10 Thoughts on… the Silent Hill: Book of Memories Demo (Sony Playstation Vita)

Okay, so, I’m going to talk about the demo, and I know we’re getting the demo in a few days, but I’m impatient, so I wanted to grab the European demo in advance. Do you folks KNOW what is involved in getting a European account set up on your Vita? I had to go to the store, buy a second memory card for my Vita, wipe the settings on the handheld, unregister it from my old PSN account, put in the new memory card, and configure it for the EU account, just to download a damn demo. I am by no means a polite Sony supporter by any means and I’m certainly happier that they offer the option at all in comparison to their competitors but Jesus Christ guys could you make this any more draconian?

Ahem.

Anyway, so, Europe received a demo of Silent Hill: Book of Memories, Konami’s upcoming Diablo-esque Vita release in the series, and to call the game a surprise is a mild statement, at best. Silent Hill as a series has been more about aesthetics and psychological terror over action… or it was as until Homecoming anyway… so seeing a game that completely passes the subtleties of the series aside in favor of hacking things to death is interesting, if nothing else. Building a multiplayer component into the game on top of this is also interesting, as Silent Hill has generally steered toward using loneliness and untrustworthy human interactions as a method of getting its themes across, with minimal allies involved, so having four player parties seems to stray from that. Still, with the right concepts in place one could make such a game thematically agreeable to the franchise, and lord knows it wouldn’t take much for Book of Memories to be better than the last four games, so let’s take a look at the demo and see how things are going.

1.) The demo starts off in an odd fashion: instead of attaching the player to a character or plot, you’re asked to pick a charm before you do anything else. The charms, such as a heart, a cross, a clover and more act as a sort of permanent buff to your character that you get before anything else, with each offering different benefits (the cross offers added karma, the heart offers added health, the compass offers improved map display and the coin offers added money, for example), though the game doesn’t tell you what they do until you’re in the game so there’s some trial-and-error there. Once you’ve picked a charm, you then get to create your character. The game offers five character archetypes to choose from, between Preppy, Goth, Rocker, Jock and Bookworm, though the demo only offers Preppy and Goth as options. It’s unclear how these archetypes might change gameplay, if at all, as the Preppy and Goth seem largely identical in the demo, and you can change your appearance as you see fit, so you could make a Preppy and dress them like a Rocker, for example. There is one minor difference that comes up from your choice of class, though, which we’ll address in a bit. It seems like this might affect the plot in some capacity, though this also didn’t seem to be the case in the demo stage shown, so how this plays out will have to be seen in the final game. The character customization options are solid enough, as you’re given the option to change the character’s gender, name, face, clothes, hair and various accessories, as well as change the colors of each, so you should be able to build a character to your liking to start. The game also offers you the option to buy more accessories as it goes on for further customization if you want to mix up your appearance, so there’s that.

2.) Speaking of the plot, the gist here is that whatever character you’re playing as receives a mysterious book dubbed, one presumes, the Book of Memories, for their birthday one day. It’s delivered from Silent Hill (though your character doesn’t know anyone living there) and is delivered to them by Howard Blackwood, the mysterious postman from Silent Hill: Downpour, because continuity one supposes. The book itself is interesting; it contains, literally, all of the character’s memories from birth until that moment, and editing the book allows the character to edit their life… at the cost of being dragged into a nightmarish hellscape conjured up by Silent Hill in their dreams, of course. Aside from the inanity of the town of Silent Hill becoming an entity that can reach out to people outside of the town (THANKS THE ROOM), the concept is interesting enough to carry the experience, though it seemed identical between both characters in the demo… so far, anyway. Visually, the game looks solid on the Vita, as the world designs are evocative of Silent Hill as we remember it and the enemies are all instantly identifiable. The player characters also show their details effectively enough when customized, though it may be harder to identify these differences when things get hectic. The soundtrack is evocative of Akira Yamaoka’s style from the prior games, though it doesn’t sound like his work so much as it sounds like someone is trying to recreate his work. The soundtrack is once again being handled by Daniel Licht, of Dexter fame, and his work is great as usual, but it’s not Akira Yamaoka, and that’s really all that can be said about that. There’s some voice acting in the game and, so far, it’s all just fine, as are the effects, all in all.

