I’m strangely protective of Silent Hill. Its use of symbolism and deeper psychological themes struck a chord with me, so much so that seeing developers try and emulate it without understanding it makes me genuinely angry at their products, a set of disingenuous replications without the charred soul of the original trilogy. There is more to Silent Hill than Pyramid Head turning up like the proverbial bad penny.
It was this protectiveness that put me on edge when I first booted up Silent Hill: Book of Memories, the second portable attempt at the series (the first being Silent Hill Origins on the PSP) on the Playstation Vita. Not only had developer Wayforward populated their take on the series with a bestiary of familiar faces (don’t make me get into why I think this is asinine, I’ve covered it already), they even reduced the game to a Diablo-style dungeon crawler. Even more upsetting is the lack of a solid character, replaced by a customizable avatar that fits neatly into one of several adolescent archetypes; who needs to be a tortured soul like James Sunderland or Heather Mason when you can be “Jock,” “Goth,” or “Rocker?”
Even the game’s story doesn’t particularly fit the mold of Silent Hill, centering on the titular Book of Memories, a mystical tome that details all of the life events of your character. You decide to start editing the pages, and your high school homunculus is whisked off to Silent Hill to do battle in a series of quadrangular dungeons while exploring the past traumas of a handful of random characters. Even these traumatic pasts are more soap opera than Silent Hill, with these thinly developed people facing the harrowing horrors of losing a job or liking a boy…terrifying.
At this point, if I was feeling particularly obnoxious, I would make a crack about wishing I had my own Book of Memories so that I could erase my experience with this game from my past…except, despite the awful story, white bread characters, and complete butchery of the Silent Hill mythos, Silent Hill: Book of Memories plays really, really well.
It’s not going to blow you away with revolutionary gameplay, but its soft RPG elements and isometric action are surprisingly addictive. Each level can be breezed through in less than a half hour, making it the perfect portable title for when you’re trapped in waiting-room purgatory.
The combat is fast and breezy, based primarily on competent melee combat (and less competent gunplay) with the world’s fastest deterioration rate on its weapons. There’s a rudimentary RPG experience system in play as well, and there are level-ending puzzles based upon gathering puzzle pieces from blue orbs scattered around the map. These orbs distribute random missions (99% of which are based upon killing all of the enemies lurching your way) and the puzzles built almost exclusively on sorting tchotchkes based off poems that you find on each level. It’s not a particularly deep or even engaging setup, but there’s a certain je ne said quoi that kept me coming back for its simple pleasures. It’s a conflicting feeling overall: it’s a fun portable game, just a terrible Silent Hill game