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.
Platform: XBLA, Steam, PC, PSN
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.
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.
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?
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!
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!
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:
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…
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.
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!
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.
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, 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.
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.
Whoa. 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.
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