Video Game: Kentucky Route Zero

This game marks the intersection between the Adventure Game and Midwestern ghost stories. This ain't your traditional Jump Scare-driven, intentionally freaky Ghost Story, mind—this one's more of a kind to make you sit back, and think about your life.

Conway is a humble deliveryman, working for an antique store delivering good-quality old stuff to those who want it. He's driving through the long Kentucky night, with only his old, strawhat-wearing dog for company. He's got a shipment to deliver to someplace called "Dogwood Drive." He doesn't know how to get there, and it's not on any maps.

Shannon is the child of a mining family. She repairs TVs in the back of a bait shop to make ends meet. Her family's been suffering financial troubles since the mine closed down.

Joseph, the man at the gas station, says the way to Dogwood is to take the Zero - the one and only route that goes under Kentucky.

A mixed bag of Adventure Game, Interactive Fiction, and Choose Your Own Adventure, Kentucky Route Zero is a production by Cardboard Games. So far, 3 out of a planned 5 chapters have been released.

Trope Examples:

  • The Alcoholic: One possible interpretation for Conway. He falls back into the habit in Act 3.
  • Animal Motifs: Horses. Hermit Crabs. Dogs.
  • Big Bad: As of Act 3, it appears to be the Hard Times Whiskey distillery, which is colluding with the Consolidated Power Company to effectively enslave people in debt to either. Conway winds up being coerced by them in Act 3's conclusion.
  • Bluegrass: There's not a lot of music in this game, but when it's not ambient noise, it's bluegrass. Appropriate enough for the Bluegrass State.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • An optional one - you can make Conway respond to all questions about his job by saying "It's better than being in a ditch."
    • Another optional one - when you make Conway inquire about other characters hobbies and whatnot "[field of study, e.g. topology]. Ok."
    • Shannon starting conversations with random questions: "Do you believe in ghosts?", "Wanna settle a bet?", etc.
    • The Bureau clerks' "Happy to help."
  • Choose Your Own Adventure: Stopping at some landmarks activates a dialogue-tree-based exploration of some surreal location of the Kentucky overworld or the Zero. These are often ghost-stories in miniature, like finding and searching an abandoned church with a tape-player playing hymns and sermons inside.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Everyone has secrets to hide. Conway was a drunken drifter who found some comfort as a driver for an old antiques dealer, only to walk off in disgrace and come back to find that the man and his son had both died and the wife was growing steadily more senile. Shannon's parents and sister became hopelessly in debt from a house they bought and all disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Ezra's family also vanished, leaving him and his giant eagle to fend for themselves. Junebug is a robot made to clear the mine from Act 1 but abandoned the job.
  • Dead All Along: Shannon's sister, Weaver. Maybe.
  • Dialogue Tree: Often as not, you don't really have a choice about what controllable characters say, only about how they say it. On the flipside, this means that about half your dialogue options let you determine what kinds of people they are, or even what histories they had. Alternate Character Interpretation abounds.
  • Eldritch Location: The Zero is apparently a single endlessly-looping giant cavern, yet its structure, landmarks, and available locations change when you switch directions at certain landmarks. Kentucky itself isn't far behind, though at least the world itself stays the same.
  • Electromagnetic Ghosts: The ghosts of miners in the shaft. Flickering images of them appear through the sparking of the electrical rail, but only if the lights are off.
  • Fantasy Americana
  • Foreshadowing: Keep trying to catch the attention of the tabletop gamers in the basement of the Equus, and the one of the players will notice that winning the game seems impossible, and the GM will in response talk about degeneration into madness and how the game "is supposed to a tragedy."
  • Giant Flyer: Chapter 2 features Julian, a bald eagle large enough to carry away houses.
  • Interpretative Character: Conway and Shannon in chapter 1, Lula and Ezra in Chapter 2. Some basic details about their lives are given. The rest can be made up by the player through the dialogue trees as you go along.
  • I See Dead People: Maybe.
  • Magical Realism: Stated as a major influence by the developers. Kentucky stops a bit shy of being an Eldritch Location. There's a lot of strange things around, but the general greyness and the insistent stance that all characters take on acting normally offsets it all.
  • Medium Blending: Storytelling medium; KRZ is an adventure game but all its text, dialogue, and descriptions are written in stage play format and the areas have a distinct theater set design to them.
  • Mega Corp.: The Consolidated Power Company. What they lack in size, they make up for in pervasiveness, as every aspect of electricity in the state appears to be governed by them. Even your health can wind up tied to your electrical bill, should you be treated by a doctor in their employ.
  • The New Tens: Set in and thematically about the Great Recession.
  • Ominous Fog: Many of the outdoor scenes are set in foggy, poorly-lit areas, both adding to the subtly uncanny atmosphere and shrouding some parts of the scene until Conway gets up close (which is Truth in Television for nighttime fogs in the mountains).
  • Pre Existing Encounters: Traveling over the map uncovers a variety of locations that Conway can stop and visit, ranging from the scene of an accident to various abandoned buildings. A lot of these can have little Ghost Story-esque aspects to them while having nothing to do with the plot.
  • Real Place Background: The overworld map is an actual map of Kentucky's major roads.
  • Real Time: Played with. The episodes are fairly short so one could easily see this trope in play, as the entire game takes place over one summer's night. In chapter 3, however, Conway and Shannon's visit to the distillery seems to take much longer then Junebug and Ezra waited for them to return.
  • Robot Girl: Junebug has grey skin and makes mechanical noises when she walks but isn't obviously one till late in act three when she tells Ezra she was built to clean up the mine from Act I. Some of the early promotional materials reference her as being a robot.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Shannon's last name is a reference to Gabriel García Márquez.
    • Some of the exhibits at the museum are references to other adventure games/creators, ones the devs considered touchstones in the genre:
    • Judging by the location of the entrance, the Zero is somewhere in or near Mammoth Cave. This is also the inspiration for the setting of Colossal Cave. Both feature a location called "The Hall of the Mountain King".
    • Act 3 opens with the characters waiting at a fallen tree. It wouldn't explicitly be a Godot reference if another character didn't quote the play minutes later.
    • One of Donald's assistants, a woman named Roberta who enjoys fairy tales, is a tribute to Roberta Williams, creator of the highly influential "King's Quest" series of adventure games.
  • Small Reference Pools: Averted strongly! As these two essays point out, KRZ takes inspiration from and makes reference to the American theatrical and literary canon and history well outside the average gamer's knowledge base.
  • Southern Gothic: It's the South during an economic recession.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Conway, for all his myriad possible interpretations, will not be affected overmuch by the strange things that happen in the game. Ditto for Shannon, although in her case it's harder to justify her actions by ignorance. Such is the backbone of Magical Realism.
    • Come Act 3, pretty much everyone gets that there's something off about "the boys from Hard Times". Of course, you'd expect walking, glowing skeletons would warrant more of a description than "off", so the trope's still in-force.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Pretty much everything in the game. The sole exception seems to be The strangers, as they do terrify some of the cavern researchers.
  • Workaholic: Conway can be played as this, dismissing all other concerns in favor of making his delivery, even when he starts to black out from the pain of his injured leg.
  • Visual Pun: Act 3 begins with Conway's leg glowing and skeletal as a visual metaphor for the monetary debt he's just accumulated. Later in the Hard Times distillery everyone is a glowing skeleton due to their debt and there's some clear hell metaphor going on. At the beginning of Act 3 Conway has one foot in the grave.