As regular readers already know, my survival horror experience is woefully thin. I’ve only recently started working my way through the Resident Evil series, and my understanding of Silent Hill is strictly limited to images I’ve seen of Pyramid Head. When Book of Memories came in for review, I knew two things about it: 1) it bears the Silent Hill name, which has, for some reason, infuriated a lot of fans. This is because 2) it isn’t a survival horror game.

Book of Memories isn’t a normal entry in the series. Rather, it’s an action-RPG with survival and puzzle-solving elements. It brings some fresh ideas and a great premise to the table, but ultimately falls a bit short of greatness because of unforgiving difficulty spikes that require too much backtracking. The story kept pulling me back, but the design threw up roadblocks at nearly every turn.

At the outset, you’ll be asked to choose one of 10 symbols. The game never tells you what they represent, but the one you select will award you with a permanent attribute. I chose the clover, which increased the durability of every weapon I carried. There are also six statistics that relate to health and health pack potency, strength, ability to break through enemy’s blocks, damage taken from different attack types and more. There is a help option, so you can remind yourself what each category correlates to at any time. There are also artifacts that can be slotted to boost your stats. Book of Memories has all the trappings of a competent action RPG, including a fascinating narrative.

The idea behind the game is fascinating. A mysterious mailman delivers a strange book to your customized character on his/her birthday. Inside is every detail of your life, including your brightest moments and most embarrassing failures. The temptation to correct past mistakes, if only on paper, is too great. There are consequences for changing reality, though. Drifting off to sleep sucks your character into a nightmarescape filled with mutilated dogs, terrifying nurses and, yes, Pyramid Head.

Each of the different regions of the dream world are focused on a particular event. Getting passed up for a promotion puts you at odds with a ghastly visage of the person who did get the nod, for instance. Each “zone” of the game is similar. You’ll need to collect pieces to solve a puzzle before you can leave. You’ll also receive a bonus mission at the outset of each randomly generated area. These include mundane tasks like finding a number of items in cabinets to trickier propositions like leading a dog through the maze without it getting killed. Complete your assignment, and you’ll be awarded with a powerful weapon or artifact.

Unlike many titles in the genre, Book of Memories feels very segmented. Each zone is a series of rooms with connecting corridors. Once you clear out a space, it stays empty. Along the way, you’ll encounter libraries to save your progress mid-zone, shops staffed by the mailman that delivered the book to your door, event rooms that have three outcomes (evil, neutral, good) and more. The results of the event rooms aren’t terribly clear, but they are interesting diversions.

There is a great flashlight mechanic. When on, searchable shelves and drawers glow red. However, some enemies become enraged by the light, so you’ll need to remember to turn it off.

Enemies come in two general flavors: Blood and Light. These leave behind memory residue (currency) as well as a pool of elemental matter. Blood and Light exist on a spectrum, so focusing on collecting one or the other is advised. When you’ve collected enough of this karma, you can unleash one of three abilities. Blood karma skills focus on pure damage. Light powers typically confer health.

There are also “power moves” that can be expended (and regenerated through combat) that can change the element of every enemy in the room, damage in 360 degrees and more. These can be unlocked via purchase at the shop. This adds diversity to combat, but one thing stuck out among the great story and interesting enemy types. The game’s difficulty curve forced me to retread completed zones multiple times. It became impossible to survive and proceed, and revisiting places I’d been before, picking up the same notes and listening to repeated television broadcasts of conversations that have been altered by tampering with the book became tedious. It killed my desire to forge ahead.

This is made worse by repeated side missions and puzzles that are either blindingly obvious or so obtuse that guessing was the only course of action. These could have been so much more, but instead, they are rehashes of the same core concept. You’ll need to place X objects in a specified order based on a clue located somewhere in the zone. It’s frustrating to get to the end and only be missing that one thing. You can play it loose, asking for hints and, in turn, reducing your cash bonus.

Collecting those puzzle pieces is positioned smartly, but ultimately handled in repetitious fashion. In some rooms, you’ll find a blue orb. Smashing it begins a rush of enemies, and while each of these little challenges has a different name, they amount to one thing: kill the monsters. This can be confounded with hidden trap tiles that can cause direct damage or status-altering effects.

As you progress, it’s important to upgrade your backpack to increase the number of health packs and ammo clips you can carry. Additionally, you’ll be able to start carrying weapons. This is critical, because use degrades armaments to the point of breaking. Once this happens, even the best and most powerful gear is gone forever. Weapon types will gain experience and level up with use, but it’s a slow and arduous process that, again, supports the design of grind and backtrack.

That’s the theme with Silent Hill: Book of Memories. There are fantastic ideas with uneven execution. Another area where plan and implementation struggle to align is in the presentation.

The visuals are even and interesting throughout. Each set of zones focuses on one event in the player character’s life has a theme. Unfortunately, these are merely cosmetic and don’t influence the game play. The corridors are eerie, but because there is no threat when moving between rooms, the atmosphere is diminished because they serve as a breather between combat situations.

The sound is far more cohesive, creating a mysterious and ominous setting. The sounds of gunshots and melee items being swung and connecting with flesh are meaty and satisfying. The voice acting, particularly in the broadcasts that play to fill in the alterations your character makes to the book, are well performed. Unfortunately, these continue to be a thin thread that runs through the proceedings, and more of a reminder of the game’s thesis rather than a fully fleshed out narrative. Of course, with the amount of backtracking and grinding, anything more would feel disjointed.

There is a lot that was going right for Silent Hill: Book of Memories, despite its troubled development, last minute delays and poor marketing. It draws from a rich universe and provides a type of game play experience that suits the Vita quite well. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more done with the concept and a greater focus on progression. Resorting to repeated puzzles, level grinding and lackluster bonus missions drags the experience down, and I became weary quickly. The online multiplayer offers a better experience than the solo dungeon crawling, but without defined character classes or skill trees, it’s more about strength in numbers than strategy and complementary loadouts.

I had high hopes that this was the action RPG that would fill the hole that Ruin, my most anticipated title from the Vita’s reveal, had left in my heart. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps someone will drop the Book of Memories off at my doorstep one day and I’ll be able to right this wrong.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Fantastic premise
+ Interesting combat
+ Game play and control scheme are a good fit for the platform
+ Multiplayer offers a more enjoyable experience
- Grinding. So. Much. Grinding.
- Rehashed puzzles start interesting and quickly become tedious
- Secondary missions are hit or miss
- Collections in every zone rely on killing enemies in a room before moving on

 

6 and 6.5 represent a game that doesn’t do anything spectacular or drastically fails to meet the high expectations people had for it. These scores are for games that you would only recommend to diehard fans of the series or genre, something that the average gamer wouldn’t miss very much if he/she skipped it. A game in this range has rental written all over it.

Silent Hill: Book of Memories was developed by WayForward and published by Konami. It was released on October 16, 2012 at the MSRP of $39.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.