The little moments are disturbingly beautiful in between all the “goals” Exploring this tiny part of the country I grew up in, deserted by the machinations of capitalism, is sobering. I saw these incidents play out. Innumerable supermarket stores have vanished. Nobody knows about them, nobody speaks about them, but they were there. They still do, in some respects. Lechmere. Caldor. Circuit City.
All of these chains were pillars of my youth. Now they become footnotes on a Wikipedia page or anecdotes in conversation.
They are not talked about in the present.
They are firmly entrenched in the past and unceremoniously disposed of when the next big chain filled their empty halls. But I don’t want to forget them. I like to think about them. So when Conway simply gets up in the middle of a scene and disappears, never to be seen again, it resonated with me.
The characters almost immediately start talking about him in the past tense. He is unceremoniously pushed out of the way, and they speculate about him as a strange apparition, not a living person.
A faceless shadow they once knew.
The game also does a particularly brilliant job of combining surrealism with the player’s own imagination.
The game is littered with impossible places and ideas, but it rarely shows them. Much of the game consists of text only, and in many