Silent Hill games are known for taking players down dark hallways and terrifying them with an array of psychological horrors that have grown to be synonymous with the series. Its newest installment, the PlayStation Vita exclusive Silent Hill: Book of Memories, is a total departure from this formula, and reimagines the franchise in the form of an action RPG that takes place in the mind of a character you create. While Book of Memories isn’t meant to scare you, parts of the game may give you nightmares for all the wrong reasons.
Click here to watch the Silent Hill: Book of Memories launch trailer
Despite not being canonical to the franchise, the story does manage to tie in a few themes that will remind players that they’re playing a Silent Hill game. On the night of his (or her) birthday, your character receives a book in the mail from someone in Silent Hill that holds all the memories of his life in its pages. Wondering what would happen, he then begins to rewrite some of it and is soon sent into the nightmarish Otherworlds of the book to complete the process. While the story starts out vague and segmented, piecing it together reveals a game that subtly explores the inner workings of the human mind and its darker side. The game itself isn’t scary, but what your character is ultimately doing--changing his past at the cost of others--is quite twisted.
As good as these points sound, you won’t see this change happen in the actual game: All the gameplay takes place within different isometric environments inside your character’s head. Completing a level, and in turn resolving a memory, means moving from room to room and fighting off the monsters that stand in your way, eventually reaching the exit and completing its puzzle to move forward. In order to do so, you must first collect various puzzle pieces by finding rooms with “Challenge Orbs” and surviving the onslaught each one brings. While each room’s challenge is different, you’re mainly just killing enemies to move on, and thus the real challenge is staying alive.
While Book of Memories isn’t a “survival horror” like its brethren, it does try to emulate the same feeling of impending doom through its combat system. Weapons, for example, are found in various rooms or dropped by some enemies, and can be stored in your backpack that you can then tap to equip. At first, you're limited to how many you can carry, but you can eventually swap them out during combat.
But your weapons won’t last forever, meaning you’ll need to be mindful of how frequently you use them and repair them with tool kits found in each level. The game is generous at supplying you with them in the beginning, but the later levels prove to be challenging because of the apparent lack of ammo and repair kits. While frustrating at first, this weapons system also adds a strategic element to the gameplay, forcing you to equip your character wisely and visit each dungeon’s shop constantly to survive.
Watch the Silent Hill: Book of Memories trailer from E3 2012
Enemies also drop karma points that let you perform unique abilities using the touch screen. While combat sounds varied, it ends up feeling redundant after a while, especially since you’re just doing much of the same in each level you visit, even when playing co-op with others online. In fact, while it may look like a dungeon crawler, Book of Memories doesn’t offer enough unique elements to make players revisit its world. You can increase two different stats every time you level up to power up a character’s skills with melee and ranged weapons, agility, and so on, but this doesn’t change the experience too much. Also, your karma alignment slightly affects certain events in the story, but you don’t quite have direct control over its outcome, nor does the game tell you how you’re influencing it.
With or without the Silent Hill name behind it, Book of Memories had the potential to be the next great Vita title, but it suffers from an identity crisis. It looks like a dungeon crawler but plays like an action RPG, yet it doesn’t provide enough variety to make you want to come back for more. Its format gets repetitive far too quickly, and the only the thing that will keep your attention is knowing the fate of your character, even if you only played a small part in it.