At E3 2011, Konami shocked fans by announcing they planned to bring a Silent Hill title to the PS Vita. Not just a regular Silent Hill title, but a top-down RPG! The game was originally scheduled for the handheld’s launch, and suffered several delays that often announced at the zero-hour, leaving many to regard the title with great skepticism. When it released this week with little fanfare, it seemed our fears were justified. Is Silent Hill: Book of Memories dead on arrival, or has it beat the odds?
The setup of Silent Hill: Book of Memories is simple: you play a young man or woman who is having a rough go of things as of late. On your birthday you receive a mysterious book from Silent Hill, in which all of your memories are written down. As you enter a dream-like state, you are able to travel through the dark, twisted world of Silent Hill, and your actions may physically change history. Of course no decision comes without consequences, be it light or dark.
In each zone your actions have seemingly immediate effect on the real world, in addition to “memory” rooms, which contain a scene from a painful memory in your past. You must act, though it is not apparently clear what the “light” or “dark” options are, and this actually adds an interesting layer to the gameplay. For instance, in an early encounter, you discover a crying child in a room. Chasing the child around the room gives you dark points, where as merely leaving the child alone gives you light points.
Throughout each level you find notes and audio recordings which show your progress on the real world. There is a nice psychological element at play here as what may be good for you and your fate may be detrimental to others. The best way to describe it is very Silent Hill-esque.
My friend baseball bat
The gameplay of Silent Hill: Book of Memories is fairly simple. Each new level is comprised of a series of rooms, connected by hallways, which you must explore to find puzzle pieces to solve a puzzle that allows you to progress to the next level. At the beginning of a level, the lord of the domain gives you a particular challenge for each level, which can be completed in addition to any memory rooms and puzzle challenges for additional rewards. Puzzle challenges consist of blue orbs that appear in various rooms throughout the level. Breaking the orb causes a series of enemies to spawn, which you must kill to receive a puzzle piece. Enemies are a who’s-who list of iconic Silent Hill baddies, with the nurses and double-headed dogs taking center stage.
There is a lot of emphasis on combat in the game, with square and triangle acting as your primary attacks (you can dual-wield or swing a two-handed weapon), and you are able to purchase attack upgrades. The combat is inherently simple and not the most satisfying, but WayForward has actually done a nice job with weapon durability. Weapons will deteriorate over time, though wrenches are purchasable or hidden throughout the level to fix your weapons. These are not in plentiful supply, meaning if you have a weapon of which you are fond, you’ll want to use it responsibly. Health packs and ammo are also fairly scarce, and it behooves you to purchase backpack upgrades often to stockpile as many of these as possible.
All of this means that despite the game not being scary or even unnerving, it does try to instill as much of a survival instinct as possible. While low-grade weapons (meat cleavers, wood planks, etc.) are often in supply, guns and heavier hitters are not always easy to come by. Personally, I carried around the same baseball bat and shotgun for nearly 4 levels, continually repairing them with tender loving care.
Making your mark
As mentioned, this is, at every level, an RPG offering. You begin by creating a male or female character, selecting from laughable stereotyped options (goth, jock, bookworm, etc). Throughout the game you can collect additional clothing items which, despite their cheesy appearance, I have to admit is something I enjoyed because I’m that girl. As you play and level you are able to improve the standard Str, Agi, Dex and Int skills, making you more durable or faster on your feet.
It’s the type of gameplay that should seem anathema to a Silent Hill game and yet, surprisingly, it works. This game may be the first offering to question whether or not the Silent Hill universe has enough meat on its bones to branch out to different genres. At the heart of every SH game is the town itself, and the mysterious forces at work within that town. Before, we’ve always seen the machinations at work in a specific story. Having an effect on not only our own story, but others’, too? It’s an interesting concept.
The game is far from perfect or even great. If you’re looking for a traditional Silent Hill experience, you’re not going to find it here. Heck, if you’re looking for a solid RPG experience, you’re not going to find it here, either. The gameplay is enjoyable though repetitive and despite the interesting monkey’s paw aspect to your decisions, there is little sense of the overall picture. For instance, you are given missions at the start of each level, such as killing mutated monsters or a serial killer, but again, you’re wondering what the point is.
Some of the touch controls are a little sluggish, especially when trying to access anything in your inventory mid-combat. So often tapping a health kit or ammo pack results in your backpack closing, despite clearing touching the correct icon. Also, some menus switch between touch and D-pad controls, making them clunky.
Also, I think voice work and music deserve special mention here. Female characters sound like extras from hentai mid-combat, and the music gets repetitive very quickly.
Despite its rocky development cycle and a concept that sounds utterly out of place within the Silent Hill universe, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is not a terrible game. It’s not a great game, but it’s enjoyable enough to pass the time and marked one of the lengthiest playtimes I’ve had on my Vita since I purchased it. Die-hard Silent Hill fans should appreciate the concepts at play here, including the idea that the world is open to more than just hackneyed horror. Heck, I’d argue this game is more successful as a title than Downpour. There’s a lot of game for the money, though in a fall season stocked full of promising Vita titles (Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, Persona 4 Golden, etc.), Silent Hill: Book of Memories may be doomed to being a largely overlooked experiment.
- Release Date: October 16, 2012
- Genre: Horror RPG
- Platform: Playstation Vita
- Developer: WayForward
- Publisher: Konami
- ESRB Rating: Mature
- MSRP: $39.99