After doing a lot of reviews for zombie games, I figured it’s time to break out of my comfort zone and focus on something a little bit different. Being a fan of survival horror, though, I didn’t manage to get very far out, and so instead I bring you a review on yet another survival horror title. At least this time it has little to do with zombies, given the world it is set in: The world of Silent Hill.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a Vita exclusive spinoff that has no canonical connection to the rest of the series and abandons its survival psychological-horror roots in favor of a somewhat humorous Action RPG title the likes of Diablo, Torchlight, or Path of Exile.
Welcome to Silent Hill: Book of Memories, a WayForward Technologies dungeon crawler. Being a spinoff of the famous horror franchise, Book of Memories isn’t bound by the same rules in terms of gameplay, or in this case even genre. Silent Hill isn’t exactly a survival psychological horror game this time around, but is instead an ARPG featuring environments, lore, and monsters ripped straight from the main game, including the Bogeyman from Silent Hill: Downpour, and of course (like any good Silent Hill spinoff), Pyramid Head. It’s enough to make any fan of Silent Hill burst into a fit of rage. But is it really as horrible as it sounds?
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. The first impressions to Book of Memories are terrible. The story sounds as if it was written by a fanfiction writer, and while it isn’t anywhere near as bad as Dissidia, it’s still way below the level of imagination that Silent Hill is known for, and this is pretty evident not only in the fact that all the monsters are pulled straight from past Silent Hill games, but the story’s intro already ticks all the checkboxes for a cliche story.
- Player character is a typical school—goer living alone? Check.
- Creepy things begin to happen on the player character’s birthday? Check.
- All the mysterious scary stuff happens thanks to the power of a mysterious, magical book? Check.
NotGoodForYou visits a shop in the hellish dream world and speaks to the merchant about the book he received from him.
And like any good Silent Hill game, there are multiple endings, including a joke ending, all which depend on choices you make in game. That would probably be the game’s story’s one redeeming feature, had it not been so incredibly confusing. According to the increasingly vague tutorial provided to the player, certain actions determine whether your character becomes a good guy, a neutral guy, or an evil guy, and thus influencing the ending accordingly. That’s it. “Certain actions.” There is no explanation offered to the player after that, in the game or even online (the community debated what really causes the morality meter to shift long after it was released), and as it stands, which ending you receive is thus effectively random.
For an example on how dubious the system is, on my first playthrough I tried to be a saint. I equipped only “holy” items (or items which could be classified as such in some obscure reasoning), only attacking monsters of the “blood” affinity (I’ll get to that later) and doing “Good Samaritan” deeds in the game’s Forsaken Rooms, surreal locations in the game which presents you a vague image in which you have to decide what the right thing to do is (thankfully, by the end of the ordeal the game outright tells you whether you were good, evil, or neutral in said puzzle rooms). Yet even with all that, somehow I ended up getting the “decent” ending by the end of the game, a tier lower than a “perfect” ending that you can receive upon doing all the right actions. Following that playthrough, I did the opposite: I fought the “light” aligned creatures and tended to be the bad guy from beginning to end, but received the “neutral” ending by the time it was over. In short, I have no idea how this system works. It’s a lot less binary than the choices you get to make in previous games, and frankly that just makes it more confusing in the end, rather than making it deeper.
Clearly, the story isn’t the best part, which is practically blasphemous when it comes to a title like Silent Hill, which never had praises sung for its gameplay.
The graphics at least are very, very good. There are lots of details going on at any given time, whether you’re in the main menu which shows you your characters room, or in any one of the many dungeon types you get to explore. The dungeon room’s details start to get really repetitive later on, as it uses a crude dungeon generation formula and often causes you to walk into identical rooms which span over entire dungeon types. However, the lighting is fantastic, the models are crisp, and the textures are really well done and moody.
Customization options aren’t very deep, but it does give you enough to stand out from at least the other three players in the multiplayer.
Like most dungeon crawlers, The entire game is presented in an isometric perspective, with the exception being the aforementioned Forsaken Rooms, which uses a fixed camera system. It gives a good look at what’s happening around you at all times, and with enemies swarming you it’s sort of a good thing, but I cannot help but wish for a fixed camera style as a sort of tribute to the old games. It may have been one of the key factors to really sell it as part of a Silent Hill experience.
Unfortunately, loading screens are dreadfully long. Sometimes lasting up to a full two minutes, though almost consistently over thirty seconds, and it seems like a really long wait for the graphics we receive, crisp and sharp as they may be while in game. Compare that to titles like Sou Sacrifice, or even Killzone: Mercenary, the latter of which has roughly the same loading times, and has about thrice as much detail, and you’ll be wondering why they haven’t at least included some sort of minigame to go along with it.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories again gives a weird first impression on the gameplay side of things. When you first make a character you’re given a choice between several blank charms which are supposed to give your character some extra stats. But none of these charms ever actually tell you what stats they give until after your character is created.
So this part is largely a guessing game, or you can create a new character until you find the perk you like. Or, of course, you can look that up online.
