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Video Game / Kentucky Route Zero

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It's late. It will only get later.
You've got to walk
That lonesome valley
You've got to walk it by yourself
There's no one here
That can go there with you
You've got to go there by yourself...
The Bedquilt Ramblers, You've Got to Walk

A Magic Realism mix of Adventure Game, Interactive Fiction, and Gamebook, Kentucky Route Zero is an episodic game developed by Cardboard Computer for PC. The game was first revealed in Kickstarter, and ran a successful campaign, followed by a trailer and the first act's release in January 7, 2013. The fifth and final Act released in January 28, 2020 alongside the TV Edition, a "definitive edition" containing all the acts and interludes, released also on consoles.

The game marks the intersection between the Adventure Game and Midwestern ghost stories. This ain't your traditional, 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, straw-hat-wearing dog for company. He's got a shipment to deliver to someplace called "5 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.

Has nothing to do with the Fried Chicken franchise.

The game provides examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Act III's song, "Too Late to Love You."
  • Advancing Boss of Doom: As the game progresses, the boys from the Hard Times distillery edge closer and closer to the player and the party that they are leading. In Act I, only evidence of their existence is mentioned. Limits and Demonstrations offhandedly mentions "those men". They are mentioned a few times in Act II before one appears before the player in The Entertainment. By Act III, they are everywhere. Once they have Conway's body and soul, they disappear from the narrative.
  • The Alcoholic: Heavily implied that Conway was formerly one, and is actively avoiding drinking. He falls back into the habit in Act III.
  • Alien Geometries: The Zero itself.
  • Alliterative Name: Dogwood Drive.
  • All There in the Manual: Cardboard Computer filmed a live-action version of the Interlude Un Pueblo de Nada. Since the video purports to be the live broadcast from that evening, one can see all of the VHS tapes cut to during the evening broadcast, as well as the pirate signal that interrupts the show. The entire video adds additional context to other things seen and experienced in the second half of KRZ.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Midway through Act IV, Conway is taken away by the boys from Hard Times and is now indistinguishable from the rest of them.
  • Animal Motifs: Horses. Hermit Crabs. Dogs.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: An in-universe example. One of the local TV stations had a late-night program with a naked man playing a banjo, which is really all anyone remembers about it.
  • Big Bad: As of Act III, it appears to be the Hard Times Whiskey distillery, which is colluding with (and owned by) the Consolidated Power Company to effectively enslave people in debt to either entity. Conway winds up being coerced by them by the Act's conclusion. Subverted in that neither company appears in the story again, apart from mentions of the power company and their general negligence for the well-being of the townsfolk in dialogue. Ultimately, the villain of the story is the act of exploiting the labor of people in order to build capital for a corporation while being left adrift in debt, the only mechanism of escape from which being further ingraining into said unfair exploitation in a misguided attempt to get out of the cycle. In other words, the real enemy is capitalism, and though it is chiefly illustrated through Conway's downfall, manifests in many other ways throughout the game.
    • A minor but no less troubling one is Frazier. His existence is only hinted at in Act V, but combing through dialogue choices reveals that he was a citizen of that final town, and he manipulated the residents' open-mindednessnote  to his own gain, expunging creative endeavours and knowledge he personally didn't like in an attempt to consolidate power for himself. Frazier's actions ultimately fractured the town into the struggling state it is seen in when the player finally arrives there. His fate is never explained.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Conway falls in with the skeletal brewers at Hard Times Distillery and disappears halfway through Act IV; he will never be seen from again, even in-game, as he has sold his body and soul to Hard Times as part of paying off his debt to them, and his corpse will be used to flavour the whiskey like every other enslaved worker there. Meanwhile, Shannon never finds any explanation for what happened to her cousin Weaver; likewise, Ezra's parents are never found. Instead, the party continues Conway's quest of delivering the antiques to 5 Dogwood Drive and finally finds the location, an incomplete house in a small town with no roads, after a large storm has flooded the place. The residents are grieving over the loss of two wild horses they lovingly refer to as "The Neighbours" as well as their own town, which was created by the Big Bad the Consolidated Power Company but not properly maintained — the flooding caused by drainage ditches not properly being implemented in the company's cost-cutting build of the townnote . While some of the residents decide to pack up and leave, the core cast unpack the antiques — revealed to be the full furnishings of a house — into the skeletal house and as they do, decide to stay in the town and help rebuild it, together. The "sweet" part of this gut punch is amplified by the fact that the final shot of the game, of the game's cast inside 5 Dogwood Drive, can feature anyone from just the core group the player has been following, or just secondary characters, or nearly the entire extended cast of the game, including Weaver — all depending on the player's dialogue choices throughout the game. The furniture will be laid out to make 5 Dogwood Drive a workhouse, a kitchen, a library, a stage, a home...even just as a doghouse for Conway's dog, depending on whom, if anyone, is staying to rebuild the community.
