A top-down dungeon crawler Silent Hill game?! “NEVERRRRRRR!!!!” screamed the lynch mob with torches and pitch forks. Hardcore “Hill Heads” have had their Robbie the Rabbit undies in a wad ever since Book of Memories was first announced, some even exclaiming dramatically that the series is dead. Having spent some quality time with game, I certainly have mixed feelings, but there’s no need to cry about it.
It’s your birthday and who should arrive at your door with a package? Why, it’s Howard Blackwood, the friendly mailman from Silent Hill: Downpour. The box is simply labeled, “Silent Hill,” which is your first clue that this isn’t money from your grandma.
Sure enough, you open the huge box and inside is a strange book that could be related to the Necronomicon. (This may be bound with human skin. Meh, seems legit.) The book is your entire life story, even the part where you open the door and receive the package. So what would happen, you wonder, if you rewrite parts of it? What could POSSIBLY go wrong…?
Having scribbled something (we never see what) into the pages, your character falls into a deep sleep. Next thing you know, you’re walking through a strange, watery-looking portal from your room into the first of an insane amount of levels. Each world reflects how your choices have effected other people in your life.
Now, I keep describing “your character” because who he/she is and what they look like depends entirely on you. You can even name it Mrs. Fluffy Butt should you so desire, which makes it pretty hilarious when you find notes addressed to you later. (Yes, I am SO mature.)
Character classes are defined as Preppy, Jock, Bookworm, Rocker or Goth. Your base stats are determined by this choice, as well as which charm you pick at the beginning of the game. Here’s the problem – you have no way of comparing stats to make an educated decision, and the charm is one of many, all in silhouette. This charm gives you a permanent boost in one area for the rest of the game, but you have no idea which charm is which and what it does until it’s too late.
Like the Book of Memories itself, your character choices are “best guess” and what happens, happens. This is where having an official strategy guide may come in very handy, if you’re hardcore about carefully building characters from the ground up. However, it’s annoying to think that you would even have to rely on one at all, if you’re seasoned in RPGs. Also, this takes away from the idea that creating a character makes you more attached to it. If my character is randomly created by “eenie meenie miney moe,” I’m not gonna cry when she bites the big one. I’m going to cuss a lot, though.
As for physical character customization, you can at the very least have a little fun with it and save up to purchase accessories like hats, novelty items and even a Pyramid Head helmet (so I hear). At the time of your character’s creation, your outfit choices vary only in color and style, so don’t expect a custom wardrobe or a character that looks just like you.
Your freshly-created character is now ready to fight the evil forces that await you in what I can only describe as FRESH HELL.
You start out as Level 1, no surprise there and earn XP by slaying a plethora of foes along your way. Leveling up is really slow going, and once you do, you get two points to assign to your attributes.
Let the Nightmares Begin
Hey remember when games didn’t have save points?
SO DOES WAYFORWARD TECHNOLOGIES. These cruel, cruel developers created a game in which you not only have to navigate a RANDOMLY GENERATED LABYRINTH on every single level but you must find the one room in which you can save. To save again you must (you guessed it) back track for what can take up to 20 minutes to that room and go all the way back again. If you haven’t found the save room yet and you die (and oh, yes you will do this aLOT), guess what – back to the beginning with you. That’s okay, you already cleared most of the rooms so you can—oh, wait. The labyrinth has randomly generated a whole new save room location and you have to find it again. Yippee.
This added level of difficulty requires you to strategize where you normally wouldn’t; reminding me of late-night Resident Evil marathons where I’d be on the brink of death and finally make it to a safe room only to realize that I’m out of mother effing ink ribbons. It’s this kind of conservation that’s lost on modern games. Not only do you have to conserve your ammo, weapons and health, you have to conserve your saves and carefully choose when to do so. Your decision in this matter is always a risk, as you could find yourself one nurse or cheaply placed invisible floor trap away from starting all over or at least with a huge set back.
On one hand, I tip my hat to Wayforward for bringing me back to the days when games were friggin’ hard. (Old time gamer voice) Back in my day, we didn’t HAVE auto save, ya whipper snappers! And beating a game was a huge deal because you had to like, either play for 2 days straight or keep the game paused while you slept and until you got back from school, or have like a ton of time and a million quarters at the arcade! Unlike most games on the market today, there are no difficulty levels to choose from in Book of Memories – your first level is “oh, okay I get it,” mode and from then on out it’s, “WTF did I do to deserve this?!” difficulty.
Valtiel is busy attending to The Order’s “God” or doing laundry or something, so he decides you’d be a great person to run errands for him. At the beginning of each level, Valtiel will appear with a challenge. You have no choice but to accept, but whether or not you follow through is your choice. These could range from killing only certain enemies all the way to escorting a dog safely to the end of the labyrinth. Successfully do Valtiel’s bidding and he will reward you with a rare item. I imagine that you’d also earn XP, but who knows – it never tells you.
Rather than reflecting your character’s own inner demons, it’s more like you stepped into the collective subconscious or employee break room of all the monsters in the series. You’d think this would get old, but Wayforward has changed things up by creating various degrees of horrible for these enemies. For example, a Needler is bad enough but it could be a Disarming Needler, which makes you drop your weapon and run around, freaking out trying to pick it back up while you get stabbed in the butt. Meanwhile, the Dark Bogeyman is just about the most effed up, creepy thing I’ve ever encountered in a game. More than makes up for the so-called boss battle in Downpour, lemme tell you.
Weapons can be leveled up the more you use them – but be careful because they break! Buying or picking up wrenches (tool kits) will restore your weapons so you can keep using them.