3.) Mechanically, Book of Memories is pretty easy to work with. The left stick moves your character around the game world, and Square and Triangle are used to attack with the weapons you’ll hold in your left and right hands, respectively (with a two-handed weapon they both do the same thing). The X button is your context sensitive interaction button, while Circle handles blocking (when pressed alone) and strafe-dodging (when pressed with a direction) which is helpful for avoiding attacks. You can lock onto an enemy with the left trigger, allowing you to target all of your attacks on that enemy as you wish, and you can change targets once locked on with the right stick. Holding down an attack button when using a melee weapon allows you to charge the attack for extra damage, but you’re stuck in place while doing so, so more agile enemies can take advantage of that. The touch-screen also comes into play when playing, as you can use health packs, ammo reloads, and tools from the backpack icon on-screen to heal, reload guns and repair damaged weapons. You can also swap weapons with the screen, and interact with the menu screens when paused through the screen. The game frequently prompts with tutorial displays when it feels they’re needed, but honestly, the controls are intuitive and you’ll likely figure out most of what the game wants you to know on your own before you leave the first zone, which is promising.

4.) Pressing the Start button brings up a multi-page menu screen that provides you with various pieces of useful information. The Character tab allows you to see your stats at that point, as well as improve them when you level up through earning experience. Your character is ranked in six categories that may not do what you think: Strength influences damage dealt, Dexterity improves critical and shield break chance with melee weapons as well as speed and defense, Vitality improves health and resistance, Agility improves dodge abilities as well as projectile weapon damage and shield breaks, Mind improves resistance to special attacks and karma ability duration, and Intelligence improves performance with “wildcard” weapons and trap awareness. In other words, the stats are familiar in name but their effects will take some getting used to. You can also see Artifacts you have equipped (which can improve stats on their own AND offer added bonuses based on where they’re slotted, which are dependent on your character class), Memory Residue (money in this game) and so on. You can jump to the Map to see a full-screen map of the level, or to lists of the Weapons, Rooms, beasts and Artifacts you’ve encountered in the game. There’s also a Notes screen to review notes you’ve found in your exploration, a Broadcasts tab for the TV broadcasts you see through the levels, and an Options menu that allows you to adjust effect settings, turn on VOIP support when playing online and view tutorials on how things work.

5.) As you meander around the game world you’ll find different weapons to use, ranging from more mundane melee (boards, knives) and ranged (pistols) weapons to more interesting things, like a Hyper Spray can that deals high damage in gas form. Each weapon has a base durability that decreases as you use it, and the icon for the weapon will change from green (good shape) to red (danger) before breaking entirely. Using a tool will repair the weapons on your person if you rather like what you have, but weapons are quite common through the game world and (so far) there aren’t any “special” weapons with added effects so if one breaks, you can find more. The game helpfully keeps track of what weapons you’ve encountered in the menu screen, and shows a level associated with each based on how frequently you’ve used it, which seems to imply that you can improve your performance with specific weapons, though the demo doesn’t clarify this any further. The game doesn’t seem to offer any sort of equipment system per say; while you can buy clothing to change your appearance, armor doesn’t seem to be a thing in Book of Memories to speak of. Instead, your character can find and equip Artifacts, such as coal, arrowheads and lighters, that provide statistical improvements on their own, like pluses to Strength or Intelligence or what have you. The slots you have available ALSO confer stat boosts when Artifacts are equipped in them, giving you an added bonus for equipping anything in those slots. As this seems to be the primary method of improving your character via equipment, it’s not a bad idea and works well in the demo. You can also upgrade your backpack as you progress, which allows you to carry more bullet refills, health and tools, and opens up spaces where you can store additional weapons in case you want to swap when one breaks. Only one upgrade is available in the demo, sadly, but it’s feasible that you’ll be able to open up several slots for weapons as you go, though you start with none, which is unfortunate.

6.) Most of the rooms you’ll pass through in the demo (and, one presumes, the game) serve obvious functions; save rooms allow you to save your game, shops let you buy and sell goods, and most rooms are standard rooms that allow you to fight enemies and pillage containers. Forsaken Rooms, however, are an oddity exclusive to Book of Memories, and they’re… different. The only Forsaken Room that seems to show up in the demo is that of the Crying Child, which features a small, crying little girl in a child’s bedroom. Your objective in these rooms is to generate a karma response, with three possible outcomes: Blood (presumably evil), Light (presumably good) and Neutral (does what it says on the box). In the case of the Crying Child room, harassing the child (bumping into her repeatedly) generates a Blood response, while leaving her alone generates a Light response (I couldn’t figure out how to make a Neutral response sadly), though other rooms will presumably have different requirements. Whichever choice you make will add points to your Karma meter of the appropriate type, which you can see in the upper-right corner. Karma doesn’t seem to have a plot-related effect at this point, but it does change some of the notes you find… and more importantly, it can be used to cast spells, called Karma Moves. Once you hit one of the notches on the Karma Meter, in either direction, from collecting Karma dropped from enemies or from Forsaken Rooms, the meter will flash. Tapping the meter allows you to use one of three abilities, based on how many bars you’ve hit on the meter. The trick is that Blood and Light are competing against one another, so collecting Light Karma and Blood Karma in equal measure doesn’t help you. The abilities are fairly useful, allowing for damaging attacks (with Blood) or healing (with Light) and make use of the bottom touch screen, but in a way that’s not onerous to operate.