  • Bluegrass: There's not a lot of music in this game, but when it's not clouds of ambient music or Drones of Dread, it's bluegrass. Appropriate enough for the Bluegrass State.
  • Book Ends:
    • The story starts and ends at horse-related artworks: the first scene of the game is set at Equus Oils, which is a gas station in a statue of a horse. The last scene is set at a horse burial, with painted horse faces serving as the marker for the grave. During these moments, the player is asked to choose dialogue to create a poem:dirst when figuring out the password to Joseph's computer at Equus Oils in Act I, and at the end of Act V as Nikki reading a poem for the Neighbors' funeral. These moments also occur just as sunset is beginning.
    • In the last act, Shannon gives a 20-sided die to Bob and his friends. In the first act, Conway stumbles upon the group while they're playing with it in Equus Oils.
  • Bottle Episode: Each of the five Interludes. Act V takes place entirely in one location, from one vantage point. It's also possible to spend the vast majority of Act IV onboard the Mucky Mammoth instead of visiting the locations at each port.
  • Breather Episode: The Interludes, which appear one after each act. Most of them are lighthearted, with occasional forays into absurdity or horror.
  • But Thou Must!: Doolittle of Hard Times Distillery pressures Conway into starting a job there so hard that he tells Dispatch that Conway will be starting tomorrow before Conway even agrees to it. He later lays out a glass of top-shelf whisky for Conway to drink to seal the deal. Without player input, the cursor is forcibly dragged towards the Drink command...and then clicks it on its own.
    • In Act IV, there's an option to go deliver a package at the Echo River Central Exchange, or to stay on the boat and cook stew. If you stay on the boat, Cate comes up to Shannon and
  • Capitalism Is Bad: It's the middle of a recession in a decaying section of semi-rural Kentucky. The local Consolidated Power Company controls has their fingers in every single pie through ownership of debt, and the local whiskey distillery that they own, Hard Times, is a debtor's prison/not very subtle Hell allegory. The fact that Hard Times starts each shift by giving each worker a glass of their most expensive whiskey and then expect each worker to pay it back as part of their contract says all one needs to know about them.
  • Catchphrase:
    • An optional one — you can make Conway respond to all questions about his job by saying, "It's better than being in a ditch." Joseph even jokes that this phrase is one for Conway.
    • Another optional one — when you make Conway inquire about other characters hobbies and whatnot with, "[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."
  • Central Theme: The burdens of capitalism and debt; the decline of rural America; community and found families; memories and remembering; and the power of art.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: It's hard to tell with all the Magical Realism, but the operator of Here & There Along the Echo has a catalog of different types of water, which includes warm water and water in a cup. His service also contains an entire section about what to do if you're currently holding a snake.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The term "Zero" is colored with a distinct cloud pattern. Some action choices underground also have the same coloration. Voices on tape have a TV static colouration.
  • Company Town: Less a single town and more an entire rural region: The Consolidated Power Company has a hand in almost every aspect of life in this stretch of Kentucky. It's eventually revealed that not only did they create a company town but they cut corners on it leaving no roads, and when they sent in a worker to create drainage ditches to negate flooding, they also sowed discontent amongst the townsfolk which led to that worker being murdered, leaving the job unfinished. The CPC also own the Hard Times Distillery, just like everything else. Ergo, if you have to pay off your debt to them, you do it by working in the distillery, ceaselessly producing, forever.
