Memories that are somewhat forgettable.

2013-05-23-130315
The powerful little book.

Silent Hill has become a somewhat tricky IP to handle. Konami have long sinced outsourced from the original Team Silent who made the PSOne and PS2 titles that we know and love, instead focusing on giving developers the freedom of their own takes on the franchise, for better or worse. Whilst the PSP had two fairly successful titles in the franchise, the Playstation Vita features the series’ biggest departure yet. Those hoping for your typical survival horror are going to be incredibly disappointed if they didn’t research Silent Hill: Book of Memories before purchasing. The title has much more in common with the PS2 version of Baulder’s Gate: Dark Alliance or more recently the Dungeon Hunter series that Gameloft is successfully ruining further with each and every installment. Played from an isometric top-down perspective Book of Memories would rather you beat to death hoards of monsters than have them creeping you out in the dark. Developed by WayForward Technologies as an exclusive, I can’t help but feel disappointed that Book of Memories isn’t a traditional survival horror such as the series is well known for. Even so there is a lot on offer here for dungeon crawlers so let’s get back to what Book of Memories achieves.

Not one for the tree huggers.
Not one for the tree huggers.

Book of Memories starts off with a fairly basic character creation tool in which you choose sex, clothing and amongst other things a class and charm which although unexplained by the game affect your initial stats and award you certain perks, for example the compass charm shows you the location of each zones save, point and shop. The story begins with your chosen character in the room of his apartment block on his birthday where he receives a mysterious package delivered by hand that contains a book. Upon opening this book you realise that your entire life is written within the pages and as curiosity killed the cat it turns out rewriting the book can change the course of history, for better or worse. As soon as you start writing you are transported into the hell-like worlds you can see in the screenshots and so your journey begins. Each zone begins with you transported through a warp gate where you are greeted by Valtiel (a giant beast) who will give you a task for the zone. Tasks are often fairly simple and involve killing X-number of specific creatures, finding certain items or even protecting a dog. You can of course choose to ignore these tasks but each time you complete one you are given special items at the end of each zone such as extremely powerful weapons so it’s definitely worth taking the extra time on. Every single zone has the same principle in Book of Memories. You move from room to room, killing everything as you go and searching shelves, cupboards and so on for loot. Your flashlight when turned on makes points of interest glow red so you know where to look and in this respect the action is fast paced and fun, initially at least. Weapons are littered everywhere in Book of Memories but when using them they also degrade very quickly and break so it’s important to keep switching them on the fly so you don’t end up bare handed. Control is relatively simple and assigns the Square button to your left hand and the Triangle to your right (though two handed weapons also feature). You can block attacks too but dodging tends to be a much better option as it’s much easier to catch the enemy from behind. Everything handles pretty well and responsive but the problem is it all becomes repetitive pretty quickly. Don’t get me wrong, mindless hacking can be a good thing and I love killing hordes of enemies in Dynasty Warriors but the combat isn’t really exciting enough to last the incredibly lengthy campaign.

Challenge rooms are key but not varied enough.
Challenge rooms are key but not varied enough.

WayForward has tried to make things a little more varied in the level design, special moves and story. As I mentioned previously the game is split into zones, and each third zone has a Guardian boss at the end. I actually found the design of enemies good and while they have specific patterns of behaviour they are fun to play against. Enemies range from zombie nurses the series is well known for, to dogs, giant flying creatures and even the classic Pyramid Head. Graphically the framerate remains rock solid and detail is fairly high. Each set of three zones has a theme (fire, wood etc.)  so graphically things are kept fairly fresh. After the final story zone of 21 each zone thereafter is randomly generated so you can continue playing if you wish (one trophy is unlocked by playing to zone 100). The problem is the difficulty  level in Book of Memories ramps up very quickly and so grinding becomes necessity early on. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if combat was a little more exciting or deeper but it simply isn’t and with the 21 zones in the main story alone and with each taking on average up to an hour to complete it can become rather tedious. To frustrate even further if you die you lose all of your weapons and healing packs and get thrown back to your nearest save point which could be half an hour or more previously.

