FEZ – Sucks in All Dimensions

Fez Feature

Okay, I don’t normally do this, but I’m stopping you right here.  DO NOT read this article if you haven’t played FEZ.  I’m going to be talking about some things that – even having heard mention of them – will definitely take away from the FEZ experience.  So, here’s a summary of my feelings for the game up front:

FEZ is an incredible experience yet a mediocre game.  It’s difficult to recommend as its unprecedented dependence on its players’ privilege and prior, non-game related knowledge greatly deters players.  If you’re a fan of platformers, there’s some fun to be had in this collect-a-thon, though the rotating mechanic’s novelty will diminish sooner rather than later.  If you’re a completionist, stay away!  The latter puzzles are insanely cryptic, unfair, and nigh impossible, especially if you have no programming or coding knowledge (like me).

Well, with that out of the way, I want to talk about some FEZ!  This article is meant for people who’ve already played through FEZ, so I’ll be approaching mechanics and puzzles under the assumption that the reader’s already familiar with these things.  Another great reason why you shouldn’t read this if you haven’t play the game yet!

But, seriously, if you haven’t played it yet, don’t read this or anything else online about it.  It will legitimately ruin things for you.

Fez CoverGame: FEZ

Platform: XBLA, Steam, PC, PSN

Developer: Polytron

Publisher: Trapdoor (PSN)

Release Year: 2012

I want to lay this out there: I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into when I downloaded FEZ.  I saw it when if first came out, thought it looked cool, and then ignored it until it came to a platform I wanted to play it on. The only things I knew about FEZ is that it looked like a cutesy platformer and Phil Fish was kind of a childish, unprofessional prick.  Considering I’m those things, too (the Phil Fish things, not the cutesy platformer thing.  One can only dream…), I didn’t let it bother me.  I’m pretty good at separating the art from the artist.

Phil

I’m sure he meant to put “at” after “worst.” If that’s the case, I’m guilty as charged!

I snatched FEZ up when it finally released on the Vita!  I downloaded it, played through to the end, got the New Game +, restarted, got stuck, and went to the internet to find solutions.

This was my greatest mistake in playing FEZ.

losing-money

Other than actually paying for the game, that is.

Since the game’s laid out like a Metroid-vania, I assumed I’d get upgrades as I played, allowing access to the copious blocked paths found during my journey.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  I finished the game, got a sweet pair of shades, and that was it.  No upgrades at all: no missiles, no transformations, no options, no sweet Mexican wrestling moves.  All I got was some sun glasses that let me go into First-person mode.  What the crap will that do for me?

Shades

Other than make me look freaking awesome, of course!

Befuddled, I sat there and stared at the in-game map (which is a horrendous mess, by the way) and lamented at all the purple question marks that indicated I haven’t discovered a secret in that room yet.  I went to each room, scoured it in first-person mode, and left just as confused as I had been when I entered.  I felt stupid and hopeless; thus, a prime candidate for the Internet!

welcome-to-internet

Everyone on the Internet is [insert racist/sexist remark here]!

I looked up some stuff and discovered there was another layer to FEZ I had no idea existed.  Up to that point, I had only thought the puzzles in the game were related to platforming and rotating.  I had no idea the game had its own language and number system!

thCAWXZUSH

This single picture will help you solve most of the latter puzzles in the game.

As I played, I kept seeing weird writings on the walls that I felt I should be able to read.  I just didn’t know it was my responsibility to figure out how to read the stuff myself!  Seriously, there was no indication that you should learn to read the stuff, let alone an obvious means of learning how to read it!  The game’s sole clue is vague and obscure at best and downright worthless at worst.  You know the clue I’m talking about:

Fez (7)

An obvious reference to Disney’s The Fox and the Hound!  Quick!  Grab the VHS, pull out the film, and run it backwards under a lamp!

When I saw the fox jumping over the dog in the forest, it got my attention, but I didn’t think it was important (mainly because I didn’t know they were a fox and a dog).  Oh, it was important, all right.  It’s pretty much the crux of the latter part of the game!  You know the old typist learning tool:

“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” 

That sentence contains every letter in the English alphabet.  Combine that with another obscure clue you saw in an in-game classroom that reveals reading the text requires you to rotate the text 90 degrees, and you have yourself the game’s alphabet!  The stone column the animals are next to is the game’s Rosetta Stone!

There are so many reasons why this revelation is awesome and why it’s terrible.  It’s awesome because WOW!  Really?  Well played, Polytron!  That was really cool!  I especially like how old school it feels: no hand holding, just your intellect kicking ass!  Too bad I wasn’t smart enough to discover it on my own…

GIFSec.com

So this is why I have so many friends!

