Silent Hill: Book of Memories Review For PlayStation Vita
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita
Memories are a curious thing. Some we recall clear as day, but others are hazy – sometimes to the point we question their reality. We all have our favorites, full of love and happiness, while others are filled with sadness and regret. But, what if we could rewrite these unhappy memories, and shape them into something more ideal? Right all our past wrongs, say the things we truly should have – or maybe hold our tongues instead. How would this affect the ones around us? These are the questions asked in Silent Hill: Book of Memories, the latest in the series and first on the PSVita. Does the spinoff promise pants-wetting horror on the portable level, or will your memories of it leave you wishing you could rewrite them?
The first two things players are asked to do when starting up Silent Hill: Book of Memories are to select a charm and create a character. Your charm gives you a permanent buff for your character, such as extra health, higher critical chances, or a more detailed map – but more on these elements later. When creating your character, you have several aspects to choose from. Gamers can be male/female and select their personality (like jock, bookworm, preppy, etc.) which affect stats, voice actor, and storyline, as well as make several aesthetic selections like hair styles, colour, clothes, and accessories. Simply slap on a name, and you’re ready to start the game.
Book of Memories tells the story of your character, who receives a mysterious gift from Silent Hill in the mail: the… er, Book of Memories. As you read on, you realize that its pages contain all of your memories, from when you were young right up to the moment you signed for the package. Originally believing this to be some sick prank, the amount of detail within starts to get spooky… until you get curious and start rewriting what’s on the pages. After your doodles are done, your eyes get heavy and you fall into deep sleep…
When you awaken, you’re in a nightmare where the world is decaying, horrible creatures walk the halls, and memories from your life are littered around in notes – though they may be different from how you remember them. As you fight for your life and try to piece together the fragments of your past, you start to see your changes coming to life, as well as the consequences that come from altering time. While the storyline only pops up in certain places along the way, its theme of rewriting memories is an interesting and enjoyable concept. Throw in six possible endings plus a wealth of side-story, and you have a narrative that will pull you in from start to finish.
In a bit of a departure for the series, BoM plays more like a dungeon crawler than a survival horror game. Sporting an isometric camera system, players need to navigate their way through a series of rooms and hallways, collecting puzzle pieces while fending off monsters and trying to find the zone’s exit. Pieces can be found by overcoming challenges found in certain rooms (which involve defeating enemies under different conditions, like time limits) and are used to open up the door at the end of the level – as long as you can figure out the puzzle. Combat is really simple at its core: two buttons are used to attack (one for reach hand) and a third can block/dodge.
Some advanced techniques can also be used in a fight, like power attacks, special abilities, and Karma skills. Power attacks are easy to use; simply hold down an attack button briefly then let go. Special abilities are a little different. These must first be purchased from the store, which can be found in every zone, and they can be used when you’ve filled the orb underneath your health bar – which is achieved by killing enemies. These powers vary, but can include things such as changing an enemy’s element and utilizing a super-strong attack – to name a couple. While your orb is used up, you keep the power itself and can reuse it once you earn another.
Karma skills on the other hand, require special circumstances to use. As you defeat certain enemies, your Karma meter will shift depending on your victim’s alignment: kill a Blood creature to shift towards the Light side, and vice versa. Sometimes a defeated monster may also drop a pool of Karma, which gives you a bit of a boost towards that side. Once you reach a given point down the meter, you will have the ability to unleash a Karma skill. There are three tiers to each side, which are nearly identical in nature. For example, the first Blood skill simply damages a foe with a powerful acid blood rain, while the Light one drains their health and heals you with a beam of light – though for less damage than its counterpart. Regardless of which side you take, all of the abilities are controlled by the rear touch screen, through actions such as holding your finger under the foe you want to damage. While it plays a bit of a back-seat role, it’s great to see the rear pad getting some use.
The only problem with the alignment system is that it’s hard to stick to one side. Enemies attack you all the same regardless of either party’s alignment, meaning you have to carefully avoid the ones you don’t want to kill on top of not accidentally picking up any Karma pools – which can be very challenging in the heat of combat. What this leads to is a lot of shifting alignment in the middle of the meter as you kill everything you see, or take one side in the meter but lose out on half the possible experience points. While I can see how this was meant to be a choice to conflict the player, it would have been nice to have your cake and eat it too.
