It turns out FEZ is not the game I thought it was. The impression I got from the store page, and the first few hours of gameplay, was that it was primarily a platformer. And it was under this impression that I approached the game. My focus was entirely on navigating the world. Occasionally, I would have to push switches or throw bombs, and my thought was that those little challenges were the bulk of the game's puzzles. I saw the mysterious runes in the background, but I assumed they were simply decorative (or, perhaps, one of those inconsequential easter eggs that rewards people who are super into a game's lore). I did not realize that I was playing a cryptography game, and that those runes were, in fact, most of the game's content.
The QR code should have tipped me off. It was a weird puzzle that required me to rotate the room arbitrarily, and the reward came out of nowhere, after a series of actions that had no in-setting causal explanation. That should have primed me to think about rotation codes as a general game mechanic, but I thought of it as a one-off thing - a weird, overly clever, chamber that tossed an extra cube my way for being willing to look stuff up on the internet. I was wrong.
In my defense, though, it's not as if FEZ goes out of its way to teach you how to play. There's no particular indication that deciphering the code will yield tangible rewards, and thus the only way to know that the language is worth decoding is to decode the language.
So, there came a point when my progress was completely stalled. There was literally nowhere else I could go. And there was no chance I would break through, because my thoughts were not even in the same universe as the game's. So, of course, I looked up a guide.
The revelation was not a pleasant one. Cryptography is not my favorite activity in the world, but I like to think that if I'd known I was supposed to be doing it, I'd have had the patience to see it through. That's belied by the fact that I repeatedly went back to the guide whenever I ran into a minor speedbump, but my self-flattering theory about this is that I felt blindsided by the game itself, like it somehow violated the unspoken social contract between player and game, and that since I completely missed the bulk of the information necessary to solve the puzzles, it was no great sin to lean on a pre-assembled cipher.
Or maybe I just felt like I didn't want to put that much effort into what I was still stubbornly thinking of as a charming little platformer, and my building resentment manifested as a deliberate disregard for FEZ's intended methods of solution.
It's funny how patience works. There was a level, late in the game, where I had to climb up a tower, outracing some steadily rising lava, and halfway up were these rotating platforms that I had to jump through with precision timing. If I missed a jump, that was basically it, I'd have to start the whole level over again. I must have died at least a dozen times, but it never occurred to me to give up. I just had to keep trying until I got the rhythm perfect. Yet the slightest bit of frustration with code was enough to send me running for a guide.
I wonder why that is. Is it because I feel like I'm pretty good at platforming and pretty bad at codebreaking? Or perhaps it's because a platforming challenge inherently includes an element of feedback, whereas with the codes, if I made a mistake, I'd only know about it when the whole sequence failed to work, and thus every error forced me to start back at square one. It could be that I'm simply not very intellectual . . . which is an interesting thought considering I'm also a huge nerd.
I've still got six hours to go with FEZ. I managed, using the guide, to get 100% completion (and it doesn't feel super like cheating to me, because even with the guide, I had to play for 6 hours to get to that point). So, obviously, I have to start over again, but what is my agenda here? I think I've got to solve the code "honestly." Pure honesty is, of course, impossible, because I've been spoiled on a couple of things someone coming in "raw" would have to find out the hard way, but I can still attempt to make amends to the game by trying to experience as much of it as possible.