Fez is a easily the most personal puzzle game that I’ve ever played. It’s not personal because it “spoke to me” in any way, but because the biggest puzzle in Fez is figuring out what you know and what you don’t know. This is a puzzle game built around the idea that people’s minds all work differently.
The game, in my mind at least, is split into three layers:
The first layer is the perspective shifting puzzle. This is what you solve to progress in the game. In other words, basic exploration is built on this puzzle. You’ll find cube bits that make up full cubes that unlock doors to more hub worlds, and you can get through most of the game by focusing only on this first layer. However, the final cube bit is hidden behind a rather obtuse puzzle that is not apparent if you are only focusing on this first layer. In this way, Fez nudges you over the edge, down to the second layer of puzzles.
The second layer is where the magic/craziness begins. This is where you’ll encounter such a variety of puzzles that it’ll make your head spin: more perspective puzzles, language puzzles, pattern recognition puzzles, sound puzzles, number puzzles. This is where the bulk of the game takes place.
The third layer isn’t necessary to beat the game, once or twice. You reach this point when you start translating the language, learning about the mythology of Fez. The previous layers were purely mechanical. The third is reserved for a surprisingly rich bit of world building — and more puzzles, of course, but these are puzzles within puzzles within puzzles.
Since the game presents its puzzles in such a wide variety of ways, at some point you’ll inevitably come to one that you can’t figure out. Not because the logic behind the puzzle is too obtuse, but because you just aren’t good at that type of puzzle. You’re good at language puzzles, and this is a number puzzle or vice versa.
It’s after looking up the answer that you can really begin to appreciate the complexity of Fez‘s world, because despite the variety of puzzle types, there is a consistent logic behind them. After looking up several puzzles, I thought, “I’d never figure that out,” but I never thought, “No one could ever figure this out.”
It is this consistency of logic that makes Fez feel personal rather than cheap or gimmicky. It doesn’t just throw random puzzles at you, The logic behind a sound puzzle is the same as the logic behind a pattern puzzle. By solving one, the game has given you a hint for solving the other, and the only real hurdle is whether your mind can connect those same dots once their presentation changes.
I learned something about myself playing Fez: I’m good at recognizing patterns as long as those patterns are obvious. In other words, I can’t see patterns hidden in everyday objects like posters or paintings. The “Tetris pieces” quickly clicked for me, but those owls… man… I never would have figured that out. But I’m sure someone else could.