Also new to Silent Hill is the inclusion of RPG elements, which are central to gameplay. Each character starts out with all stats at one, but as you defeat enemies and level up you get more and more points to put in the stats of your choice – which are comparable to any RPG. For example, strength ups your physical attacks, while dexterity allows you to dodge easier. Different artifacts can be equipped into slots, more of which are unlocked as you level up. Depending on your personality, every slot will augment the bonuses of certain stats for each item as well – an Int+ slot will increase the Intelligence boost of any object within it. This mechanic helps tailor your character even further, letting you play exactly how you want to.
Need some help on a tough part? Well you’re in luck, as BoM sports four-player online or Ad-Hoc co-op! You and three of your mates can hop into a session together to face the horrors as a team, or split off to cover more ground. Thankfully, players are not bound to the same camera screen, (as they were in a similar Vita title, Dungeon Hunter Alliance) and can move about freely. Players will find that gaming with a friend makes the title that much better, and is how it will truly be enjoyed.
However, there are a few things to note – especially if you’re a fan of the main games. First off, if you’re looking for a portable scare, you’re not going to find it. Just about everything that made the other titles horrifying has been stripped away to make room for the RPG and dungeon crawler mechanics. This will upset diehard fans greatly, or anyone who was looking for a good fright. Secondly, it just doesn’t feel like Silent Hill. Sure, there are the Nurses and other creatures, creepy environments, and slightly philosophic story themes, but the departure from the survival horror genre just takes all the feeling of familiarity away. While not necessarily a bad thing, you’re not going to get the full SH experience on this one.
Some survival horror elements do seep over from other titles in the series, such as limited weapons, ammo, and supplies. When players boot up their first level, they’ll find that they have no weapons and must find some around the environment, which can range from lowly wooden planks or rusty revolvers right up to flaming broadswords and full auto assault rifles. Each use of a weapon, however, will decrease its durability and if you’re not careful you’ll be back to your fists. Health packs may occasionally be found either on the floor or tucked inside of something, but they are nowhere near abundant, meaning gamers need to watch their damage intake lest they wish to perish. The challenge gets even bigger when you add in your three friends, as the amount of weapons/items does not increase as players do, so team work and sharing will be needed if you really want to survive. A shame that the title won’t get you as close to wetting yourself as other games did, but at least a small amount of survival aspects survived the transition.
As for the title’s graphics, they’re actually pretty well done. Character models and animations appear very smooth and fluid, while the environment’s textures are free of any tearing or popping. To the pleasure of series fans, the actual style and layout of characters and levels are actually fairly accurate to the franchise. A few favorite characters return (like the aforementioned Nurses and Double-Heads), as does the tendency for the walls to flake and decay. Overall, BoM is an awesome and creepy visual experience on the Vita, which showcases the portable device’s power.
The title’s audio is just as well done, and is best enjoyed with headphones. Music in-game is less of a soundtrack and more of ambient noise, as it utilizes a mix of haunting tones and melodies to create a tense atmosphere – which prevents players from getting too relaxed. Voice acting was actually a surprising plus in this one, as portable titles like this usually sport some lackluster performances. This is not this case here, as my ear caught the voices of both Troy Baker (Yuri Lowell – Tales of Vesperia, Vincent Brooks – Catherine) and Sam Riegel (Flynn Scifo – Tales of Vesperia, Starscream – Fall of Cybertron) as either main or supporting cast members (who both give their usual fantastic work), and the eerie screams of foes match their horrifying exterior. Overall, the audio quality of BoM is brilliant, and is one of the game’s highlights.
Regardless if you’re fan of the main series or not, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a great addition to your Vita library. Whether you’re looking for a new dungeon crawler, or an excuse to keep going back to the haunted Silent Hill, then I’m sure you’ll be satisfied . Just don’t expect any frights or traditional Silent Hill elements, as the title takes a totally new direction.
Final Score: 4.25 / 5.0 and a frightening, bloodied Nurse coming at you with a rusty steel pipe.
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