Now, let’s talk about why it’s terrible.  First, not everybody knows that sentence and its significance.  Some of my colleagues hadn’t even heard of that sentence.  Second, that sentence only holds importance to English speakers.  If you don’t speak English, you will never figure out that puzzle, which effectively dashes the hopes of completing this game.

Dog

Exactly…?

And there lies the biggest problem with FEZ: it expects too much from the player.  Not only do you have to know English, but you’d have to have taken a typing class to know the Fox sentence.  In later puzzles, you have to know how to convert blinking lights into binary, translate that to hexadecimal,  and then convert that to ASCII.  I have a Master’s Degree, and I barely know what any of that prior sentence means!

Masters

Truth.

Then there’s the monolith puzzle. My, God.  This beast stumped the Gaming Community for weeks.  I’m so used to getting on the internet to find solutions; I can’t believe there was a significant amount of time when this puzzle went unsolved.  The community finally cracked it with brute force (randomly pressing button combinations until they found the right one), but it wouldn’t be until much later when somebody actually found the way to obtain the solution.

Monolith

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… Now it makes sense?

It was neat to see the gaming community ban together and tackle this ridiculously difficult puzzle.  But apparently the battle isn’t over yet.  There are people out there convinced that not everything has been seen in FEZ yet.  Since the game is so cryptic and obscure, it’s hard not to be a little skeptical.  I mean, what’s the Skull Artifact for?  And what’s the deal with the Heart Cube?  Does anything happen after you break the Heart Cube apart?  Has anyone legitimately figured out how to obtain the button combination needed to break the Heart Cube?  What’s with the stereoscopic view?  Does that reveal anything?  Why can Gomez inexplicably fly after starting a new game plus?

Shades

Shades, motherfucker!  Shades!

And that’s what makes FEZ so compelling: There’s so much mystery that’s still unsolved after nearly 2 years!  I just can’t accept that in this day and age.  However, Renaud Bédard, FEZ‘s programmer, has remained tight-lipped whenever he’s asked if there’s more to be discovered.

In any case, I’ve completed FEZ with a 209.4% completion rating (whatever that means).  Now that I’ve done everything (known) there is to do in the game, I feel ambivalent. On one hand, I can appreciate everything the game did as a game: the graphics were great, the music was superb, and the platforming was okay if not a little too easy.  On the other hand, I’ve mixed feelings about its “meta game” aspect.

As a meta game, I loved how it broke the fourth wall and spilled out into the real world in the form of player-made tools.  It’s also amazing how it brought a community together, reminiscent of gaming’s nascence and how we all congregated in cafeterias and playgrounds in order to solve some of gaming’s first puzzles.  However, I have to calls ’em how I sees ’em, and the latter puzzles in FEZ are completely terrible and poorly designed.  They require too much outside knowledge from the player.  And don’t forget resources!  Though hard to believe, not everybody has a smartphone.

QR

Rich and privileged English-Speaking programmers was the demographic you were trying to reach, then?

But does that mean Fez‘s puzzles are bad?  Sure, they’re poorly designed, but that’s by gaming standards.  FEZs avante-garde puzzles are energizing and brutal, and they show exactly how gaming as a medium can define itself from other art forms as well as redefine itself within its own genre.

fart_in_wetsuitWhoa.  Pretension overload.  Here’s a fart joke to bring you back down.

So my ambivalence for FEZ is born from the fact that – despite knowing the platforming was mediocre, despite knowing the puzzles were poorly designed and bias, and despite my frustration with the game’s possible incompleteness – I still freaking love it!

I spent an entire weekend with the game, and I’ve never been so engaged!  I became steeped in its culture, researched everything I could online, and delved deeply into the rabbit hole that is FEZ‘s world.  The game sparked my imagination like no other as I tried to decipher its back story from pictures on the wall.  FEZ offers so much by only using visuals, and that’s something incredible that I can’t deny.

So… my final verdict?  I said it at the beginning of the article: it’s an okay game yet an outstanding experience that I can’t recommend.  FEZ can only be truly appreciated by English-speaking players with very, very keen eyes for detail.  Being able to refrain from using the internet to figure out the meta part of the game is key to your enjoyment as well.  Had I been clever enough to have discovered the alphabet myself, perhaps I would have a different view of this game.  Though, I doubt it.  The game’s biases are just too flagrant.

Owls

Also, creepy owls.

Thanks for your Playing!  What do you guys think about FEZ?  Was I too harsh on the meta aspect?  Leave me overly complex clues telling me your thoughts in the comments!

