Silent Hill: Book of Memories
Assumptions can be made when it comes to the dungeon crawler Silent Hill: Book of Memories, just based on the series and genre it belongs to, and those assumptions would be wrong. It’s a Silent Hill game, but that doesn’t mean it’s scary. It’s a dungeon crawler, but loot isn’t the main objective. Rather, it borrows elements to craft a unique combination of both ideas, filtered together to create a cohesive whole. Like a corroded knife, it’s rusty around the edges, but it’s sharp where it counts.
The story begins when a high school stereotype, lounging about their apartment, is delivered a package. The postman is none other than Howard Blackwood, a character better known for his letter delivery service in Downpour. This package comes from an unknown sender from Silent Hill, a town the protagonist has never been to. It contains the book of memories, each page detailing the entire life of the lead character. Every success and failure is documented in those pages, and with nothing fancier than a #2 pencil, they can be erased, edited and rewritten.
Well, it’s not that easy. Shortly after attempting to change the past our hero/ine is thrust into a nightmare, similar in style to Silent Hill’s Otherworld, battling horrid beasts scrapped together from years of Silent Hill games. Each zone begins with an optional side mission offered up by Valtiel, previously seen in Silent Hill 3. These missions aren’t required, but completing them gets you the best gear.
What is required is the collection of puzzle pieces, and in order to do that you’ll need to explore each labyrinth in it’s entirety, or close enough. Puzzle pieces are acquired by completing challenge rooms, of which tend to run the gamut from “Kill everyone!” to “Kill everyone but don’t lose 60% of your health!” Keys are littered in stray rooms, so even if the room you’re in doesn’t offer a puzzle piece, it will likely contain a couple of keys required to navigate the labyrinth to get to the challenges.
Story is scattered throughout in small, piecemeal offerings. Notes can be found in the darkest corners of the nightmare, detailing the purpose for the current zone. Trying to get a promotion, even though you’ve been passed up? That cute guy, who currently has his eye on Ashley, won’t give you the time of day? These notes will give you the details on what’s changing in the real world as you spill blood in the nightmare. Resolutions occur at the end of every third zone, after defeating the local guardian.
So it should be mentioned that you never actually go to Silent Hill, and there isn’t a specific lead character. Rather, you make your own character, with customization options containing various outfits, headgear, eye-wear and stereotypes to craft a unique character. Under the label of class, you get the option of choosing whether you want to be a jock, goth, rocker, bookworm or preppy individual. Choosing a class doesn’t affect the storyline, choosing a gender changes whether you’re seeking a boy or a girl as your date.
What isn’t explained in character creation is that choosing a class does affect, albeit slightly, certain stats. Choosing your character class, and wondering what stats it might affect, is actually the second blind choice you get to make. The first is the initial screen, containing a sheet of ink blots. You have to choose one of eight, and each one gives you a charm, granting a slight bonus. The charm isn’t explained until after you begin the game.
No matter which class you choose, it won’t be long until you’re hacking and slashing and maiming the nightmarish hospital employees that stalk about in their heels, glaring at your regardless of their lack of faces. There’s a limited variety of weapons, and you’ll never find a special version of it. If you’ve discovered a lead pipe, you won’t find a better version of it hiding in a chest somewhere. That’s because your weapons are temporary.
Like in the latest Silent Hill games, they break and are destroyed. Even the most powerful weapons handed down to you from Valtiel will quickly drop in durability as you fight against the onslaught of Silent Hill antagonists. They can be maintained with a tool kit, however, like the weapons themselves, tool kits are not lying around in abundance throughout the zones. The deeper into the game you get, the fewer tool/medical kits you’ll find just lying about.
That’s what separates this game from the average dungeon crawler. It’s not about killing a plethora of enemies and then scanning their corpses for loot. It’s about survival. Every room will test your ability to survive. Whether it’s a simple one, containing nothing more exciting that a couple double headed dogs and a nurse, or a dangerous one filled to the brim with monsters, the main objective is to stay alive.
The enemies aren’t the only thing impeding your desire to live. There are also traps scattered around the world. Invisible ones, too! Unless you’ve got the intelligence to spot them, of course. Spike traps, that are courteous enough to do exactly what their name suggests, and poison traps, of which are not courteous and choose to knock you down to a single hit point for ten seconds, are there to prevent you from surviving, but they’re not all a curse. Sure, if you step on a poison trap there’s a very high chance that a fast moving enemy will swoop down and kill you with the weakest of taps. However, get a strong enemy to walk over it and a single punch will end the day for even the scariest of beasts.
While the enemies themselves are, for the most part, recycled from previous games, it’s the bosses that rule the day. Each boss is based on the element of the set of zones you’re in, whether it be earth, wind, water, fire, blood, light or steel. These guardians aren’t just big brutes with large hit points. They provide much needed variety to the combat, each fight being unique and fun.
There is a karma system within the game, one that only affects certain abilities you can use, rather then the story of the game. You run a balance of light and blood, a balance that is offset based on the types of enemies you kill and the blood spatters you collect. This system is something that works best towards multiplayer, in which you and your cohorts can focus on fighting a specific type of enemy. In single player you might find yourself forced to constantly switch the alignment of enemies you fight in order to stay on top of things.
The only truly questionable aspect of the game lies at the end of every level. There’s a puzzle you have to solve, utilizing the puzzle pieces you’ve collected, and hopefully the hint you’ve also acquired. Every puzzle is the same. You need to organize a set of tokens in some order. Each zone has a puzzle hint that’ll guide you towards figuring out where the tokens go. Some of these hints are a little more esoteric than others. “Five ankhs/From weak to strong/Headed to the East” makes more sense to me than “Six pawns/Their souls darkening/Read words through reflection.” There’s a secondary hint system for that which will let you know which piece is set properly, but that doesn’t make these puzzles feel necessary.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories makes for an interesting experiment of a game. Sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes it puts you on edge. And when all is said and done you’ll find yourself watching one of six unlockable endings. Do you go back into the book of memories? Can you figure out what you have to edit, what you have to change to alter the end? Or do you go deeper still, fighting your way into the nightmare, without an end in sight?