Silent Hill: Book of Memories is not what the franchise needed right now.
Silent Hill has been all over the place during the past five years. We have had titles ranging from the mediocre Silent Hill: Homecoming, through to the decent Silent Hill: Downpour, and the excellent Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. After the disastrous port of the HD versions of Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3, Konami are aiming once again to surprise us with Silent Hill: Book of Memories, a Vita title developed by WayForward (of Shantae: Risky’s Revenge fame). “Surprise?” you ask. Well, this title is not your typical Silent Hill; rather, it is a dungeon crawler fused with the visuals and enemies from the Silent Hill franchise. No longer will you be experiencing the survival horror scares and thrilling atmosphere that the series is known for. Instead, it is now replaced with an overhead perspective, hack ‘n’ slash gameplay and other action RPG features, but by transforming the game into this new direction for the franchise it ends up failing at being a good horror game or a decent action RPG.
Book of Memories begins by allowing you to create a character from a minimal set of options. Once this is done, you are introduced to a postman who delivers a birthday present to your door, which contains a strange book that includes all the memories of your hero. It also comes with the ability to allow the reader to change their past, twisting unhappy memories into much better outcomes, but using this ability throws the player into the tormented and disturbing world of Silent Hill and the only way back out is to kill the boss. I’ll be straight to the point here: The story isn’t good. It feels too stretched-out, lacks any depth and it serves no purpose but to move you forward through the different environments.
Once the introduction is over and the game begins, you are thrown into a menu with the option to start playing in Zone 1, the game’s first dungeon. Even though the title is an action RPG, there is no world or hub section that joins the dungeons together. In its place is a very basic menu system that allows you to scroll through the different zones once you unlock them, and that’s the problem with Book of Memories: the game is lacking and shallow in what it does.
Let’s start with the genre the game is trying to be, the action RPG. To be a worthy title in this genre you normally have to find a way to keep the player engaged with the hack ‘n’ slash gameplay. If you do not build something worthwhile on top, then you can find gamers getting fed up with the game. Titles like Torchlight II and Diablo III do this by giving players constant loot drops, access to randomly-created dungeons, plenty of side quests, hundreds of enemy types, and lots of abilities and customisations to play with. Book of Memories falls short in a lot of these areas.
Take the combat for example – a meaty feature of the game that’s just too shallow to keep the player engaged for long periods of time. Players can attack by hitting the square or triangle button, as each represent a character’s hand. The game also allows you to hold down the attack button to charge up a move that will deal more damage. Combos can be done by hitting the button as soon as the first strike hits an opponent, but even then that is just getting the timing right on your hit, so it is not exactly complex. There are no skills to use or any sort of character-specific traits to cast. The only thing resembling any sort of casting are the rooms that contain roulette tables that allow you to randomly pick a stat boost to use later on.
Items suffer from the same shallowness. Your character cannot equip any armour, only weapons and artefacts (which give buffs while equipped) that are scatted around the dungeons. There are no colour grading schemes for the items, such as white for normal, green for magic, and yellow for rare. Rather, you will see guns and melee weapons on the ground to pick up and use. Their size and stats determine if they are better than the current weapon. Although, there is no way to clearly tell which weapon is better unless you use it on an enemy to see the damage output. Some weapons will require both hands to use, but you can only carry two small ones (one for each hand) or one big one. It is a complete shame that the developers disregarded the aspect of loot drops/rewards, as that would have added something to the game to increase replayability.
It is not until you upgrade your bag in one of the randomly-placed shops in a dungeon that you can begin to carry more in the inventory, which is very handy if you have a weapon that is about to break but don’t happen to have any spanners that can repair it. Weapons are a huge part of the action RPG experience, but the only soul these instruments of death have is that they are the classic tools from the Silent Hill games, meaning you are beating up creatures with steel pipes, wooden planks and knives.
In a way, Book of Memories is a game full of fan service. What I mean is that not only are the weapons pulled from other games in the series, but so are the monsters. Typically, Silent Hill’s creatures are a manifestation from the main character’s repressed thoughts, so they are unique to that protagonist of the game. Book of Memories throws all that out of the window and fills it with two-headed dogs; those erotic-looking nurses; annoying, flying bugs; and even fan-favourite Pyramid Head makes a few appearances for you to hack him down to size.
Level environments follow a similar pattern. You all know the iconic otherworld sections – areas covered in rusty, industrial metal floors and gruesome blood-stained walls – which act as the game’s first location for the starting three zones. From there, you will go through dungeons themed around wood, water and blood, but none of them are particular exciting, because once you have seen the first dungeon you have seen how the rest of the game plays out. In each of the random dungeons, you have to find a certain amount of puzzle pieces, then get to the exit gate and solve the simple puzzle to complete the zone. (It should be noted that the randomness of this game is lining up boxed rooms with linear paths between them.)
Each zone contains an optional challenge that is given to you at the start, normally boiling down to finding an enemy and killing it, collecting an item or, on special occasion, helping a dog get to the end without dying. While it is nice to include such diversions, they don’t change the fact that you are still going through the same box-shaped rooms that look alike, only with different coats of paint; and often you end up finishing the challenge even when you did not set out to do it.
The selling point of the game was never to offer a rewarding single-player experience, but to be a fun cooperative game by supporting up to four players, both locally and online. It was so hard to find players online, often waiting up to five minutes just to have one other person join my room. You cannot do any drop-in, drop-out cooperative play, so you have to make sure everyone is in your lobby before you start the game, which is a huge disappointment when online seems to be so empty. If you are playing online or locally with friends then the game can be fun to some degree, but nothing is improved, so the problems with repetitive level design and shallow combat is still there for all to see.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is not what the franchise needed right now. Another average game does nothing but tarnish the history of the series even more. It would have not been so bad if the game was good, but it’s nothing more than an extremely light, action RPG that can’t do anything but be mediocre all the way through. It lacks inspiration from the great games it copies that it pains me that they got it so wrong. If Book of Memories was a sufficient action RPG set in the Silent Hill universe, then that would have been great, but they can’t even get the best features of the genre right. At its best, it doesn’t do anything but supply fun in multiplayer, but at its worse, it is a boring and generic with no redeeming qualities and is something I cannot recommend to anyone looking for a good action RPG on their Vita.