Silent Hill: Book of Memories Review

Silent Hill: Book of Memories falls short as both a dungeon-crawler and a horror game.

by

Plenty of franchises can make successful departures from one genre to another, whether for a one-off side story or an entirely new spin-off series. The experiment may inspire apprehension in the hearts of the series' fans, but it can also breathe much-needed life into something that's growing stale. Silent Hill: Book of Memories attempts to extract the survival horror trappings from Silent Hill and put them into a dungeon crawler--losing most of the horror in the process. In some ways it works better than you might expect it to, providing the same kind of addictive role-playing game grinding you find in other games in the genre. At the same time, it loses a lot of what people like about the series, and it doesn't do well enough as either a horror game or an RPG to make the game great.

Don't you want to beat up Pyramid Head with a guitar?

Book of Memories begins, unsurprisingly, with a book. The titular Book of Memories arrives on your character's birthday, in a mysterious package from the town of Silent Hill. Your character, whom you customize before starting the game, quickly learns that his or her entire life's story is written in the book (it must not be too exciting, because the book isn't that thick). This is immediately followed up by the idea to change what's written in the book, ultimately leading to a past-changing journey through your nightmarish psyche.

Like many a dungeon crawler before it, Book of Memories is built around randomized dungeon floors, or zones. Typical of most action RPGs, clearing a zone involves a lot of whacking enemies with weapons to get experience, money, and loot, with less of an emphasis on the latter. Most weapons are reminiscent of those in the earlier Silent Hill games, meaning you pick up a lot of wooden planks and steel pipes. These weapons break relatively easily, but they can be repaired with a toolkit or simply replaced with similar weapons scattered throughout the environment. Both melee and projectile weapons are either one-handed or two-handed, and one-handed weapons can be dual-wielded. Different enemies have different weaknesses to weapons, so you might want to pay attention to what you bring with you.

The game's puzzles would be a lot more interesting if they were more varied.

The stats for these weapons aren't surfaced well, but to some extent it doesn't matter. Every fire axe you find is exactly the same as every other, and there are a finite number of weapon types available, negating some sense of the discovery and loot lust found in other dungeon crawlers. You may find that you have an affinity for a particular weapon, but at a certain point you've seen all there is to see. Weapons can be leveled up through extended use, but it's a long process, and it's not clear what improvements are acquired when you do so. A simple magic system can also be used by collecting either “light” or “blood” karma, enabling healing skills and offensive skills, respectively. Karma is earned by killing enemies of the opposite type (so you gain light karma for killing blood enemies), and early on you gain the ability to flip the alignment of nearby enemies, leading to an almost Ikaruga-esque strategy implementation of killing certain enemies before others.

For the most part, all of this could be an explanation of any dungeon crawler. The Silent Hill aspects come into play more in the environments, the enemies (from nurses to straitjackets to, yes, Pyramid Head), and, most interestingly, the puzzles. Each randomized zone has puzzle pieces and a puzzle hint scattered throughout it. You use these pieces to solve a basic puzzle and open the zone's exit. It's neat the first few times, though unfortunately all of the puzzles follow the same basic pattern of asking you to order all the pieces by size or color, in some direction hinted at not too subtly by the given hint. When playing alone, there are also "forsaken rooms," which serve as mini-puzzles and have good, bad, and neutral possible outcomes. Similar to the end-of-zone puzzles, these rooms are a nice idea and are interesting a few times, but they lack variety.

Still, while many aspects of Book of Memories fail to meet their potential, if you’re prone to dungeon crawler addiction, you might easily find yourself enjoying this action-heavy Silent Hill despite its flaws. There’s something compelling about clearing floors and leveling up your character, especially since you can take the game on the road (though long load times hinder the ability to pick it up and play for a few short minutes at a time). There are many randomly placed notes and broadcasts to collect as you play, and while they each add only tiny bits and pieces to the game’s story, it’s enough of a hook to get your attention. Book of Memories scratches an itch for those who enjoy a steady grind toward a stronger character.

Co-op play isn't all that special, but it does expedite the puzzle-solving process.

Having three friends to play cooperatively with can help make the experience more worthwhile. While the co-op in Book of Memories is nothing revolutionary, it helps to have people at your side with whom to either stick together to more easily overcome some of the combat’s shortcomings through brute force, or spread out to collect puzzle pieces independently, greatly accelerating progressing and negating some of the need to backtrack.