Video Credit – PlayStation

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11 thoughts on “FEZ – Sucks in All Dimensions

  1. As someone who figured out the alphabet and counting system on my own, I can say I have a completely different view of this game. To me, Fez is one of the greatest games I’ve played in the last 10 years and the best puzzle game ever. If you’re fortunate enough to figure out the game’s mysteries on your own, this game strokes your mental ego like nothing else. I felt like a genius God when I saw the fox jumping over the dog and had my eureka moment. In actuality, I remembered the phrase from playing around with my C:\Windows\fonts folder as a kid (by the way, it’s “jumps”, not jumped.)

    The alphabet was the easy part, in my opinion. The counting system took me considerably longer, but once again the game affirmed my intellectual greatness when I solved it. That’s what I love so much about Fez. It rewards you both intellectually and tangibly when you solve a new puzzle, either by giving you a new area to explore or allowing you to revisit old ones and finally solve the puzzles that eluded you up to now. It’s like a high-five and a neatly wrapped present all in one.

    The biggest difference between you and I and the reason why we have such different opinions of this game comes down to one thing: time. You spent a weekend with Fez. For me, it took 4 months and an entire Diablo III notepad filled with notes to complete (the notepad was the only worthwhile thing about that game… http://assets.vr-zone.net/16297/box2.jpg)

    Had you given yourself a chance and let the game’s mysteries gel in your mind for longer than a few hours, you might also claim to call it a masterpiece; a once-in-a-lifetime kind of gaming experience. But as it stands, you let the real game pass you by and you’ll never get that back. I’m glad I didn’t make the same mistake you did.

    • Sorry, that came across a little more harshly than I intended. I don’t mean to criticize how you played the game, after all you are entitled to play any game however you want. But it’s a bit unfair to say that Fez’s meta-game only caters to English-speaking coders who’ve taken a typing course. Phil Fish is a child of the digital age, and he clearly made a game that he himself would want to play. If that means including pangrams and cryptic puzzles, then that’s fine. Not everyone is going to be able to solve them, but that’s the point. If everyone could complete Fez to 209.4% on their own, it wouldn’t be a very good puzzle game in my opinion.

      Also, in full disclosure I’ll say that I didn’t solve the black monolith room or the heart dissolution code on my own. But I did solve the metatron puzzle on my own. For the longest time I thought the solution was “gametron” but it wouldn’t work and it bothered me for weeks. The riddle says “The first half is what it is”, which I was convinced referred to the fact that I’m playing a game. “The second half is half of what made it.” Well, if it’s a game made by Polytron, then half of what made it is either poly or tron, and the letters needed for “poly” aren’t in the room. The final leap from “game” to “meta” and finally to “metatron” was half wild guess and half blind luck, but I can assure you that it is solvable given enough time and patience. The other heart piece in the observatory is solvable without binary knowledge. In fact, the solution is found within the blinking light pattern. If you follow the blinking lights as LT and RT instead of 0 and 1, you will eventually solve it. That’s how I did it. I had no idea that binary was needed at all until I ventured online after I had gotten all but the black monolith heart cube. I think people are over-complicating what isn’t that difficult of a puzzle compared to the rest.

      Also, none of the QR code sequences are needed, they just give easy solutions to puzzles peppered throughout the game. I wish I hadn’t used my smartphone, because when I actually got to those puzzles I was really confused why they didn’t unlock anything.

      • Thanks for the reply! I didn’t think you were being harsh. I’m from the internet; I’ve had worse lol

        I’m glad you had fun with the game and were able to discover most of its meta-ness on your own. Perhaps if I were younger I would have had the time to put into giving this game the time it needed to be revealed to me as “great,” but nowadays I don’t have the time to figure out things like that. Dedicating most of my weekend to a game is pretty miraculous for me these days lol

        It’s cool that the QR codes and the Red Dot thing are more easily solved than I had read about, but my stance doesn’t change on the Rosetta Stone thing. If I spoke only Farsi, how could I enjoy this game? Is the answer, “Who cares?” I don’t think it should be. Granted, Polytron has every right to create games however they’d like, but – in this day where inclusion is and should be on the forefront of everybody’s mind – I find it to be a huge oversight.

        Couple that with the mediocre platforming and the zero combat, and you have yourself a game that’s just not for me, especially because exploration for the sake of exploration is not something I particularly enjoy in a game.

        I commend the game for trying something so awesome – and for exceeding for the most part – but I feel more could have been done to make the game more inclusive. Plus, that Monolith puzzle was balls!