I disagree with some of the decisions Wayforward made, particularly with recycling some old characters into roles that don’t fit. Howard delivers my package, that part I get. But why is he running the labyrinth store, too? Don’t you have other things to do, Howard? (Say it with me, now) Those letters aren’t going to deliver themselves…
The premise of this game is awesome. The story element has so much potential; but our options to change our fate are extremely limited. One would expect to have a kind of “choose your own adventure” considering what the game is about, but it seems most of the game is running around wondering what you’re supposed to be doing. To complete a level, you have to collect puzzle pieces by breaking blue “challenge orbs” throughout the labyrinth. 99% of the time, the challenge is just to kill everything. By the time you get to the end, the puzzles are either the same one over and over again (arrange from light to dark) or who the hell knows what they want. Luckily there’s a clue you can pick up on each level and a hint switch, should you need it.
Expect some frustration with how little you can carry. Sure, you can save up and upgrade your backpack to hold more, but that means not buying health or anything else for a while – and you’re gonna need it! You can pick up Memory Residue (which looks suspiciously like gold) around the levels, often after defeating a room of baddies. Trade your MR for items in Howard Blackmore’s store.
The graphics in Book of Memories are of about the same quality as Origins or Shattered Memories and looks great on the Vita. I experienced zero bugs, and very little screen tearing or the like; very clean game. The levels are broken into elemental worlds; air, water, earth, rust, blood, wood, etc. and I was actually impressed with how they accomplished this. Being a top-down adventure, you won’t get the same atmosphere we so love in the series. However, many people I’ve talked to are digging the dungeon crawl and it’s actually gotten them interested in Silent Hill whereas they weren’t before.
OMG this game is so long and so freakishly difficult, I can’t even begin to tell you. Where the premise excels, the execution fails. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the satisfaction of intelligently creating a character and choosing her destiny. There are far too many unknowns to make the RPG element fun for me. If I pick up the strategy guide, I have a feeling that I could get a lot more enjoyment out of it.
Book of Memories has the longest load times I’ve seen in a LONG time. And I mean this is a LONG time, even for retro video games. I timed it at the shortest load time it took nearly a full 60 seconds. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it feels like eternity for every single level.
Although I praise Wayforward for the retro throw-back to when you had to conserve EVERYTHING to survive, the effect is not survival horror but rather intense frustration. I’m all for games that make you think and use strategy – that part is actually fun to a point. I however feel that in an attempt to make the game challenging, the developers created a cruel, cruel world that makes no sense.
Isn’t that the definition of Silent Hill, though? Well, maybe they nailed it. You decide.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories takes full advantage of the Vita’s touch screen capabilities, allowing you to pick up weapons or access your inventory in seconds. Using the touch pad on the back felt a little awkward at first, but after a few times I got the hang of it. Excellent use of a simple combat system, with two buttons to attack and one to block. Picking up different types of karma (blood pools from slain enemies) will move your meter to either side and your special attacks can do terrible damage or even heal you. Other combat moves can be picked up in Howard’s store.
Online Factor 7/10
There are a number of ways to play co-op; host your own private game, host a public game, host a local game or join a public game. Depending on what time of day you’re looking, you may find a couple public games to join, but I never saw more than 2 at a time, so finding a party could prove difficult. Inviting others to co-op could quite possibly be the only way to pass certain levels, so this is a great idea. You can also invite people to play who aren’t on your PSN friend list, so this is a bonus, too.
Utilizing up to 4 players, you can take on the levels or bosses together. If you die, you’re transported back to the beginning of the level and must trek all the way to where your team is. Unfortunately, when you die any important items are dropped. Keys are dropped, too and there’s no way to tell who’s carrying the keys unless you communicate. The Vita’s built-in microphone works pretty well, although I feel like I have to yell so I’d recommend investing in a headset if you plan on using MP a lot.
Let me warn you, there is no loot sharing so you can be engaging the enemy while your “buddy” loots the room. You can drop health for your friends, but everyone has to wait their turn to buy items from Howard’s store. It doesn’t seem to matter if you save, because when you die you still spawn at the very beginning of the level.
I will say that it was bad ass to join a game and talk to a gamer in Germany for a few minutes. The Vita connected instantly to the game and I experienced zero lag.
Daniel Licht returns with an excellent score. Mary Elizabeth sings on two tracks, “Now We’re Free” and “Love Psalm,” so fans will enjoy that. The developers added some crazy, creepy sound effects for the monsters that we haven’t heard in the games before – but somehow they work. Voice acting is well done, and is typical for the series.
Replay Value 6/10
With 100 levels, different character possibilities and 6 achievable endings, those who enjoy the game will likely want to play it again. But seriously – would you want to go through 100 levels of hell again? For you trophy collectors, you have a bunch of potentially fun challenges to collect – for example, taking out Pyramid Head 25 times with his own Great Knife, lol. Get a fun group together and I guarantee hours of a good time, screaming and killing monsters with extreme prejudice.
Overall – 7/10
This is a cruel, cruel game. If you’re looking for a challenging adventure with a Silent Hill twist, then pick up Book of Memories and give it a go. There’s a free demo available on PSN, which includes the entire first 2 levels. I say there’s a Silent Hill twist, because this is more like playing a Silent Hill version of Diablo – it really doesn’t feel like Silent Hill, but it has a ton of fan service and easter eggs for fans to enjoy. As frustrating as the game can be, I still find myself stubbornly picking it back up to try again.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is definitely not for purists or the easily frustrated – hack and slash at your own risk!