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Review: Silent Hill: Book of MemoriesSilent Hill Vita PS dungeon crawler horror WayForward Konami
Developer: WayFoward Technologies
Release Date: October 16, 2012
ESRB: M for Mature
When Silent Hill: Book of Memories was announced as being a multiplayer-focused dungeon crawler, fans couldn’t handle it. Many longtime lovers of the Silent Hill series complained that the choices put into the Vita title would ruin any shot at the game being a part of the series. Some of this opposition even got into the minds of non-fans, who then were less excited to give it a shot. All of this was said long before anyone was playing the game though.
Now that Book of Memories is finally out, everyone can finally form an opinion on it. Were fans’ worries on the mark or were they taking this spin-off too seriously?
First off, one must go into this game knowing that it is a huge departure from the more established world of Silent Hill on consoles. It is obviously a spin-off, but it is so far from the series that it could almost be considered a new game. There are ways that it is brought back to the town of Silent Hill, but for the most part you will see little of that franchise in how the game controls. In regards to looks though, there are many similarities. These things do not cause any issue for the game as they work well together.
When starting up the game you’ll be greeted with a slightly hammy story about a young adult who is visited by a mailman. This mailman (straight out of Silent Hill: Downpour) brings you a book, says a few odd remarks, then leaves. Your character, which is designed with simple customization tools, looks through the tome and discovers that their entire life has been detailed in it. For no real reason other than curiosity, they then decide to edit the book and change fate. With that, every time they sleep they enter a horrific dream world where gameplay takes place.
Once in these randomly-generated dungeon worlds you are on your own (well, in single player). Silent Hill 3’s Valtiel greets you and assigns a task. Although finishing his quests are not required, they will cause him to reward you. Unless you’re in a huge rush, though, you will often achieve the goal by simply wandering around. Each dungeon has a few standby features such as special challenge rooms, one save, shop, locked doors, and a puzzle at the end. It might already be sounding somewhat Silent Hill-like, but what really seals the deal is the visuals.
Main enemies in the game are drawn straight from throughout the series. Nurses are among the first you encounter, but so too are gaggles of other enemy types. If fans aren’t pushed away by the cross pollution of characters, then they may in fact enjoy seeing them all together. The dungeons themselves are also designed with distinct Silent Hill flair. Backdrops are often dark, grated, rusty, and all around depressing. No one would confuse Book of Memories with a Diablo or Torchlight game.
Beyond the visuals, the game takes on a very new identity. Gameplay is just like one would expect from a dungeon crawler. From your isometric perspective you wander from room to room, collecting weapons, ammo, or notes, and try to find the end. Along the way you will come across enemies in most rooms as well as stronger enemies scattered throughout. Fighting is accomplished by simply swinging or firing a weapon and doing best to not get hit back. Players can either dodge or block to lessen damage, but this becomes tough to do if enemies corner you. Weapons themselves sometimes fall from enemies or are found in drawers and the environment.
Gameplay is very challenging. It takes a little bit to get a feel for how to best fight enemy types, but even after that you’ll still see that it is hard to proceed quickly. This is because characters are also required to level up their skills (and weapons). Fighting enemies loitering in rooms is often cumbersome, but it is the only way to rise up the ranks. If you aren’t properly leveled, you won’t be able to proceed too many stages ahead. Although you aren’t required to grind, it often becomes the best tactic for continued smooth progress throughout the game.
Grinding in and of itself is no issue but becomes a chore after a while. This is true of many other titles as well, but especially so here when rooms are so tiny and weapons break. Although breakable weapons are certainly a modern feature of Silent Hill games, it is an especially unhelpful addition here. At the start, and even after leveling up your backpack, there are only a few spaces to store items. There are a fair amount of weapons to find from level to level, but often you’re going to want to keep stronger things with you. Thankfully, there is an item which repairs weapons but you can only carry so many of these at a time as well (upgrades when backpack is upgraded). It is tough to fight through hordes of enemies while keeping a grip on your favorite weapons without them breaking. If there were a few more slots opened up early on then it would be less of a problem.
Another feature that causes grinding to be a bit rough is Karma. All throughout play, there is a Karma meter at the top of the screen which shows if you are aligning toward a dark or light path. It doesn’t make much sense, as you can get either path by killing enemies, but it does serve a purpose. When enemies die, they will have a pool of blood where they once stood. This blood is either red or white, and when you run over it, you collect it. In this way, you can choose to collect only red or white to boost your Karma in either direction. Doing so will affect notes that are scattered around as well as push towards one of the game’s multiple endings.
