Silent Hill: Book Of Memories review: Experiments in dungeon crawling

Silent Hill Book of Memories reviewSilent Hill: Book Of Memories is an odd game. Not in the traditional way that a Silent Hill game is supposed to be odd either. I expect men with geometrically-pleasing heads and unrealistically large knives in Silent Hill titles, much as I expect turtles in a Mario Bros. game. What I don’t expect however, is an entirely new gameplay system.

Instead of the traditional third-person creeping punctuated with brief moments of horrific violence that we’ve come to expect from Konami’s flagship horror franchise, Book Of Memories is a dungeon crawl. Imagine a slower version of Diablo with even more nightmarish enemies and a notable undercurrent of psychological horror, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect in Book Of Memories.

Normally that might sound appealing on its own, but in this context it’s a very jarring shift. However, that’s not the biggest problem with Book Of Memories, and even those for whom dungeon crawlers are catnip should think hard before grabbing this game.

Not Your Daddy’s Survival Horror

Changes to the Silent Hill formula are apparent from the moment you start the game. After you’ve clicked through the suitably eerie title screen and sat through the game’s interminably long load times, you’ll be prompted to create a character. Normally Silent Hill games relish dropping players into the shoes of a psychologically damaged, well-defined protagonist, but in this case you’re free to select from styles like “Rocker,” “Goth” and “Jock” in your efforts to create your perfect Silent Hill avatar. If you’re curious whether this change inhibits the game’s ability to connect players with the strife of a game’s given protagonist, yes. Yes it does. At least when compared to past Silent Hill games.

Silent Hill: Book Of Memories

Once you’ve finished polishing your virtual self, you’re tasked with tapping one of the icons the game presents you with. There’s no context for what these icons do, nor any reason to suspect that you should tap the screen. The game has a habit of expecting players to know ahead of time when they should be using the touchscreen, but once you know this fact you realize that at any time you find yourself stuck, you may as well try touching stuff on the game’s screen. Book Of Memories gives little in the way of in-play instructions, so blindly tapping at things is how I discovered that my character can pick up items, for instance.

Which brings up a good point: While some dead monsters leave behind glowing treasure chests that can be pillaged for items and cash, for the most part you’ll only discover new stuff (especially stuff that’s relevant to the game’s relatively meager plot) by walking right up to it and noticing a small notification bubble appear on screen. Problematically, if you’re walking quickly these bubbles may only appear for half a second, forcing characters to repeatedly walk back and forth over the same area before finally discovering the proper location. Then, without any warning, players must tap the screen to pick up their new-found goodie.

Gameplay-wise Book Of Memories is a standard dungeon crawl with Silent Hill decorations. There’s just no way around it. Instead of cowering from monsters and conserving ammo, talented players are able to straight up punch their demonic foes to death. Silent Hill players wouldn’t expect this to be a sound strategy, but since the game also includes a surprisingly useful block button and features a 3/4 overhead perspective ideal for rapidly moving away from foes, combat in Book Of Memories is almost simple action game fare.

Silent Hill: Book Of Memories

While this whole concept still seems odd, I will grant that developer WayForward made a good decision in not giving characters a traditional “level up” system. No matter how far you get into Book Of Memories, your character will remain rather fragile. New weapons and items might make him or her less likely to die in a fight, but your avatar will never become too powerful for any one creature to kill in pretty short order. 

Memories Of The Past

Despite the massive shift in gameplay style, Book Of Memories isn’t entirely lacking in the sorts of things that Silent Hill fans crave (read: lots of gore and unsettling themes). As you’re wandering through the various rooms of this game — which, when taken as a whole bear a passing, thematic similarity to the rooms seen in Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night — you might stumble upon a creepy little girl. This girl will most likely have a task for you (most other dungeon crawls would call this a “quest”) and you’re free to take it on or ignore it. Most often these tasks will be gruesome or expose some new facet of the horror your character is involved in, so while they don’t seem to have any true effect on the game’s plot, they’re still intriguing diversions.

The game’s enemies are all either returning Silent Hill beasts or brand new creations that do an excellent job of mimicking the series’ horrors to date. Likewise, the design of the areas in Book Of Memories faithfully depicts the franchise’s dark horror themes. Lastly, with characters lacking any real way to improve their vitality, Book Of Memories maintains the Silent Hill series’ tradition of forcing players to constantly keep track of how low their health has become.

Still, Book Of Memories is a drastic departure from its predecessors and it just doesn’t really fit with Silent Hill as a whole. When your view of a character is from ten feet above his or her head and taking out the next enemy is as easy as throwing a couple punches, dodging, then swinging a broken board, it’s very difficult to feel any sense of fear or tension. It also doesn’t help that Book Of Memories is the least plot-reliant Silent Hill game in memory, a fact that is highlighted by those who choose to play through Book Of Memories with a group of pals via the game’s multiplayer functionality. Rushing through a Silent Hill game with three friends and guns blazing removes a lot of the horror you might expect to find.

Silent Hill: Book Of Memories

Conclusion

While it may not be what most Silent Hill fans are looking for, Book Of Memories is a relatively solid dungeon crawl. Given my affection for WayForward (the developer behind the awesome Contra 4) I wish I could say that this might attract new players to the series, but Book Of Memories is also plagued with a number of minor gameplay issues; too many to recommend it based purely on gameplay. I understand what WayForward was going for here, but in a world where Diablo, Borderlands and Torchlight all exist, Book Of Memories comes up way short.

Whether you want deep psychological horror or a deep dungeon crawl, Book Of Memories is far from your best option. It’s not that it’s necessarily bad, it’s just so bland and average that this game hardly bears mentioning.

Score: 5/10

(This game was reviewed using a PS Vita copy provided by Konami.)

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