        But that’s just one man’s opinion 🙂

      • You and I are the same age, so I guess it comes down to our priorities. I, too, find myself unable to play games as much as I used to. But for a game like Fez, I dedicated a few hours per week until I was satisfied that I’d solved as much as I could. I feel like you could have stepped away from the game for a while and revisited it later, perhaps with more time and a new outlook. But you would need to have been captivated enough by the game to want to do that, and it looks like it wasn’t your cup of tea so to speak. For me, there was never any doubt in my mind that Fez was a game that I wanted to undertake entirely on my own, no matter how long it took. It felt very nostalgic to use hand-written notes to decipher cryptic messages and retrace my steps each time I came upon new information. It brought me back to the way I used to enjoy games as a kid, like Super Metroid, before strategy guides, the internet, GameFAQs, etc.

        I will agree that the Rosetta stone solution is unfairly biased towards English speakers, and even further biased towards persons with that particular piece of “outside knowledge.” I guess because I had the tools necessary to solve the puzzle, for me it was a great moment and one that I will remember for a long time. For others, that might have been the breaking point of frustration with this game. “How the hell was I supposed to know THAT??” I guess two people can have two very different experiences with Fez, but that was a risk that Mr. Fish was willing to take in order to create the game he wanted to.

        However, the game isn’t perfect for me either. The map screen was too convoluted and difficult to navigate when hundreds of nodes were unlocked. There were no points of reference, so my own notes consisted of “Waterfall room” and “Bell tower”, which was annoying because the designers should have named or numbered each node, thus eliminating wasted time backtracking through areas that you can’t remember how to reach. Also, the flying ability in New Game+ was pretty essential to the meta-game, since it eliminates the platforming aspect and allows you to focus on solving the puzzles. However, this ability is never taught to the player and I myself discovered it by accident. Because of these faults I’d give Fez a 9/10, but it’s still a masterpiece in my opinion and a game that will stay with me for a long time.

        I’m deeply saddened that the sequel was canceled because of a slew of undeserved hatred towards Phil. I can’t imagine what ideas the creators had that didn’t make it into the first game, and I would have loved the opportunity to dive into it, knowing how challenging the first game was. I can only hope that somewhere, in some corner of eastern Canada, Phil is chipping away at Fez II in secret, waiting to unveil it to the world.

    • You know, I’m not too sure myself. I did say I was ambivalent towards the game, and I vehemently stand by my ambiguity! lol

      I find the game to be a great step in the right direction in game design, but I was upset with all the bias in it. I think FEZ is a very important game and milestone in the game industry’s evolution, but I don’t think it’s perfect. But, then again, what is 🙂

  2. This article described perfectly my feelings for this game. I am a father of a 6-months-old baby and have a full-time job, so I clearly don’t have the time, patience and certainly not the knowledge (I put as much thought to the fox and the hound as to how much sugar I wanted in my morning coffee) to complete the game. There is absolutely no way anyone could have solved those kinds of puzzles by themselves without help from the internet. You would have to at the very least, find out on the internet the fact that the game’s puzzles are of cryptic nature.

    I was very curious for this game because of how it was featured on the Indie documentary, and the way it was described in it is very misleading from what the game really is after the 90-95% completion mark. I became very frustrated with the game at this point, so I googled “how am i supposed to solve fez puzzles”, and that’s how I came accross the fact that it is impossible for the average gamer (like myself) to complete the game without help, including this article, which says everything I need to know about this game, and beautifully describes how I felt about it.

    So kudos on this post. I felt as much relief reading this article, as someone who may have solved one of those puzzles by themselves, without putting all the senseless hours into it.

    • Being an adult with a career and a child pretty much changes gaming for you. I can no longer go on those long, exploratory odysseys that some games ask players to do nowadays.

      Today, my gaming consists of late night binges on Friday nights, and it’s typically an action game, though a good RPG still may hold my interest, long as it’s on a handheld, that is.

  3. I love the concept of the game… Revolutionary piece of art, but too cryptic and some puzzles are ridiculous, like the clock tower one. How in the world could I know the exact timing? The clock is not even moving. Not at all..

    • “some puzzles are ridiculous, like the clock tower one. How in the world could I know the exact timing? The clock is not even moving. Not at all..”

      True, they are not moving as long as you are watching them. But just because a puzzle isn’t immediately solvable, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Take note of where the clock hands are, then the next time you boot up the game in a day or two you’ll realize they are now in a different position. Then do it again but this time keep track of the time between play sessions. Take that time and multiply roughly by the fraction of the circle that the clock hand rotated and you’ll have a rough estimate for how much time needs to pass before it’s at the 12 o’clock mark. It’s really not that hard, is it?

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