  • The Corrupter: The Hard Times Distillery (and their parent company, the Consolidated Power Company) acts as this to the people forced under their employ by accruing any manner of debt, pushing them to become mindless workers without any other values. Optional dialogue introduces Doolittle as the writer of The Entertainment, which paints the Hard Times crew as nefarious. Yet he appears in Act III as a loyal company man and manipulator who pushes Conway into debt, showing how even the most progressive person can be corrupted by a party only interested in protecting and enriching the in-group — an eerie analogue to real-life companies and conservatives parroting leftist terms in order to court moderates to falling in line with their ideals.
  • Creepy Cave: Much of the game takes place on a dark, paranatural highway through a massive and seemingly endlessly looping cavern (based on Mammoth Cave), which is an ambient metaphor for the crushing debt many of the characters are in. The game's themes explore folklore, and many sidequests involve ghost stories. Overall, the cave adds to the creepy, oppressive atmosphere of the game as a whole.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Everyone has secrets to hide.
    • Conway was once Lysette's husband as well as her driver, but his descent into alcoholism ended their familial relationship. She remarried to a man named Ira and had a child named Charlie while keeping Conway under employ at the antiques store that she ran. Nearly 20 years later, Charlie accidentally falls off a roof that Conway was supposed to repair, had he not been passed out drunk at the time; this incident is what makes Conway decide to give up on alcohol. Some unspecified time later, Conway finds that Ira has also died and Lysette has been steadily growing more senile, effectively rendering Conway's delivery seen in-game as the final delivery of Lysette's Antiques.
    • Shannon's parents are implied to have died in a flood at the Elkhorn Mine. Her aunt, uncle and cousin fell hopelessly in debt after buying property and demolishing the existing house to make a bigger one. Her aunt and uncle disappeared under mysterious circumstances, with her cousin Weaver becoming a haunting presence throughout the game.
    • Ezra's parents also vanished, leaving him to fend for himself. At some point before the game begins, Ezra befriends a giant eagle named Julian. Their history is barely even hinted at by Ezra, who is clearly attempting to cope by focusing all of his energy on how good of a friend Julian has been to him.
    • Junebug and Johnny are robots made to clear the Elkhorn Mine from Act I but abandoned the job once they became aware of a life outside of the job. They have the lightest load out of the primary cast.
    • The entire county, including the final town, have troubled pasts that related back to the Consolidated Power Company.
  • Dead All Along: Shannon's cousin, Weaver. Maybe.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Conway is the first character you have control over, and it's his delivery job that starts the plot, but the game soon becomes about the ensemble of characters. The climax of Act III sees Conway wrest control of himself away from the player, and he remains out of the player's hands until he completely disappears midway through Act IV into the hands of Hard Times Distillery.
  • Déjà Vu: An event can be found in the Zero titled this. Shannon experiences the phenomenon, but can't say why. The camera pulls back as Conway's truck drives off, revealing the bodies of miners in a cave shaft.
  • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Hard Times Distillery in Act III. On the one hand, the general weirdness of the game's setting has quite a few allusions to the afterlife, specifically the concept of Purgatory. On the other hand, it's a not-so-subtle metaphor for late stage capitalism's desire to hold the impoverished down to the grindstone by keeping them so in debt that all they ever do is work in a futile attempt to get out of debt.
  • Drone of Dread: Some areas are scored with this, to potentially devastating effect. At most other times, the sound of TV and radio static is filtered into the ambiance of the scene.
  • Dying Town: The entire area is at or below the poverty line. Weaver ends up leaving Shannon (her cousin) and Shannon's parents behind shortly after finding out just how in debt they are, and Shannon can barely make ends meet with her parents absent. Several abandoned locations can be found with new occupants squatting inside. In Act II, Conway and Shannon come across a museum under construction that is actually the current residence for several townsfolk, after their neighborhood was purchased and their houses and cabins were moved inside.
  • Easter Egg: There are many of these scattered throughout the game, several of which only accessible during certain Acts, or from choosing specific dialogue options. One in Act I involves giving the jerky that Joseph hands Conway to Conway's dog; one in Act II involves shuffling Conway and Shannon through a bureaucratic loop a few times. Some, like these two, unlock hidden achievements for doing so. Others may occur just from waiting around in a specific location.