What are these notes I’ve mentioned a few times? They are a part of the game that seem to harken back best to the world of Silent Hill. Each level has its own series of notes scattered around the world which tell little interpersonal stories between people. They aren’t very important to the gameplay at hand, but give you glimpses into troubles others are facing. When notes are red, it means that they are showing off a darker side of the story, while white provides more peaceful resolutions. There was no need to have this addition in the game but the fact that it is shows that WayForward was looking for some way to please fans. It’s a nice attempt, as is how the Karma will change up a few things.
At the end of every dungeon is a puzzle. In order to operate the puzzles, though, you must go through and find all the parts necessary for it. As you will be tending to clear out dungeons for leveling, finding these objects is rarely a challenge. That doesn’t mean they are perfect puzzles either. The main issue with the end of level puzzles is that they are all highly similar. You may find a puzzle clue in the level earlier, but they all will say a handful of hints, depending on the puzzle.
Obviously this is done because there are many levels possible and randomizing puzzles means you can only offer so many hints and puzzle types. Fans will balk at these puzzles because they are incredibly easy once you understand what each hint means. On that same note, other players may find it annoying because they can’t understand what a more obscure clue means. Either way, once a puzzle is solved, they may proceed onward.
Every few levels there will be a boss fight. These certainly aren’t unknown to the franchise and bring a bit more creativity to the game. At these points, you'll be forced to fight against wholly new creatures which are pretty big and tough. Once they have been defeated, you’ll get a strong (and pricey) weapon as well as a note. Sometimes, after grabbing a note you’ll be unable to grab the weapon, so make sure to always grab the item first. Grinding through levels with a boss at the end are a good idea as you are able to sell off the strong weapons for a lot of money afterward.
However, much of the game seems entirely lonely and cumbersome in single player. Taking the game online for a 2-4 player co-op session really is the preferred way to play Book of Memories. Once in a game with another player, you are free to do whatever, but for the most fun it is best to explore together rather than running off separately. You may collaborate with other members by using in-game voice prompts or simply speak into the Vita speaker for others to hear. In the case of a game like this, the microphone feature is integral so it’s great to see it used. Once working together, teams can blaze through levels much easier.
One issue with multiplayer is that objects do not remain for both players. That means you’ll probably have many teammates who, upon entering a room, will dash off to open all drawers to loot them. This leaves little weaponry, health, and the like for others. The same can be said for notes, which disappear after being read by one person. Puzzles can also only be solved by one person at a time but that’s a good thing since otherwise it would be chaotic. Also of note, only the player hosting an online game will have progress registered upon completing new levels. However, everyone will retain their leveled up stats and weapons once heading offline. Still, multiplayer is the place to be if you can find a game to join.
The key word in that statement is “if”. There were a handful of online games during the week of release, but since then they have leveled off quite a bit. The likelihood now of stumbling into a game is much tougher. I routinely checked daily and found that no one was around. This doesn’t mean that no one is playing online though. There are small groups that have formed to play together, but good luck getting into them now. The hope is that after a while more people will have the game and therefore there will be more chances at playing online with others. At the very least, if you have a friend with the game, you know they will be around for some online dungeon crawling.
Finally, there must be some discussion of the game’s other Vita functions. One of the best implementations comes in use with special attacks. Players can use these once they have enough good or bad Karma and they are triggered with the rear touch pad. It’s easy to do because it is out of the way and your fingers are there anyway. More troubling is the use of the front touch pad. In order to use items in your inventory or pick up weapons, the front touch screen must be used.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that you often won’t have the time to carefully plan out your touch. During battles with lots of enemies, you may want to quickly use some health. However, many times it will end up that your touch slightly misses the health. Fearing death, players might hammer around with their thumbs a bit more, using two or three health in rapid succession instead. The touch area is small and it’s not intuitive enough to force players to use.
When it comes right down to it, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is mostly an average, forgettable experience in single player. It may have all the dressings of a Silent Hill game, but that in no way makes the game more compelling. The best the game has to offer is a multiplayer mode that becomes fun due to difficulty being more manageable. Good multiplayer games also foster a kinship between the other players who are willing to share items and protect each other. Without such a mode, though, it feels like the game is missing something over a very long experience. Your best bet is to pick this game up if you love dungeon crawlers and have a buddy or two who are willing to explore by your side.
+ Multiplayer with a helpful team is quite enjoyable
+ Enemies pulled from the series are fun to see all together
+ Strong weapons to be found to destroy everything in your path
- Limited inventory + breakable weapons is not a fun combo
- “Silent Hill” connection is mostly aesthetic
- Gameplay is not varied, nor are level puzzles
Overall Score: 6.5 (Out of 10)
Despite initial fears, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is at its most fun when exploring dungeons with others.
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