Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What if Fez Were Good?

I mean, don't get me wrong, my initial experience with Fez was extremely positive. It didn't take long for the thin veneer of positive to wear away into almost nothing. The puzzles initially have very cool structure, and the music is beautiful. There were some strong story telling devices used in the game world, which often are neglected in more narrative heavy experiences and make for incredible world building. But then I started to notice that nothing was being built on top of it. There just wasn't any purpose for this beautifully created world.

Then the puzzles started to bump into some of the meatier puzzles that make up the majority of the game. A lot of them dealing with reading long sequences of code and puzzles that require a lot of notes. Very classic and old school, requiring meticulous note taking to decipher the very clear and incredibly obvious puzzles. I hated every minute of that. Recently another game brought back a similar relic of ancient game playing, the hand drawn map. Etrian Odyssey brought back old school with style, integrating map making into the very deepest parts of the game, but at the same time giving you the tools to play with the maps inside of the game.

I once heard someone say that it's less important to accurately reproduce what we remember being good than it is to reproduce how they made us feel. To capture the essence. What I loved about puzzles that made me write down and copy codes and images and codes to use later is that it made me feel like I was discovering special.  I don't feel like that anymore. I know the solution, but the writing and memorization becomes just irritating. I feel like when I know the solution to a puzzle I should be able to implement it without having to stop playing the game. Etrian Odyssey manages to capture the essence of how I felt drawing maps without the inconvenience and irritation I'd have if I had to actually pull out graph paper. This is one of Fez's bigger failings.

By the time I got to the initial "ending" of the game I had begun to tire of almost everything I initially found charming about it. For everything that is there, it is missing something that feels deeply essential, leaving a very superficial experience.

Even the exploration becomes a chore as backtracking transforms into a granular and tedious experience. The map is very nearly completely useless as the most useful long distance shortcuts are poorly documented if they're visible at all. I live for quality exploration. Super Metroid, Shadow Complex, Castlevania... these are my bread and butter, the root of everything I love most in games, and Fez manages to implement this element in a way that makes me loathe it. Navigation is just slow and painful and tedious, like a point and click adventure game with slow walking and puzzles across 30 screens.

To sum up, the game feels amazing when it first starts and quickly wears away to a chore. But it really could have been amazing.
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