Thankfully, shortly after that, Book of Memories is a very easy to understand affair. And once you get the hang of it, it can get really, really fun.
Combat is really interesting in Silent Hill: Book of Memories. It makes sense that combat would be the focal point of an ARPG game, but even so, Book of Memories’ combat system couldn’t be more different than most ARPGs out there. For one thing, there’s very little “clicking” involved and waiting to whittle down the health of your foes. Instead, it has a lot more to do with actual dodging and timing. But I’ll get to that after explaining the weapon system.
Your character will have a small variety of weapons. Instead of having randomly generated values for your loot, weapons scattered around the environment will always have a fixed stats value, and while the game does not outright tell you what they are, it’s incredibly easy to get a feel for it. Among weapons like firearms and flamethrowers, there are also a number of melee weapons which really bring out the meat of the combat. Blunt objects are very hard to break, but they have a slow swing. Knives have the fastest attack and the most leniency when it comes to chaining combos. The rarest weapons, like the Pyramid Head’s Great Knife, have the most powerful swings, range, and damage output, but they do not have the ability to chain combos to use the “Execution” attack.
The Execution attack is a very interesting aspect to the combat: after chaining an attack five times with perfect (or in the knife’s case, decent) timing, you have the brief opportunity to press X for an “Execution” attack. This attack is potentially a one-hit kill move that causes your enemy to bleed all over the map (and I’ll explain why that actually has gameplay relevance later). Five perfectly executed timed hits seems like it’s easy for most gamers, but every weapon has dynamic swing times, meaning you’ll have to press the attack button at different points to continue your combo chain, and in addition, the A.I. is incredibly aggressive. You’ll almost never really have the opportunity to pull off the execution move, so you’ll find yourself torn between choosing to execute your foes in a single blow, or play it safe and hope for the best. Either way, both decisions have an equal chance of ending badly, no matter how good you are at either particular play style, and finding out how to use both play styles simultaneously is paramount to success in combat.
There are two types of each monster in Book of Memories: Blood and Light. Neither of their affinities has any effect against the player in combat, although depending on which one you kill, that will influence your blood alignment bar respectively. Blood monsters will drop “light” blood, and Light monsters will drop regular blood, hence why enemies bleeding during execution was such a big deal. Collecting these will shift your “alignment” meter either towards the Blood or Light side of the meter, which will give you access to powerful spells.
There are three spells for each tier in Book of Memories, the first being a focused attack, where you press a single finger on the back touchscreen to select an enemy for a continuous attack. Then there’s the stream attack, which you press two fingers on different ends of the back touch screen to attack all enemies between your fingers. The further apart they are, the less damage they deal, but the more enemies could be affected at once.
Finally, there’s the third tier, a circular attack which actually relies on only one finger again. This time, you select a point with the back touchpad and then drag outwards to increase the radius of the attack. Again, depending on the size of the circle, you will choose either between dealing more damage to enemies or damaging more enemies at a time.
The third blood spell, killing everything within the circle except the players.
Using either of these abilities will slowly bring you back to the center, the non-existent Neutral alignment. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, when we get a look at the...
One of the most frustrating experiences and best aspects of this game are traps. They come in all shapes and sizes, from a trap which deals damage, to a “poison” trap which temporarily reduces your character’s health to a single hit point (and boy, does it suck!), even a trap which could give enemies temporarily invulnerability (and you, too!), but in relation to the alignment from earlier, there are also traps that can either hurt you or heal you depending on whether you side with the Blood or Light alignment. This is actually pretty cool because it can be key to your survival in later levels, where a healing opportunity is about as rare as Pyramid Head’s Great Knife as a lootable weapon (and that’s exceedingly rare). Often times I find myself on a single medkit which I realize I’m going to need later, so I backtrack a couple rooms to find a blood trap to heal my evil character, or a light trap to heal my good one. Hence the advantage of the Neutral alignment, because of the ease with which you alternate between the two other alignments. See, you can never actually be neutral. Rather, you can be slightly Blood or slightly Light bound, so switching between the two is a cinch for when you need it.
You’re looking quite... sharp! Hahahaha, hahaha... ha... oh.
Traps are a double-edged sword. They’re designed to kill you, but they have equal effects on the monsters around them, and if you’re smart, you’ll find a way to lure them into the same traps designed to kill you. Remember the poison trap that reduces your health to one health point very briefly? Yeah, it works on those mini-bosses as well! However, while the enemy A.I. is quite simple, they aren’t stupid. When they start to approach you, they will actually walk around these traps to get to you. Luckily, you can actually push them into such traps using...
