Silent Hill: Book of Memories review (Vita)

Silent Hill: Book of Memories was developed by WayForward Technologies and published by Konami. It was released for the PS Vita for $39.99 on October 16, 2012. A copy of the game was provided for review purposes.

The revival of the action-rpg (ARPG) has been welcomed with open arms. Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 have re-invigorated gaming fandom’s thirst for hacking, slashing and looting. Silent Hill: Book of Memories is an odd entry into this genre. While the game at its core is an ARPG, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is still heavily soaked in Silent Hill lore, though without the suspense and methodical build of dread and anxiety. Silent Hill is known for surreal psychological survival horror flavored with a mix of disturbing imagery and sound. Book of Memories makes many attempts at this while delving into an unlikely game style.

Fans of the series have been critical of Book of Memories since it was announced. Is this still a Silent Hill game though it lacks the adventuring aspect? Looking beyond the Silent Hill branding, what is left? Though it is not without value, Book of Memories is at its best an adequate action game with some grievous errors in execution of gameplay and basic concept. It relies too heavily upon it’s namesake and catalog of wretched enemies.

Here is what we liked:

The Hook – Players are delivered a package on their birthday from the a Silent Hill regular, Howard Blackwood. The mysterious mailman aptly voiced by William Tate actually peaks interest in the package and builds anticipation for the next moment. The player (male or female based upon player’s preferences) opens the package and finds the book. The Book of Memories establishes that it knows who the player’s character is by illustrating and describing in great detail the specifics of their life. The player then decides to write in a memory and goes to sleep. Upon awakening, the player finds themselves in a Silent Hill-formatted dream world. While the player has no control of any of this, as it is portrayed in a brief cinematic, it does set an interesting jumping off point. Though where you land is something else all together.

Multiplayer – It was difficult to find a game or players to play within Silent Hill: Book of Memories, but when you did it was nice to have others to venture into the bizarre dream state. Co-op was a great addition to this game.

Here is what we didn’t like:

Gaining experience – Perhaps the most important part of the leveling process in an ARPG is the rate at which you succeed. Just when you are about to put the game down, you level up: a new stat increase, a new ability, a new reason to play. Companies such as Blizzard (Diablo III) and Runic Games (Torchlight) might be masters of this, but WayForward Technologies has quite a bit of ground to gain to reach these levels. *It is always about the experience carrot, how to push the player to the next level, to keep playing your game. The carrot in Book of Memories was nearly invisible, but was also hampered by…

Dying – In an ARPG getting back into the action is paramount, it continues the player down a path to leveling, attaining more power, being a stronger character or getting better loot. The amount of backtracking after dying dragged play sessions to a halt. But that may have been a forgivable to some degree if it were not for…

Loading times – The PS Vita is not known for its snappy load-times. However the post death screen stare was unbearable. We have arrived at a point in time in gaming where death can be a learning experience. We have most recently learned this from other action-rpg games, like Dark Souls. Dark Souls can utterly humiliate you, though you are determined in playing through the same level again. It taunts you, but you ask for more, because the rest of the game is so solidly sculpted. Silent Hill: Book of Memories misses this mark. Death is sometimes a confusing surprise. Only to plop in front of the load screen. This leads to what was the core of the problem; Silent Hill: Book of Memories suffers from something even more detrimental.

Save points – See also level design. It often felt that the levels where not so much made to challenge you as they were to annoy you, especially if you were to die and have to replay through re-spawned areas that you cleared in your last run through. Killing hosts of enemies would be fine if it were not for the fact that…

Combat is not fun – Combat is just down right boring. Many weapons are ones you would find in the Silent Hill universe (bottles, pipes, planks of wood, revolvers) along with more unique weapons (Laser guns, flamethrowers, elemental swords). They do level up, asserting a degree of proficiency, though they also degrade upon use making for a constant replacement. But the actual act of attacking, which is the driving force of the game, is not engaging. There is lots of swinging, swinging and more swinging and switching weapons and more swinging. While that of course can describe many games, the pace at which you dispatch and engage new foes is unbalanced.

In an ARPG the threat of the battle going awry and earning victory should build to a head. But perhaps the challenge of pacing the combat was hindered by other strictures previously mentioned. If your leveling system is not moving the player through the game effectively then there must be another motivating factor. Cultivating a rhythm in combat should be a natural objective for an ARPG, unless it’s trying to be something else.

Identity Crisis – It is clear right out the the gate that this game is unsure of what it wants to be. Is it a Silent Hill title? It has disgusting and unnerving characters and sounds from the series. It demands you solve puzzles (albeit inane) at the end of every level. Is it an ARPG? It encourages rampant melee, but controls are stiff and inaccurate.

In the end we are left with a very unfinished title for the PS Vita. Silent Hill fans should be wary as the relationship to the core games is cursory at best. ARPG fans should use caution as many aspects of this game (gameplay, level design, pacing) were not fleshed out or cohesive. A traditional Silent Hill game would have been a better focus for Konami as the Vita is more than capable. Until then do not except an packages from Silent Hill where the PS Vita is concerned.

Score: Skip It!

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About Louis Adducci

Raised on what is now considered "retro" gaming, Lou has spent countless hours plugging into and keeping up with the latest gaming trends. Though he is an avid gamer, he has found time to have an understanding wife and loving son. Follow Lou on twitter @lobbycastlou or check out his blog herobyclicking.blogspot.com!