I find it appropriate that my Halloween Roundup is flanked by reviews for the newest entries in the biggest horror franchises in the market. Silent Hill: Book of Memories is not a main entry to the series. In fact, it is admittedly totally non-canon. While most, if not all Silent Hill games (If you don’t count the arcade game) are in the survival horror genre, Book of Memories is a Diablo-style dungeon crawler. As such, the game has taken a lot of criticism from fans who see it as a perversion of their favourite series. There were plenty of signs pointing towards this game being very mediocre. It was supposed to be a near-launch title for the Vita, but it was delayed over and over again. This is almost never good for video games, as discovered problems are almost never solved. Trying the demo, it looked like Book of Memories was actually going to be a rare game that turned out great despite the rocky development cycle. So the question is: did the full game deliver, or did Book of Memories fall flat on its face?
|It’s just like doing your homework, but with more hellscape.|
The story is barely present in Book of Memories, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Other dungeon crawlers such as Diablo 3 that push story in a big way, often fall miserably to their own terrible writing and dialogue. There are precious few cutscenes in the entire game: one intro, one after the first set of areas, and a final one for the ending. Most, if not all of the story is told through notes found around the dungeon. The trick is that the content of these notes change depending on how you are progressing in the game (More on this later). As such, Book of Memories’ story definitely takes back seat, but what it gets across is actually pretty interesting. While the game will hardly be winning any awards for its storytelling, the story does manage to be both mildly intriguing and in-obtuse.
|Oh Ranko, never change.|
The basic gameplay of the game boils down to a hack and slash dungeon crawler. There are some elements, however, that distinguish it from pure hack and slash. Primary among these elements is the ability to score timed hits. If you time your strikes properly you can build a combo, doing increased damage with each strike. After five consecutively well timed hits, you can unleash a special execution attack that ravages the opposition. On top of this there are abilities that you can buy in the shop as you progress through the game. These abilities can be ho-hum such as a 360 attack, to incredibly useful such as turning enemies to the opposite karma.
|Red means blood by the way.|
Karma is the other aspect of the game that differentiates it from most other dungeon crawlers. Enemies come in three types: blood, light and steel. If you kill a blood enemy, your karma will move more towards the light. If you kill a light enemy, your karma will move more towards blood. Steel doesn’t have an effect. What makes this interesting is that certain powers are only available with a certain level of karma and using the powers will shift your karma in the other direction, forcing you to accumulate more points. These powers are wholly damaging spells on the blood side and health draining spells on the light side that barely hurt enemies, but heal you. On top of the gameplay aspect to karma, the types of enemies you kill correspond to the type of notes you get and the eventual ending you will receive per zone. Therefore, killing a lot of light enemies will give you a darker outcome for the story.
|You thought that “No fatties” shirt was funny. Now who’s laughing?|
There are many different types of weapons, mostly taken from Silent Hill staples such as steel pipes or Pyramid Head’s infamous Great Knife. Weapons vary not just in appearance but their range, damage, durability and primary attribute. As you use a weapon it will lose durability and you will have to repair it with a tool kit or find a new weapon. This adds a good survival horror aspect to the game as it is possible to find yourself with a lot of near-breaking weapons, far from a shop and surrounded by demons. Weapons are divided into three subcategories. There are melee weapons which include knives, pipes, and katanas, among others. There are projectile weapons such as shotguns and SMGs, and there are wildcard weapons such as rock drills, flamethrowers, or a plush rabbit doll.
Along with weapons, the other major fanservice aspect to the game is the enemy variety. Every enemy, minus the level bosses is a traditional Silent Hill enemy. These include old series favourites such as nurses, and straight jackets to newer enemies such as Silent Hill Downpour’s Bogeyman. All enemies have specific weaknesses to certain enemies and they all behave differently. This forces you to make judgment calls when entering a room. After all, a bunch of enemies that explode upon death should not be taken in the same way as weak enemies that are almost immune from damage from the front. The game keeps expanding the enemy variety until the second last area of the main game so it rarely gives you a chance to get overly comfortable.
|Bosses also bring a ton of variety to the gameplay.|
Customization is fairly limited in the game. You design your character from scratch, but the editor gives you few real choices. At the beginning you will pick an artifact that will give you a random bonus such as 10% more money or shops revealed on the map at the beginning of a dungeon stage, but these do not make a big difference. The classes also do not make too much of a difference, only effecting what kind of artifact bonus you will receive. In the shop, you can buy supplies, weapons, accessories for dressing up your character (Cosmetic only) and artifacts. These artifacts can also be found in dungeons, and they provide minor bonuses to stats. Anyone familiar with RPGs would be familiar with the core stats of this game, and each level up you can invest two points in Strength, Dexterity, Vitality Agility, Mind, and Intelligence. Depending on what kind of build you are going for, different stats are more or less useful for you. There isn’t a huge variation between builds, but there are at least four viable builds: three focusing on the different types of weapons and one focusing entirely on defence.
|You’ll find some accessories like glasses and gas masks, but you’re pretty much stuck looking like one of these guys.|
The dungeons themselves are well made. Every three zones, you will encounter a boss before moving on to a new area with a new background. They look great on the Vita; although, none of them are anything we haven’t seen before. At the beginning of each stage, you will receive a stage mission from series perennial Vatiel. If you accomplish the mission, which can vary from killing certain demons to escorting a dog, Vatiel will reward you with a rare artifact or weapon. Throughout each stage you will find puzzle pieces by completing challenges. They’re all pretty much kill everything in the room, but some of them have restrictions such as lose less than 20% health. At the end of each stage you will use these pieces to solve a very easy randomly generated puzzle. It is mostly intuitive and there is a hint lever if you aren’t sure, but I still don’t understand how violet is more opposite red than blue. After completing the main story, the game will keep going with an infinite amount of randomly generated dungeons. There isn’t much reason to keep going outside of the general fun of the game, but it is nice that the game isn’t limited to the story.
|Here is an area, different than one you saw before!|
The biggest downside to the game by far is the loading times. It takes a significant amount of time to load each zone. This makes replaying zones or grinding very difficult and incredibly irritating. The menu is slightly cumbersome, but this rarely if ever becomes a problem. The game tries to use the Vita’s touch screen to pick up weapons/items and operate special attacks, but at best this often comes across as forced and is highly unnecessary and at worst it is inaccurate and doesn’t work effectively. The multiplayer is either a positive or a negative. Playing with friends works really well, but online not so much. People have a hard time communicating and hogging supplies is a problem that can set you back.
|That’s some great teamwork, Bob.|
You may have noticed from the short previous paragraph that I don’t have a lot of negative things to say about Silent Hill: Book of Memories. The game is very addictive and fun. There is enough variety and length to the game to justify the price tag. More importantly, the game acts more as a love letter to fans of the series instead of a slap in the face. The game is of a different genre, but it celebrates all things Silent Hill and it deserves a lot of praise that it simply isn’t getting from many reviewers.
– Addicting gameplay
– Limited customization