Kentucky Route Night Vale

The main thing about Kentucky Route Zero that’s stuck with me since playing it is the tone of the game. Admittedly, I’m not all the way through – it glitched partway through Act 2, so I’m kind of stuck. Still, I’ve seen enough of the game to be fascinated by the world which it creates.

When I started the game, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into – I knew nothing about it, and the situation they place Conway in at the beginning (stopped at a gas station, looking for directions) seemed like a perfectly ordinary scenario. But as soon as you go into the basement and find disappearing people and glowing twenty-sided dice, it’s clear there’s some unusual or supernatural element to the game.

As I progressed in the story, I kept thinking of the podcast ‘Welcome to Night Vale.’ I’m not caught up all the way on their episodes either (fitting, I suppose) but the tone is probably my favorite thing about it. ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ is a fictional radio broadcast from a town in which strange things happen every day – hooded figures live in the dog park that doesn’t allow dogs, sentient glowing clouds rain dead animals, there’s a floating cat in the bathroom, a five-headed dragon is running for mayor, and these things all seem normal to Night Vale residents.

Kentucky Route Zero has a similar feeling, in my opinion. The characters seem to think ghosts, strange objects in an abandoned mine, and people who may or may not actually be real are not worthy of being questioned, not to mention the whole idea of a secret road underground or an office building’s entire third floor being filled with bears.

The art style contributes to this effect, making everything seem a bit otherworldly with fading colors and more abstract designs. Kentucky Route Zero plays with the same idea of a world where the fantastical is ordinary, but while Night Vale creates this atmosphere through audio, the game creates it through visuals and text. It makes us question what we see as reality, and what ‘reality’ is in the world of the game.

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