What is there to do with a series like Silent Hill at this point? It’s been good, it’s been bad, it’s made by the original Japanese developers and it’s been made by Americans with good intentions but it’s still on something of a decline with many fans saying that for them the series ends at Silent Hill 3. So what do you do with it? Well if your thoughts are just let a new developer do a complete 180 with the gameplay and see what shakes out, well then congratulations, you think just like Konami. This is why we have Book of Memories, a Silent Hill dungeon crawler of all things, made by Wayforward, the masters of re-imagining franchises.
It’s really hard to accept the concept when you first start playing it but they somehow found a way to make Silent Hill into an ARPG; there is loot, you have a character sheet, you’re gaining levels, and you’re completing quests. That said they integrate a lot of stuff that is more specific to survival horror and Silent Hill in particular. All the weapons you’ll pick up have durability and can-and will-be destroyed with repeated use. They also work in the classic dual world aspect of the Silent Hill series in that both you and the enemies have a karmic alignment that can affect both the gameplay and the story. By killing enemies of a certain alignment and absorbing their blood you can charge your own alignment in that direction, both to affect specific karma rooms which I think determine which of the 6 endings you’ll get and to unleash powerful karma abilities in battle both to heal and to harm. The cool thing about these abilities is that they use the back touch screen and I’ll be damned if it is not the first actual good use of the VITA’s shittiest feature. The last Silent Hill-y angle they throw in gameplay-wise is some interesting mechanics using a flashlight. At any time you can turn on your flashlight which will highlight all interactive objects and pick-ups in its light however you have to be careful with it as it can also enrage enemies. Worth noting here is how good the flashlight mechanic looks, the lighting engine is fantastic and the shadows cast off from it really add something to the atmosphere, that said these mechanics mixed with some pretty well done graphics probably account for the game’s rather ungainly load times.
Unfortunately some problems make themselves apparent with the game play and it’s because the game doesn’t go far enough down the RPG path. For as much as there is a character sheet and stats to increase, the influence of those stats is simply not pronounced enough to lend the mechanics any weight. The equipment also feels a little lackluster, while there is a good variety of weapons, the stats attached to them aren’t really shown and while there are accessories to equip you don’t get any armor to play around with. Leveling also feels rather tepid with you only getting a few small points to drop into your stats and the occasional extra slot opening up. There’s also the fact the structure of the game has a very impersonal feel to it, it’s all floor based and you essentially just progress from floor to floor, doing a single quest each one and at the end doing a little puzzle. There is a “shop” room on each floor but you’re never heading back to town or interacting with NPCs or anything like, even with the optional co-operative multiplayer it still feels like a very lonely game.
On that note of interacting with NPCs, why don’t we talk about the story and it’s odd internalizing nature. The premise is that on your birthday a mysterious mailman shows up at your door with a birthday package, inside is an odd leather-bound book that has your entire life up to that point written in its pages. You’re not very happy with your life up to this point and as a result you decide to try to rewrite what’s written in the book in a misguided effort to change your station in life. This leads to you having to fight through horrible nightmare realms in your dreams so that real life situations are changed. The thing is though you never really see the real world and those situations, the game takes place entirely in the dream with notes and broadcasts littered throughout to give you a very unclear window into what’s actually happening. It’s an interesting story telling technique, a little on the vague side for my tastes but it does do a great job of putting you in the mind of your character mainly because it takes place in the mind of your character.
Lastly we’ll talk about the presentation which is pretty good though I certainly feel like some of the assets might have come from a phase of development when this was supposed to come out on the PSP. The characters look surprisingly detailed for as little as you see of them up close but the environments are a little bland, each just a series of rooms and catwalks above a variety of yawning abysses. The inside of the actual rooms look interesting enough, lots of rusty antiquated machinery, y’know survival horror stuff, but of course the game is understandably pretty dark which does diminish a lot of that detail. In terms of enemy design, once one of the series’ greatest strengths, this game is essentially a clip show of Silent Hill greatest hits. Nurses, Double Head Dogs, Butchers,and even Pyramid Head show up as mobs and Valtiel is the one who gives you your missions at the start of each floor. As someone who is unacquainted with the Silent Hill series some of the references just kind of pass by me but aficionados should get all the fan service they need.
Overall it’s a flawed game but one too unique to just cast aside. The game does get a little too difficult as it goes on and while there’s always the option to grind prior floors for experience and loot, the lackluster RPG elements suck the enjoyment out of that process. That said just the idea of a dungeon crawler that takes place in modern times let alone in the Silent Hill universe is crazy and works far better than I would have expected. The story for as much as it didn’t really grab me is presented in a way that does truly feel unlike anything else. It’s a different kind of game and for all it’s issues there’s still a lot of fun to be had here, it seems like a great thing to have on hand for a long bus or plane ride. So for a Silent Hill game that is like none that have come before it, Silent Hill: Book of Memories gets a 3 out of 5 stars.