    • The Bedquilt Ramblers, the in-game bluegrass band and quasi-Greek Chorus, appear in every Act and Interlude. This doesn't count for Limits & Demonstrations and Un Pueblo de Nada, which give the player control of Emily, who converses with Bob and Ben along the way.
    • In Here & There Along the Echo, placing the phone down on the receiver and waiting several minutes will eventually give the player a few phone calls. These calls are cryptic and feature Alternate Reality Game-like puzzles.
  • 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. The Echo River in Act IV seems to have similar properties to the Zero, appearing to be a circular river endlessly flowing into itself. Kentucky itself isn't far behind, though at least the world itself stays the same.
  • Electromagnetic Ghosts: The ghosts of miners in the shaft. Turn off the tram lights and flickering images of them appear through the sparking of the electrical rail.
  • Empathic Environment:
    • Act V. The sorrow and heartbreak of having to rebuild a town causes the town's own ghosts to make themselves visible. Also, 5 Dogwood Drive appears fully formed after the rainstorm out of nowhere and becomes the focal point of the new community that the player creates during that Act.
    • The final shot of the game. Depending on the player's dialogue choices throughout the game, any number of characters will be seen in the house-shaped structure that is 5 Dogwood Drive. The furniture from Conway's antique truck will be set up based on the community of people the player chose to stay and rebuild: it can take the form of a workshop, kitchen, performance stage, library, a fully dressed home, or even a doghouse for Conway's dog.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entirety of Kentucky Route Zero takes place over the course of 24 hours, from sunset to sunset; Act V takes the most in-game time, from mid-morning to sunset. The fourth Interlude, Un Pueblo de Nada, occurs around the same time as Act II, while the final Interlude, Death of the Hired Man, serves as an epilogue at some unspecified time in the future. One scene in Act IV is told from the perspective of psychology center staffers whom are reviewing some footage from the time of Act IV at least six months after the events of Act V note .
  • Fantasy Americana: The game's plot takes heavy inspiration from classic Appalachian folklore and ghost stories.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Keep trying to catch the attention of the tabletop gamers in the basement of the Equus, and 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."
    • When taking Shannon to the bait shop in Act I, Conway will ask her where Weaver is. He'll then stare at a TV monitor showcasing shades of black before shutting off, and Shannon will remark that Weaver was never there. She isn't anywhere. She may actually be a ghost.
      • When pointing Conway in Shannon's direction, Weaver also tells him that "we're about the same age. Well, we used to be. She's older now." This adds fuel to the likelihood that Weaver is a ghost.
    • When checking out the whiskey truck wreck that Joseph mentioned at Equus Oils, all that can be seen are skid marks, shredded tires and caskets. In The Entertainment, Rosa remarks that there's "something strange" about the wood that Hard Times' whiskey is aged in. It's revealed in Act III that the caskets are the casks used to age the whiskey and that "strange" stuff is their employees'/indentured servants' corpses.
    • Mary Ann in Act II tells Conway and Shannon they should "count their blessings" for not meeting the boys from Hard Times. The prologue for that Act contains a dialogue option in which Lula Chamberlain can either approve or deny the proposal for a joint distillery and graveyard, with the paperwork noting that the distillery was built over an already existing graveyard. The Entertainment introduces the idea that the Hard Times Distillery is potentially evil, and Act III proves this allegation.
    • Less foreshadowing and more spoiling: the staff of the Radvansky Center discuss the flooding of the WEVP-TV television station, which the player encounters in the following Interlude, Un Pueblo de Nada. Granted, the characters talking about it are reflecting on the incident six months or longer after it happened.
    • The Reveal of what made Conway quit drinking is hinted at if the player leads him to the bait shop in Act I and sticks his hand deep into the third tank of water. He gets mildly electrocuted and hallucinates/dreams the moments before Charlie fell off the roof that Conway was supposed to be fixing.
  • Framing Device: Acts IV and V are told in the past tense. IV is told entirely by Will, the boat operator; V is told by an omnipresent voice on an all-black screen.
    • A portion of Act II is told from the perspective of the Museum of Dwellings staff, as they ask the residents the following morning what the party was doing on the property so late at night.