When things go bad, though, they go annoyingly bad. For example, one trap you encounter randomly in dungeons, the poison trap, temporarily drops your health down to one hit point. On paper this makes the ensuing seconds scary and frantic, which could be good for Silent Hill. In practice, however, it tends to be exceedingly frustrating. Say you spend a good 15 minutes exploring a zone without finding the save point in that area (a common occurrence). You wander into a room in which the doors are locked and you're forced to fight. Right before taking a hit that would normally be harmless, you accidentally trigger a poison trap. There goes 15 minutes of work, from which you retain nothing--no experience, no items, not even bestiary entries.

The environments certainly look like Silent Hill, though they lack the atmosphere.

Therein lies the main problem with Book of Memories: it straddles the line between being Silent Hill and being a dungeon crawler and winds up being great at neither. Its failure to fully embrace either identity means it can't borrow all the best elements from either past survival horror games or past action RPGs. Developer WayForward hasn't married the refined loot lust experience of Torchlight II with the atmosphere and plot of Silent Hill 2--if such a thing is even possible. In the end, Book of Memories feels unique in comparison to earlier Silent Hill games, but the game might have been better served by sacrificing some originality for what is known to work.

Even when it’s frustrating, though, Silent Hill: Book of Memories can tempt you back until you have seen all it has to offer. It’s an OK Silent Hill side story, devoid of horror though it may be. It is also a competent dungeon crawler. It is far from the best of either of those things. In the end it is a game with an identity crisis, but one that had the potential to be much worse (and, sadly, much better) than it ended up being. Don't demonize it for being different from the rest of the series, but don't expect something amazing and fresh either. It's not a bad game; it's just confused.

The Good
Addictive in the right circumstances
Some subtle nods to the series' past
Lots of replay value if you want it
The Bad
Long load times
Occasionally frustrating combat
Randomized floors might involve too much backtracking
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

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Britton Peele is a freelance writer for GameSpot and a Digital Entertainment Editor for The Dallas Morning News. Find him on Twitter @BrittonPeele.

Discussion

1 comments
Enther
Enther

Today I got this game for $7.50. I'm into the second world, it's pretty much more of the same but I'm enjoying it so far.

As a Silent Hill game, it really sucks I mean, the story is not "Silent Hill like", the music doesn't make justice to the franchise (Obviously), and the dialog and character development is pretty much braindead (this dude suddenly acts like he wasn't surprised or scared at all about a book that changes his past that a random man gave him as a present) but if you play the game with an open mind and leave the "story" aside, it can become pretty fun.  A good deal in my opinion, in fact I'm planning to buy the expansion once I finish the main story. 

Also, why the touchscreen whining? I am not a huge fan of touch controls but this game gives you the option to use the sticks, the D pad and the touch screen. So far it has become useful to navigate trough the menus and the touch controls aren't used as quick time events or such gimmicky shit...

ByronLSmith
ByronLSmith

I waited to get the vita just for this game, but now after what I've seen...didn't get this game and STILL don't have a vita. So now, I'm waiting for vita's price drop for next year. I still have my trusty PSP to watch movies and tv shows on whenever I travel. Buying a vita now would by a waste of money since there aren't any games out for that system that I want right now. Watching videos on the vita would be redundent, when I can do the same thing on my PSP. Don't really do handheld games either. Only the particular ones that I want that ain't available for PS3.

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

I think EA should get off there ass and make Dead Space Vita so we can have a good survivor horror on our hand held.

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

Couldn't even finish the demo on this one I was so bored.

ThaGoodDokter
ThaGoodDokter

wasted my money, should have just waited for AC liberation.

chyng85
chyng85

Anyway still wanna play it~!

JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

This game never should have come to be.  The Vita needed a real Silent Hill game, not some once-digital download spin off turned full price retail game... 

NoirLamia777
NoirLamia777

Ehh, will get it when it's in the bargain bin :)

DinoBuster
DinoBuster

I agree more or less with this review, that said, Book of Memories is still in my opinion the most interesting entry in the Silent Hill franchise since the original Japanese games.

 

 

 

 

DektonHeslar
DektonHeslar

The Gamespot review highlights some of the same faults I found with the game in my review.  However, unlike the Gamespot review, I stopped playing after less than an hour because it was very repetitive and had a poor control scheme.  Just like the Gamespot review says, it is neither a dungeon crawler nor a survival horror game.  It is a bad attempt to push a title out the door to make a quick dollar on the "Silent Hill" name.  I wish game companies would stop making games that use the touch screen so much.  I traded it in after 1 day.

chazy035
chazy035

You should buy it cause its stamped "Silent Hill" on it.

