From the impressive production value of Homecoming to the gloomy atmosphere DownpourI think there is something that I love about each game in the Silent Hill franchise. Hell, I even like to revisit the cinematic weirdness that is Silent Hill Revelation from time to time. However, despite being a die-hard fan of the series, he had long avoided the infamous Silent Hill: Book of Memories. Not only did I find the idea of a portable dungeon crawler offensive to the very spirit of the franchise, but like most people I know, I didn’t own a PlayStation Vita. That’s why I originally gave the game a pass in late 2012.
Many years later, I got my hands on a used Vita and found myself with a bit of spare time, so I finally decided to try this much-maligned experiment. After all, it was the last main entry in the series if you ignore the PT/silent hills debacle, and it’s not like there are that many high-profile horror games on Sony’s ill-fated successor to the PSP. After spending a surprising amount of time on the title and learning to come to terms with some of its conceptual issues, I realized that my initial theory about the franchise as a whole was still correct. And with book of memories celebrating his 10the anniversary this year, I thought it would be interesting to delve into what makes this weird little game tick.
Konami originally commissioned book of memories in 2010, wanting a fast-paced handheld experience that made use of the multiplayer functionality of the upcoming PS Vita. WayForward Technologies eventually came up with a pitch, suggesting an action-oriented experience with dynamic puzzles that allowed for quick bursts of hair-raising thrills. Over the next two years, the studio would slowly build on its original ideas, eventually adding procedurally generated elements to the game to keep it fresh in repeat playthroughs.
Having established the basic mechanics of the title, the producer tomm hulett and director adam tierney he then began work on the story, which was meant to justify the franchise’s more action-oriented approach. In the finished game, players take on the role of a customizable protagonist who receives the titular book on his birthday. Reading the cursed tome, they discover that it contains all of his life within its pages and decide to rewrite parts of it for personal gain. Naturally, this results in the player character having to enter the other world of Silent Hill in his dreams, where he must fight to survive and keep his changes in the book.
Gameplay-wise, this means players must navigate randomly generated dungeons while defeating monsters and collecting a variety of familiar items. There are also plenty of random puzzles and side quests to complete, as well as an in-game shop with useful items and fun cosmetic items. Not only was this the first Silent Hill featuring player-created characters (which makes a lot of sense given that the series is about having the protagonists face their own personal hell), but it was also the first to feature a multiplayer component. In fact, the game is clearly designed with multiplayer in mind, as taking on these terrors on your own often results in lopsided combat encounters and a generally dull experience. Unfortunately, while playing with others makes things less frustrating, it also deadens a lot of the Survival Horror elements.
Despite this, the level design remains appropriately spooky, with characters navigating nightmarish labyrinths inspired by the series’ past, all tied together by elemental themes that represent the changes the protagonist attempts to make. After murdering through a handful of thematically linked dungeons, players are forced to face off against a guardian to solidify their changes in the book. Sadly, these boss battles are some of the weakest parts of the title, generally relying on generic-looking monsters with repetitive attack patterns and the occasional clunky gimmick.
That said, there is still an undeniable charm in Book of memories’ main game loop. Traversing these ever-changing dungeons can be extremely addictive, with random elements providing unexpected surprises (and the occasional “what the hell?” moment). I often found myself muttering “just one more dungeon” before bed, which I think is a sign the devs had something here. The game’s vague karma system is also interesting, though it’s a shame the tutorial doesn’t explain it very well.
I would say that the biggest problem here is how Silent Hill: Book of Memories he is not fully committed to his novel ideas. The creepy and deliberate pacing makes the game too silly to function as a true Dungeon Crawler, but the RPG elements and excessive combat also make for a poor Survival Horror experience, resulting in an unfortunate identity crisis. The title also suffered from numerous bugs and glitches during its initial release, though most of these issues have since been fixed via patches.
Of course, long-time fans of the series are sure to appreciate the game’s plethora of easter eggs, like notes referencing classic Akira Yamaoka songs and some laugh-worthy character props. There are also plenty of returning items and monsters, and the title features everything from the ghosts from the fourth entry to DownpourThe controversial bogeyman.
Surprisingly, one of my favorite aspects of the experience was the mesmerizing soundtrack, courtesy of daniel lightwho had previously marked Downpour. There are plenty of catchy ambient clues that fit right in with the spooky lo-fi vibe of the franchise and series veteran. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn also makes a much-appreciated return. In fact, I think the game version of psalm of love it ranks among the best theme songs in the franchise, even if it doesn’t match Yamaoka’s brilliant compositions.
book of memories can objectively be the worst Silent Hill title, but it’s still an interesting experience with enough sparkle and creativity to make it worth recommending to fans of spooky dungeon crawlers. While some of its lofty ambitions were obviously misguided, I appreciate how WayForward took some risks in creating this quirky experiment, and I’d suggest tracking down the game if you’re a Silent Hill get ready to experience randomly generated emotions accompanied by an incredible soundtrack. Just make sure you have a healthy drink on hand, just in case.