Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Cardboard Computer
Release Date: 02/22/2013
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I love adventure games, especially ones that do something interesting or unique for the genre. Mostly I love adventure games with fantastical stories and great characters. Graphics usually comes last with these kinds of games. Kentucky Route Zero does have an interesting art style and is signature for Annapurna, but it doesn’t really add anything to the game either. The first couple of acts of the game start out well enough and are easy to follow, but the game’s story quickly devolves into visual novel-level walls of text and pointless stories that lead to nowhere.
You play as an antique shop delivery driver who needs to make one last delivery before the shop closes to 5 Dogwood Drive. You start out at a gas station on a highway and a strange man tells you about taking “the Zero” out to the address. You soon meet an electronics repair woman and end up seeing strange stuff on a TV. You follow clues to get the Zero and this is where act two leads you. Once in act two, the game’s pace stays sharp and breezy. There’s nothing to really play here as you mostly just click around leading the characters to icons to read more dialogue and text. There are no puzzles, combat, scripted events, etc. This is a straight-up borderline text adventure. Once you hit act three things slow way down and then there are the pointless interval chapters in between each act. One chapter was 30 minutes of nearly endless boring dialogue that didn’t add to the main story at all. It was painful to read it all and I actually read novels in real life regularly. It’s dry and dull and not interesting in the slightest.
Each act has several scenes and they are usually rather short. Once you click on each icon and read all the dialogue you will advance to the next scene. There are at least a lot of locales and the visuals are striking in some scenes. There’s little spoken dialogue, but I actually quite liked the songs here. They were very sad and helped set the tone of the entire game. This also isn’t a horror adventure either. It’s just super weird and I wish I could have followed the story or cared about any of the characters. If the dialogue wasn’t so damn boring I would care more. In some areas, I straight up just skipped through the dialogue because it was either really abstract and poetic that didn’t add anything to what was going on or just super uninteresting. Many people will probably shut the game off after act two as that’s when things really slow down and drag.
I want to say that the ending was worth all the hours of reading, but it wasn’t. It made no sense to me and the entire trip to the address almost felt like it was an afterthought. I would say I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s not much here to spoil. There’s so much character and world-building that the actual adventure is eventually forgotten about and said world-building is dull. There are a lot of slice-of-life moments talking about real-life personal situations from the past and then there will be some sort of narrative poetic thing for a while and back to two random characters talking about how much they like a certain food. Normally this is great, but in this game, it doesn’t add anything as I have to already care about the characters to want to read this stuff.
Overall, Route Zero starts out great and quickly drags on into a dull and uninteresting visual novel with interesting visuals. There isn’t a satisfying ending and the intervals between acts are pointless and dull. There is zero gameplay involved and mountains of text to click through. This would normally be fine if the actual characters and scenes were interesting. Some may like the abstractness of some of the writing while most others will fall asleep.