QtrArt
QtrArt

Mmm...Good i Will Buy it 

adkcrazox
adkcrazox

Not even for 20 dollars I won't buy this crap

ByronLSmith
ByronLSmith

 @canuckbiker

 No doubt...but if they decide to do another EXTRACTION port, (not saying that it was a bad game) I may start to frown at EA. To this day, the first Silent Hill on PS1 is still the best in the franchise. No other Silent Hill game has never been as eery as the first. The second game was the best graphically, but that's about it.

JmanSeo
JmanSeo

 @canuckbiker Same, it was also boring too. The combat was extremely generic even for a dungeon crawler.

 

Also knowing it was going to be a PSP game, you can see the how dull the graphics are.  I can tell that the developers really didn't do much to upgrade the graphics besides increasing the resolution of the game and that really bugged the crap out of me (compare this game's graphics to Silent Hill Origins and you can tell that this game can easily run on a PSP).

 

Though I did like the unique Silent Hill art style they were going for that hasn't been done with the exception of maybe Diablo.

Albelnox0
Albelnox0

 @DektonHeslar You have a fricken VITA what you think there not gonna use the touch controls.  You should sell your VITA while your add it don't come here and complaining when you something that uses touch controls.  Maybe if the combat was use with touch controls and moving around too yeah you'd have a point.  But seriously you don't think they're gonna use touch controls on touch device.   Dude just break your VITA and shut up stop being such a contradicting hypocrite.

Madmac88
Madmac88

 @DektonHeslar Yeah touchscreen is definitely overrated. U get fingerprints, scratches on ur screen.. They should stick with anlog and buttons and touchcontrol should be optional.

Albelnox0
Albelnox0

 @chazy035 Developers said this was just a fun game for the silent hill series, that is uncanon, and something. Do research before you do the "stamp" excuse.

turtlethetaffer
turtlethetaffer

 @AvatarMan96

 That's kind of the whole point. It's a spin off. It's supposed to be different from the main series.

adkcrazox
adkcrazox

@robbiejones @ThaGoodDokter lol

DektonHeslar
DektonHeslar

 @Albelnox0

 I would suggest to you that firstly, the Vita is NOT a touch device.  It is primarily a GAMING device that has touch capability, hence the reason I said "It's not an i-pad".  Secondly, the use of the touch controls in many of these early games are awkward and improperly used.  This is proven by Sony's updates where it is now no longer "required" to use the touch screen to navigate basic menus on the home screen.  Sony has addressed the issue and promoted the concept that the Vita is essentially a mulitmedia device with touch capability and is NOT as you say a "touch device".  I believe that gaming companies should get on board and not be so restrictive with their control schemes.  Look at the 3DS, they added a "control nub", because the touch screen alone is insufficient and not all gamers like that interface. Lastly, I am not a hypocrite.  I bought the Vita because of how it was marketed and liked what the hardware promised for audio and visual presentation.  To date not many of the games live up to the capabilities.  I believe that games should be able to draw the gamer in and these early incursions of exploring the touch capability should end.  They are pointless and clunky. Game developers do not need to re-invent the wheel and should stick with the proven control schemes that work. Bold and over use of new technology is the quickest way to kill a new product.  Do you go up to touch your TV screen to make a melee kill on your PS3/360/Wii?  Would you find it acceptable to do so, just because you can?  Would you buy a game that made you do it and gave you no other options?  I doubt it.  Working in the simulation industry has expanded my experience into how biomechanics work regarding "client immersion" in the virtual world.  Rest assured, I will not be buying a Wii U.  Nintendo has gone so far off the mark from the original concept of the Wii U, it is not worth my money.  The internet is a free forum, I suggest you do your research.

criticalmigz
criticalmigz

 @DektonHeslar  @Albelnox0 if people think VITA sucks,then better get their hands off any handheld games. wii U?? unless if your working as part of the makers of wii U,then its probably understood.. and i Agree with u dekton,touchscreen wasnt overall a bad idea,it just have to be used correctly or appropriately that it wudnt interfere with whats going on in the game.FIFA back touchscreen control was good. all else wasnt that relevant at all.. as long as they can make an option wether to turn on or off the touchscreen controls,then it wouldnt bother me.because touchscreen is much needed for going through menus and video trasferring,or arranging stuff like that.. its not that bad afterall