  • Ghost Story: The game takes inspiration from Appalachian folklore, in which ghosts, poltergeists, and other strange and uncanny beings and happenings figure heavily. True to form, there's a lot of apparently paranormal activity going on in little out-of-the-way places:
    • Partway through the Elkhorn Mine in Act I, Shannon tells Conway about the miners that died there during a flood. If one turns off the tram's light while operating the tram, the sparks that the tram generates illuminates the ghosts of the miners.
    • Weaver Márquez is implied to be one.
    • "The boys" from Hard Times distillery are living, glowing skeletons.
    • In Act V, the ghosts of townspeople past walk among the living.
  • Giant Flyer: Act II features Julian, a bald eagle large enough to carry away houses.
  • Golden Ending: As much as one can achieve one. In Act V, it's possible to choose whether Ezra will stay in the final town with Flora or not; or if he decides to join Junebug and Johnny, who have been dicussing whether they should become his foster parents since Act III, or not. Choosing no to both options suggests he will go back to the Museum of Dwellings to live with Julian and wait for his parents to return. Players can also choose if some of the townsfolk decide to stay and rebuild or pack things up and move after the big storm. Also, individual player decisions made across the length of the game will affect who appears in the final scene of the game, including Weaver appearing seated beside her cousin Shannon on the front steps of 5 Dogwood Drive.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Weaver left Donald's basecamp at the Hall of the Mountain King and followed "the strangers" back to where they came from. She found a civilization that had issues processing debt, and she developed The Formula, their mathematical system to keep their expenses in check. The strangers? They're the skeletons running the Hard Times distillery. Weaver single-handedly pushed capitalism into overdrive.
  • Guide Dang It!: There are several scenes and even out-of-game achievements to acquire that are hidden from the player. The earliest one is to choose specific dialogue in conversation with Joseph so that Conway receives homemade jerky that he then can feed to his dog. The last is a hidden pathway on the zero, accessible in Act III, that only opens after finishing Act V.
    • The dialogue choices throughout the game that determine who appears at 5 Dogwood Drive in the closing shot of the game. It's extremely complicated, as it could be just the core cast at the end, or everyone including the townsfolk surrounding 5 Dogwood Drive as well. Even Weaver Márquez.
  • The Hero Dies: Conway in Act IV. The debt regarding his leg and his increasing bar tabs afterward consume him and transform his body into a glowing skeleton, a visual metaphor for his debt. He signs an agreement to work for the Hard Times Distillery — one that incentives staying in debt forever and even uses the corpses of their debtors to make the whiskey — and is never coming back.
  • Improv: All the player agency and gameplay is meant to be analogous to acting in a semi-improvisational play, changing the order of actions, dialogue, etc.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Game composer Ben Babbitt, upright bass player Bob Buckstaff and singer Emily Cross play themselves as part of a bluegrass trio (and quasi-Greek Chorus) called The Bedquilt Ramblers. Babbitt also plays pedal steel guitarist Cyrano Cole in the live-action version of the Un Pueblo de Nada interlude (naturally, Cole's music in-game is also performed by Babbitt.)
  • Interface Spoiler: Averted. The final interlude is grayed out until Act V is completed.note 
  • Interpretative Character: Conway and Shannon in Act I; Lula and Ezra in Act II. Some basic details about their lives are given, while the rest can be made up by the player through the dialogue trees as you go along.
  • Irony: Carrington, for the course of the game, has been trying to stage a play based on The Death of the Hired Man by Robert Frost. In the final interlude, he has unknowingly mirrored that poem in his real life.
  • I See Dead People: Maybe.
  • It's a Small World, After All:
    • A lot of people knew and worked with Weaver M´rquez.
    • Mimi, one of the researchers at the Radvansky Center, dated Charlie, the son of Lysette and Ira who died falling off the roof that Conway was supposed to fix, had he not been drunk at the time.
  • Last-Name Basis: Carrington is only referred to by his last name — unlike nearly all other characters, who are known by first name only. His full name, James B. Carrington, appears in an optional dialogue tree in The Entertainment.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Some of the phone options in Here & There Along the Echo have extended audio sections:
    • The option for "insect interactions" has a recording of a swamp play for a few minutes.
