Fez: Patience's Reward
It would be a good idea to begin by stating my involvement throughout Fez's development. I didn't have any. In fact, I purposefully avoided a good portion of the coverage released about the game, for a multitude of reasons. The first being, from the limited exposure I had to critical opinion regarding Fez, I found there to be a consensus between people of not wanting to expose themselves too heavily to the game, with risk of it being spoiled for them. It told me that these journalists regarded this product to be something fairly special, something worth waiting for. The second reason I chose to ignore coverage, was the now-realized misconception that Fez was nothing more than a laboriously termed "indie darling", which would rely entirely on trope-fueled "clever" writing, and nostalgia-inducing bit graphics. The reason I assumed the critics were fawning over Fez were these kind of tired heartstring plucking throwbacks, and the inclusion of the world flipping mechanic which differentiated it from other games. While the second reason rendered me apathetic for Fez, I am happy to say the incredibly long development cycle has produced a game I was excited to play, and enjoyed thoroughly.
As mentioned, the first element of Fez that stands out is the perspective shifting. At first appearance, the game appears to be a 2D platformer, but with a press of the controller's triggers, the world reveals itself as a cubic arena, and the perspective changes 90 degrees to the next side of the cube. Confusing and hard to explain without seeing footage of the mechanic being used, but it results in platforms, vines, and objects being revealed and utilized in new ways, and levels begin to make a strange kind of sense once you get comfortable with switching perspectives and looking around. Progression becomes enjoyable when switching becomes second nature, and controlling Gomez, the main character, feels instantly familiar and responsive to anyone who has played a platformer. Unfortunately, however pleasurable the act of traversing feels, at a point in the game, the incredibly complex and expansive world can get too complex and expansive. Intuitiveness with guiding Gomez around the world is lacking, with warp points and doors being incredibly confusing until quite far into the game. And just as in games where graphical beauty is a paramount feature stumble that much more when a discrepancy in visuals comes to light, Fez's less than intuitive world travel stands out much more than it would if the other aspects of the game were not as impressive.
Graphical charm is instantly apparent in Fez, and the art direction does little to belie the 8-bit inspirations, but instead uses them to its advantage, creating charming world decorations, using vibrant colours, and throwing back to a C64-esque splash screen on a fake game crash. The music of the game is highly referential to these roots, perfectly capturing the mood of a wondrous and vast world. The best songs transform the act of playing the game into a meditative experience, where you feel the inspirations of the composer, adding to the milieu of each area of the game.
With that all mentioned, the reason to play Fez is none of the above. The real reason is the mind-bogglingly well hidden puzzles and cryptographs which make up the bulk of the time you will spend with the game. This is a puzzle game leaps and bounds more than it is a platformer.
Fez uses symbols, characters, and colours in its surroundings as a way to populate the world, but also to hide the particulars of puzzles throughout the world. Something that might seem fairly innocuous at first glance will turn out to be something of incredible importance, and the only way to find yourself moving forward in the later portions of the game's puzzles, is to learn how to properly identify what a particular signage in the world is telling you to do. The most rewarding moments in any game I've ever played happened in Fez, when a preliminary discovery of a mechanic leads into a new understanding of a symbol, or a group of symbols. During that split second, the recall your brain has of every time you've seen that symbol and the knowledge that you now have the capacitive tool to unlock so much more of the game is such an exciting experience. Point-and-click adventure games have only previously held that spell over me.
For the last point alone, I would heartily recommend Fez to those with a keen eye, an open mind, and a resistance to gamefaqs' wily reach. To those with a reliance on a guided experience, Fez might be a tad too bewildering, and might not appeal. However, even if you fall into that category, if you give the game a healthy dose of patience, you will most certainly be rewarded with a deep and interesting experience, unlike many other games in scope. I'm glad I was wrong in my preconceptions.