After receiving months of flack for no good reason, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is finally out. I made sure I got it on the first day it was out, pretty much just to spite the thousands of people who hated it before it even really existed. Sure, it was a weird idea to make a Silent Hill game that played like Diablo, but what’s the harm in experimenting? Konami doesn’t have a clue what to do with the series, so why not let someone play around with the setting and see if anything cool came of it? I was excited to see what Wayforward would do with the setting given how much care they’ve shown to other series’ I have enjoyed. I’m also dying to play a Silent Hill game that would let me really explore the town, one that would let me delve into the urban legends and myths that have made the place so compelling.
But this game doesn’t do that, nor does it do much of anything else that I liked.
Calling Silent Hill: Book of Memories a Diablo clone set in the Silent Hill is a pretty apt way of putting it. I would have been happy with some form of loot crawler that took place in a fantastic horror setting, but this game pulled a few too many things from Diablo when it was being put together. I can see how Wayforward might have thought it was a good idea, but it’s in keeping far too close to the source material its cribbing that the game ruins itself.
Like I said, I’m not opposed to a loot-filled dungeon crawler set in Silent Hill. I think it would have had a lot of promise if it had been played smart, too. There are a lot of odd tidbits of throwaway information in the series, and exploring them (along with the weird city itself) could have made for some compelling gameplay. One of the things I really liked about Silent Hill: Downpour was the fact that the city felt open to exploration more than it had before. I could poke around in places beyond the main stages and find secret hideaways that held even more grim discoveries. I could touch on other people’s stories as they passed through the town and get an idea of the scope of the misery contained in Silent Hill. I thought that this game had a chance to let me really walk around and immerse myself in the setting.
Instead, the cool setting got dumbed down in favor of being able to randomly generate the dungeons. Yes, the game does run through a good selection of places that have a similar feel to previous Silent Hill games, but they’re all put together in a mish-mash. There’s no order or logic to them that makes them feel like a place, and not in the way that previous games have done it. In the best Silent Hill games the environment has stayed similar to reality, but was skewed to be confusing and disorienting. It was consciously built that way on purpose. In Silent Hill: Book of Memories, the rooms are put together at random just so the dungeons aren’t the same each time. That works to keep Diablo interesting, but it removes one of the parts that gave Silent Hill games their personality.
The random dungeons aren’t even put together well, either. In Diablo you have a hub world to do your shopping in, but this game just assigns the shops to another random tile in the dungeon. So, if you use up all of your healing items while fighting the boss in one area, you’d better hope that the shop appears soon in the next level. If your luck is like mine, you’ll be stuck going back to a previous level to collect more health packs before you can move on to the next area.
What’s also fun is when you find the shop right at the start of the level, only to be low on health packs after you’ve progressed really far. Instead of building dungeons in such a way that you can find routes that loop back into the start of the area, the game tends to build them in linear routes that make for long walks if you want to go back for something. The room might be quite close on the in-game map, but the route you have to take to go back involves a five minute walk both ways. That fact alone has made me take risks that have gotten me killed rather than have to waste a good ten minutes of my precious playtime walking through empty rooms.
There’s a similar problem with save points, as they’re also a room that gets assigned at random. The game does save your progress at the start of each area, but these levels can get pretty long before you’re finished. I’ve frequently wasted a half hour to an hour on one level, getting killed by something before I could find a save point. Those same save points were also usually a good walk away thanks to the poor map planning, so again I took risks with them just to save myself a long walk. It all could have been fixed with a few planned shortcuts put into each dungeon as you moved further into it, but I guess that wasn’t in the cards.
Any attempt to make the game’s maps more streamlined would have helped the most to deal with your extremely limited inventory. Yes, you can upgrade the piddly inventory that you start the game with, but it still doesn’t let you carry much more than a few health packs, tools, ammo, and weapons. You always have to leave stuff behind because there’s just no room for it in your backpack; and by the time you need it, it’s a long way back to get the stuff. Again, I usually just left it behind only to find that I desperately needed it a few rooms later. It also makes collecting stuff to sell to the shop pretty much impossible, so don’t expect to make much extra cash.
