On returning to Fez again

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Tonight I started playing Fez again. It had been eight months since I laid down the game, and though my memory of it glowed I didn't know how it would stand up. After all, I never finished the game, by getting all the anti-cubes. Once I beat my head against the puzzles and large world until I was frustrated, I turned to the internet but didn't feel the need to complete the anti-cube puzzles myself. Tonight I took another step forward in my Fez journey. Tonight I realized it never really stopped.

Something feels alive about the game in a way many games don't. There's a sense of artistry, of love and care and craft, in every frame and pixel. Patrick mentioned in the Game of the Year discussions how every still of Fez could be a wallpaper—or, let's say, a painting. But the most significant part of the visual design would be lost—its dynamism. Animals move evocatively and the progress of day and night on certain levels are expressed fluidly and on center stage by the otherwise static visuals.

When paired with the harmonic music, the visuals create an impression, moving level to level, of moving from feeling to feeling, each one felt by the creator and intended to evoke a similar response in the player. I have no real opinion of Phil Phish's personal character, but I understand many people do not like him. The impression I get from him in Fez is of a heartfelt individual, who built his game from the best parts of himself. I should say I've never watched or read extensive interviews with him, seen Indie Game the Movie, etc. No one who could have engineered so much tenderness in sounds and images could be all bad.

My current approach in speaking about Fez might seem odd. Though I've covered graphics and sound, I haven't spoken at all about gameplay, structure, or the particulars of the world, character, or plotline. I also haven't mentioned the complex realizations that provide the masterkey to unlocking Fez's secrets. First, I'll say that I think that moment is valuable, because it crystalizes the momentousness of the games vizuals in the player's mind. Armed with the knowledge of the “codes,” they now overlook nothing in the environment—and that is the best gift of all. Once you're looking through the environment, you realize you're looking through one long, continuous expression, in artistic imagery, in sound, in game momentum, in the slow music, and in the language of its inner secrets. The revelation teaches the player the game is one large canvas, a panorama of expressions all done without saying a word aloud.

We've heard this all before, with other games. Flower, and Journey, and their like. I haven't played those games. What I take away from Fez that I suspect might be lacking in those others, particularly Flower, is the certainty I find in Fez of its status as a game. It goes beyond the throwback pixel art style. It extends through the perfunctory platforming and teleportation system, in the cube and anti-cube collecting, into the metagame of the alphabet itself. I've compared Fez to a painting, and indirectly, a film, but it is neither. It is fully of the medium, developed mostly according to concerns shared only in the medium.

I can't say when or if I'll finish Fez. Tonight turned up no further anti-cubes, as I refuse to resort to walkthroughs even on where the fox and dog scenario plays out, but I explored where I liked best in its big world. I saw places and felt things that, though it was only a little while ago, made me feel joyful remembering and a little sad. I intend to return to it again, if only to explore those places I still haven't revisited, maybe to find the fox and dog (don't tell me where they are, please!) or just wander with no particular purpose. The only thing I know is this, when I return, the living world of Fez will be there pulsing subtly for me, as though expecting me to come back.