7.) As has been mentioned, there is also a store built into (so far) every floor you find, run by Howard Blackwood, who one supposes is meant to be a permanent fixture in the series going forward. The store allows you to sell off items you don’t need if you want to make space, as well as buy weapons, customization items, Artifacts and other novelties with Memory Residue you collect. There’s nothing terribly special about the mechanic but given the minimal carrying capacity of your characters, it’s nice to see that there’s a store every floor in case you want to gather up the weapons on the floor for extra money. One thing you can only buy from Howard, however, are Power Moves. Basically, you can hold down R and press the button you assign the Power Move to as a way of using the move, though the only one on display changes the affinity of the monsters between Light and Blood, so it’s hard to know what else you might be able to do with such moves as the game moves on. Howard also uses the “They look like monsters to you?” line here, in a cute touch, though it’s not quite the same as it was in Silent Hill 3… just saying.

8.) Book of Memories employs a couple of useful reward systems to reward the player for doing well beyond the standard loot and experience you’d expect. The first comes from, of all places, Valtiel. The caretaker of the Otherworld starts off each section by offering you a task to complete. Doing so rewards you in some way (in the demo Valtiel gives you powerful weapons to use), while failing does nothing, so there’s no reason not to try and complete his requests. While this is… massively out of character for how we’ve come to understand Valtiel, it’s a fine mechanic and it’s a nice way to reward the player for completing out-of-the-normal requests. Further, escaping normal floors requires the player to collect various puzzle pieces to solve a puzzle at the end of the stage for cash profit. Basically, there are blue globes scattered around the game world that, when you shatter them, challenge you to complete a combat challenge of some sort. Most are as simple as “kill everything”, though some require additional work. Should you accomplish the task, you’ll be given one of the puzzle pieces to complete the stage. Once you have all the pieces, you can then trot off to the door to solve the puzzle. The puzzles on their own allow you the option to try to resolve them through trial and error (placing the pieces incorrectly will show a red aura around the incorrectly pieces once you test the combination), but you can also find a note somewhere in the stage explaining the puzzle before you. Completing the puzzle in as few attempts as possible pays out Memory Residue, though each failed attempt depletes the pot slightly, so you’ll want to try to solve the puzzle in as few tries as possible, for obvious reasons. The puzzles aren’t especially complicated, so far anyway, but it’s still a nice payoff for flexing your mental muscles a bit, at least.

9.) Aside from the aforementioned elements of the game, it’s basically a room-based dungeon hack, not unlike a Diablo with rigid room structure, and while there are the odd rooms with bonus items in them, and a Save Room where you can auto-save your progress, everything boils down to “kill everything, solve puzzle, leave level” for the most part. The demo contains two full floors of this, followed by a boss fight against a massive flame demon. The battle itself gives a good indication of what to expect from the combat system at its best, as you’ll spend a bit learning his patterns and dodging his attacks before you can move in and deal damage, but there’s nothing especially complex about the battle and you get a nice sword out of it, at least. Once you’ve completed the battle your character wakes up, realizes that reality has changed due to what they’ve written in the book, thinking that this is, of course, the best thing ever… which we all know is not the case, obviously.

10.) Silent Hill: Book of Memories seems like it’s (so far) a story-driven dungeon hack sort of experience, and IF WayForward can effectively pay off the promise the demo implies, this may be the best Silent Hill game to come out in a long time. The stripped down mechanics are a little disappointing in theory, but the game adds some interesting concepts to the mix that make for an interesting demo in practice. How the final game ties all of this together remains to be seen, but keep an eye out here and we’ll be sure to let you know how the final product turns out.

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    • Mark B.
    • Mark B.

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