    • The options for identifying sounds have minutes-long excerpts of insects, "something in the dark" and pipe organ music. After selecting the option, "Yes, this is the sound I heard," for the pipe organ music, the speaker says he isn't able to identify it, but that it sure is pretty. Then he plays it for us again, in full.
    • The final interlude is one static shot of a television on a shelf. Character dialogue continues to pass at the bottom of the screen, even without player interaction, though players can affect what is said by rotating the dial on the TV.
  • Life Imitates Art:invoked In-game. The second interlude The Entertainment shows a production of the titular play directed by Carringtonnote  with set design by Lula Chamberlain. During the play, which is set in a bar, the bar owner Harry is concerned that the band Junebug is not showing up to perform, amongst other woes. In Act III, Conway meets Junebug (a musician) and heads to a bar owned by a man named Harry, so that Junebug can perform. Once inside, he mentions that everyone at his bar had to leave — for reasons explained at the end of play The Entertainment.
  • Location Title: The game is titled after, and set on and around, the titular Kentucky highway.
  • 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 grayness and the insistent stance that all characters take on acting normally offsets it all.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The people Harry sold off to Hard Times Whiskey in The Entertainment show up in the distillery itself. Blink and you'll walk by them.
  • 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. The Entertainment is even told from the first-person perspective of a pantomime character within an in-universe stage play.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: The Zero is a loop, and the narrative of the game loops in on itself.
  • Mind Screw: A number of things in the game, notably the nature of 5 Dogwood Drive. It's little more than a 3D outline of a house that apparently appeared during the storm that occured that night. No explanation is ever given and nobody finds its apparition odd or concerning.
  • Multiple Endings: Inverted. There is only one ending, but who ends up in the final scene — and ultimately what the game imparts to and means to the player — is entirely dependent upon the player's choices throughout the game.
  • 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 fog banks in the mountains.)
  • Only One Name: Most characters in the game are only known by their first name, Conway included. Junebug and Johnny are the straightest examples, as they have no surnames, being androids. Cyrano's surname of Cole was only revealed in the liner notes to Junebug's album and a throwaway line of dialogue in Act III, while Carrington's full name of James B. is hidden in The Entertainment. Some exceptions, like Lula Chamberlain and Shannon & Weaver Márquez, exist, though.
  • Painting the Medium: Text becomes translucent and shaky whenever "Zero" is spoken, or when listening becomes difficult, such as a static-filled radio.
  • 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.
  • Prosthetic Limb Reveal: Act III begins with Conway coming to after taking the medication Neurypnol™ for his injured leg. His leg is now skeletal and golden and no-one else is dismayed by this.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: The dissolution of Lula, Donald and Joseph's friendship is told in three different ways:
    • Portions of Lula's perspective are discoverable in the first interlude, Limits & Demonstrations.
    • Donald's perspective is told by the Xanadu computer in Act III.
    • Joseph wrote down his own version of the events as a computer program. This program is archived away in an old building and isn't accessible to the player. He also published them. Lula called this version "a bit tediously sentimental."
  • Real-Place Background: The overworld map is an actual map of Kentucky's major roads around Mammoth Park. The southeast corner includes the real-life city of Glasgow, while the southwest corner cuts off right where Bowling Green is supposed to be.
  • 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 Act III, however, Conway and Shannon's visit to the distillery seems to take much longer then Junebug and Ezra waited for them to return. It's also possible to posit that The Zero is able to guide people through folded time as well as folded space.
  • Recursive Canon / Recursive Reality: Hinted at on the act selection screen.
    • At the start of the game, Conway stumbles upon Emily, Bob and Ben playing a tabletop RPG as they lose their 20-sided die. Conway has the option to pocket the dice. In Act V, Shannon, in possession of Conway's jacket, shows the trio the 20-sided die when they mention they're interested in playing a tabletop RPG.