Which is another feature this game puts a unique spin on. Magic in this game is a tad different from the alignment, because there’s no actual meter to satisfy. Instead, magic is handled in the form of orbs, which are automatically filled upon killing enemies of either affinity, of any type. There’s no mana potion or anything of the sort, so much like everything else in the game it’s essential to know when to use these techniques, because if you get carried away, you will not have a spell when you especially need it. There’s no spell such as throwing fireballs or ice blades at your enemies, but instead they’re a lot more practical; things like creating a blinding flash to stun your enemies or a gust of wind to blow back your foes, or even the ability to revive an ally by sacrificing your own health and a 360 degree spin attack with your weapon which damages everybody but your teammates around you. Weirdly, none of these spells felt overpowered in any way. They seemed like a necessity, in fact. When fighting against needlers in groups, for example, I wasn’t able to dish out enough damage through their metallic legs unless I were to somehow manage to get behind them by stunning them or use the “force push” ability to knock them to the ground and get an opening to hit them. Likewise, sometimes you just get overwhelmed by the number of weak enemies, making it nigh impossible to take on them all with a single melee weapon, even the Great Knife, without either resorting to limited firearms or using the spin attack spell.
Even with powerful magic and alignment spells at my disposal, Book of Memories always managed to keep me on my toes, in ways only a survival horror game can. And the survival horror influence doesn’t end there.
One of the biggest departures from the ARPG scene in Book of Memories is the survival mechanics. Not those you see in games like DayZ or Rust where you have to keep your character fed or not thirsty, but those mechanics like in Silent Hill and the old school Resident Evil, where you had to keep your inventory managed, up to date, and in use at the right time. Your weapons are all extremely limited, requiring repairs after almost every encounter, forcing you to resort to disposable weapons and save the big ones for when you really need them, which is very often. Remember when I said this game was loot-driven? Well it’s loot-driven in the survival horror sense, not the ARPG kind, as you’ll scramble to find any weapons you can get your hands on and tuck them away for a rainy day. You have to keep tabs on your medkit for your survival, because they are exceedingly rare, especially on later levels, and you have to be sure to upgrade your inventory through the course of the story a la Resident Evil 4 (though the inventory system is just a bunch of slots as seen in Resident Evil 5) or you’re never going to be well equipped going into battle, which is essential for completing each level.
You’re also going to need your inventory upgraded sooner than you might think; initially when you start the game, you don’t have an inventory slot, so you can only carry what’s in your hands and hope that’s all you’re going to need, but it doesn’t take too long for you to obtain longer ones through the in-game’s shop. Despite being an ARPG by definition, Book of Memories tries as hard as possible to keep to the series’ survival horror origins in terms of gameplay, and it does so surprisingly well. Sometimes, I was actually genuinely scared, but in a mentally disturbing game like Silent Hill, probably for the wrong reasons. The fear comes from not knowing if you are prepared for what’s to come around the corner, not from trying to decipher what the hell is going on. It’s really more Resident Evil in its fear factor than Silent Hill, which is quite a miss, but given that Silent Hill: Book of Memories hopped across an entire genre it’s really easier to forgive than you might think.
The extra space you get by the end of the game is still dreadfully limited.
Also like the survival horror experience, every now and then you get presented with a puzzle, but these are pretty weak. You collect artifacts from finishing challenges in the dungeon and then go to the final door, where you have to place them in some particular order, hinted at you in the form of some free-verse poem. The idea here is randomly generated puzzles, given that everything else is randomly generated, although WayForward may have benefited from adding real puzzles and reserving the randomly generated ones for after the first playthrough.
And here I thought we were playing chess.
Sadly, the multiplayer is probably the game’s worst feature. Nothing is inherently wrong with the multiplayer in itself, but its execution given the Vita’s standing on release made it virtually nonexistent, and this is a particularly bad thing given how much it was touted as being the first in the franchise to include such a thing. You see, there is no drop-in co-op, and given how few people purchased a Vita at the time and how even less people were excited about getting into the game by launch, that was indeed a bad move by a long shot. Multiplayer lobbies are almost consistently empty, and you can wait for hours on end before a player bothers to check if there’s any servers available.
On the rare occasion that multiplayer matches begin, however, it can be quite good. There are a number of voice commands at your disposal on the D-Pad, some there just for the sake of humor, others to discuss tactics to other players, like which alignment each player was hoping to go for. And it’s always fun to get together with a friend while you crawl through random dungeons together. If only the drop-in co-op existed to make things a lot easier for extended play.
Hey, look! It’s Sailor Moon!
In the end, Silent Hill: Book of Memories could have seriously benefited from not being called Silent Hill, and not because of its departure from the rest of the series, but because of the limitations and expectations it imposes on the title. It tried too hard to be a spinoff, including monsters from the Silent Hill universe left and right and references galore, never having enough leg-room to really introduce its own monsters and lore. However, Book of Memories is definitely one of the more interesting ARPGs on the market, fusing ARPG and survival horror gameplay perfectly, and it is a lot of fun to play long after you’ve beaten the game, as long as you don’t mind a little repetition. It won’t appeal to hardcore fans of survival horror, it won’t appeal to fans of ARPGs, but if you’re a fan of both, then Silent Hill: Book of Memories definitely delivers on that front in spades, and definitely worth at least a rent or trying it out just to see some fresh ideas in action. Hopefully WayForward will take what they learned from Book of Memories and give it another go, this time with a bit more influence from Silent Hill where it matters, such as the tone, grim world, and intriguingly disturbing stories, and less influence from the series where it doesn’t. Like more Pyramid Heads.