That might not have even bothered me that much if it weren’t for stupid, stupid weapon degradation. I hate this worse than quick time events and unskippable cutscenes combined, but once again I have to deal with it. I started the game with a character that increased weapon durability and I still found whatever I was using would break within two or three rooms. Even some of the special weapons you acquire for doing busywork in the levels break just as fast, and if you aren’t quick with a tool to fix them then they’re gone for good. Have fun getting stuck in a room filled with creatures and only your fists. Sure, you can stuff some nearly-broken items into your inventory if you paid for the upgrade, but you’ll automatically switch to it when your first weapon breaks. Try not to ruin both by accident!
That’s also assuming that you can actually use the tools during combat, too. Since the game is on the Vita, apparently the developers felt it would be nice to use the touch screen to use your tools in the game. The problem with that using the touch screen buttons requires you to take your fingers away from your attacking and blocking buttons. That’s fine at some slow points, but it’s an absolute disaster during combat. If you have to use a healing potion, you will take at least one hit during the time it takes you to locate the small button, hit it, and bring your finger back to your attack/defense buttons. This alone takes the combat and wrecks it.
I wish it hadn’t because the combat is pretty decent. It’s got a lot less brains than Diablo; playing more like an isometric brawler with a few bells and whistles. You have melee weapons for the most part and a few ranged guns; all matched up with a good targeting system that will also help move your character toward the target if using melee. You have a dodge function that also blocks depending on context, and that same block can be used to knock an enemy back if timed correctly. It’s got a big window to use it in, too, as I often found myself using it by accident before I got comfortable with it. It all gels into a nice combat system that works well.
There’s an added thing going on in the background of combat as well. There’s a meter that shifts back and forth depending on the blood you collect from fallen creatures. You can collect white or red, and it shifts the meter accordingly. This is because monsters have been divided into sort of good/evil types (well, evil/more evil, maybe) and you can do more damage against the opposing type by filling the meter a certain way. There’s moves in the game that flip enemy alignments and otherwise help you use the meter to do more damage, but I found it hard to use since it takes forever to build the meter in any one direction. It’s also easy to grab the wrong type of blood off the floor while running around the rooms, something that seems to send the meter much farther back than the right type would send it forward. It seemed like just another annoying thing to keep track of instead of something that added to it.
The enemies and backgrounds are all nice and well-designed, but it’s too far away for me to appreciate any of the finer details on things. The monsters look really good from where they are, but it’s hard to tell why they should seem horrifying. The dogs look like hairless dogs with some blood on them, and the nurses just look kind of plain. It’s all nice, but the horrific elements of each of the enemies seems to have been lost from this perspective. Beyond bosses, it’s too far back to appreciate the disgusting details of these creatures, making a lot of them lose their personality.
It’s also too far removed from its source material when it comes to puzzles and plot. You can barely call them puzzles to be honest, where the game usually just gets you to throw a couple of colored objects around a grid until you put them in the right order. You’ll be given a clue that pretty much outright explains the puzzle to you, and you’ll have to do it at the end of each level. They’re all terrible, and seem to show the same amount of effort that went into the plot. It may have been the character I chose, but giving someone a book that lets them change their past should have been an amazing premise for a Silent Hill game. Instead, they handed it to a teenager who just wanted a boy to like her or get a promotion at work. It’s so dreadfully pointless, and it just hammers home a terrible Silent Hill game this is.
It’s a mess. A fun mess at times, but not one that should have borne the Silent Hill name. Beyond borrowing some monsters, it has nothing to do with the series and doesn’t carry any of its personality. As its own game, it’s lazily put together with no thought to whether the maps and combat work all that well. It has moments where it can be enjoyable, but overall is a terrible game that should be skipped over. Silent Hill: Book of Memories, you just claimed the dubious crown of being the worst game in the series. Good job.