    • Act III introduces Xanadu, an ancient computer created by Lula Chamberlain, Joseph the gas station attendant and a man named Donald. The computer turns out to be an immersive sim showing Donald's perspective of their parting of ways, and the story eerily mirrors everything that's happened to the protagonists of KRZ, even alluding to events past this point in the game's narrative. Once the player has completed the breakup portion of Xanadu, a Sims-style game of Donald managing his assistants ensues. Play through it until the end and the computer ends with a readout saying your own party arrived, followed by Lula Chamberlin, before quitting. The party looks away from Xanadu and finds Lula Chamberlin standing there, repeating the line of dialogue the computer had just given her.
    • It can be suggested that the Zero is not only a loop of space, but of time. Each of the "highways" on it are themed after specific places and could very well be underneath each one of them. For example, one loop has the stops The Sandwich, The Goggles and The Microphone, clearly referencing the bar The Lower Depths.
  • Retirony: At one point in Act II, Conway, stumbling through the woods with a badly injured leg, can be made to say that the trip to 5 Dogwood Drive will be his final delivery for Lysette's Antiques. Conway disappears from the story midway through Act IV, condemned to live out his existence in the Hard Times Distillery after falling back on his alcoholism.
  • Robot Girl: Junebug and Johnny have gray skin and make mechanical noises when they walk, but it isn't fully remarked upon until late in Act III when Junebug tells Ezra she and Johnny were built to clean up the Elkhorn Mine from Act I. Some of the early promotional materials reference her as being a robot.
  • Rotating Protagonist: There are many times where one character will begin interacting with another, and then the perspective will continue to follow the second character while the first becomes an NPC.
  • Shout-Out: now has its own page.
  • Sinister Silhouettes: Angling the camera in a specific way while walking around the ground level of the Museum of Dwellings will reveal Julian's wings and talons before you meet him upstairs.
  • Slow Transformation: Conway's body starts transforming into a glowing skeleton identical to those of the boys at the Hard Times Distillery over the course of Acts III and IV. He disappears amongst other skeletons midway through Act IV, never to return again.
  • Small Reference Pools: Averted strongly! As these three 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: The game is set in the US South during an economic recession.
  • Story Branching: How the player experiences the story, how the characters experience things, or what info they decide to disclose, depends entirely on what choices the player makes. This is especially so for the entirety of Act V, wherein players can choose whether (and how) the townsfolk decide to rebuild or leave the final town, how those townsfolk reveal their backstories and personalities that inform those decisions, and how the core cast choose to make sense of their lives in this moment and if they also stay or leave (and in some cases, whom they leave with.)
    • 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 exploring an abandoned church after hearing chanting from inside, only to find a tape deck playing hymns and sermons.
    • Carrington's dialogue in the final interlude will change depending on which Act you found him in and which location for his play you chose.
  • Talk to Everyone: You progress through Act V by overhearing enough conversations in the town.
  • 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. All of the NPCs don't seem fazed by anything that happens around them, either. Such is the backbone of Magical Realism.
    • Come Act III and 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.
    • Ultimately, rather than question where the house-like prism that is 5 Dogwood Drive came from or how odd it looks, the party comes to accept it as a new community space for the isolated town.
  • 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.
    • Among other things, Johnny and Junebug are robots (although extremely human ones.) No one ever comments on this.
    • There's a floor at the Bureau of Unclaimed Spaces marked "Bears". Going to it reveals a floor full of actual, living bears just sitting there. It is never remarked upon in any way and cannot be interacted with (nor do the bears do anything but turn their heads to follow you around the room.) This is in an oddly designed and located (but otherwise normal) office building.
  • The Unreveal: Act V ends with most of the game's mysteries unresolved. We never find out what happened to Weaver or to Ezra's parents, or who ordered the antiques that Conway was delivering, or what was up with the Xanadu computer. We just find a small town with no roads that's been flooded by a rainstorm, help the locals bury some deceased horses, and convert 5 Dogwood Drive into the town's new community space. The end.
  • Visual Pun: Act III begins with Conway's glowing, skeletal leg as a visual metaphor for the monetary debt he's just accumulated. We later see in the Hard Times distillery that everyone is a glowing skeleton due to their debt and there's some clear hell metaphor going on. At the beginning of Act III, Conway has one foot in the grave.
  • 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.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: For some reason, Conway and Shannon's trip inside the church in Act III seems to take much longer than the amount of time Junebug and Ezra waited for them to return from inside.