No dogs were harmed during the writing of this article.
No dogs were harmed during the writing of this article.

To mix things up there are several special rooms in each zone. Forsaken rooms are initially a mystery and your actions in them are aligned to light, neutral or dark. Challenge rooms  feature several times in each zone and generally involve killing lots of enemies. When you complete a challenge room you are given a piece of a puzzle which is solved at the end of each zone. Puzzles at the end of zones are randomly generated but are generally straightforward and involve laying out the puzzle pieces collected within the zone in a particular order. Hidden throughout each zone you also find notes scattered about and your actions in game will make some notes change to light or blood. These notes tie directly into the story of your character and the situation of each zone and often contain clues on how to change them, such as keeping your flashlight off for more than half the zone or keeping health above a certain level. Some rooms also have television sets which play audio clips based on the way you have affected the story and so as you play you will branch off towards light or blood in your actions. There are six endings in the game based on your actions but whether you will have the patience to see them all due to the repetitive nature is doubtful.

Lighting effects are one of the stronger points.
Lighting effects are one of the stronger points.

There are also karma abilities and these have to be powered up by collecting white or red blood from enemies. The problem is that it’s easy to kill an enemy and accidentally walk over the patch of blood it leaves behind by mistake. Adding further to the frustration is how little each pool of blood affects this meter. Given the hard difficulty these special abilities become vital and it can take easily an hour to power up enough to use them once. These abilities are supposed to tie in to the multiplayer aspect but as I was unable to find anyone to play with so I was unable to test them fully. The light based abilities involve sucking the health of enemies using the rear touchpad to heal yourself and other players. By contrast, the blood abilities focusing on killing enemies in the same way. I actually liked this use of the ear touchpad as it allows you to use both fingers to create a line of destruction and within it enemies and players are affected. There are also special moves you can purchase from the shop which are simply powered up by you killing enemies and so these are much more useful and can be used a lot more often. Weapons, health packs and extra storage in your backpack can also be purchased from the shop and the game charges you MR (memory residue) which can be found scattered about and sometimes drops when enemies are slain. Again, this is a fairly sparsely available currency and involves grinding earlier levels to accumulate.

Horny devil. Something like that.
Horny devil. Something like that.

The general interface and HUD are well designed and involve tapping the screen which works perfectly but the Book of Memories menus where you level up your stats, check the bestiary and so on have tiny writing which may strain the eyes. There’s also a complexity to the layout that means I had to constantly check the manual or the little question mark for hints on what the stats altered. Sound in the game is generally good with fairly fitting background noise and generic grunting and moaning noises. At times battles sounded more like an S&M porno than a true fight though. As you can probably tell my experiences with Book of Memories weren’t that positive. It is a game I may come back to at a later date but only hardcore dungeon crawling enthusiasts will see the game through to completion. The price on the UK Playstation Network has since dropped from £34.99 to £24.99 permanently which makes things a little more bearable but the fact that the story isn’t enough to drive you on through hundreds and hundreds of similar looking rooms and enemies means despite the length of the title (easily 70+ hours to plat) I can’t really recommend Book of Memories to a wider audience. Also if you are going for a platinum trophy I wish you good luck as several are tied into online multiplayer and the chance of finding people is often bleaker than the cloudy greys Silent Hill became famous for. If you have to have a dungeon crawler on the Vita between this and Dungeon Hunter: Alliance I’d say Book of Memories takes it, but those looking for a deep and rich dungeon crawler, or an ARPG will be left with a somewhat stale taste in the mouth.

  • Lester Paredes

    I like the game, but i agree with your points. i can only take so much of it in a sitting. Still, I do love to kill things and gradually level up and become stronger, so it’s still in my rotation. Still, it makes me lament the loss of that other Vita dungeon crawler that looked amazing: Ruin. Lost to time, I suppose.

    • Jonathan Harding-Rathbone

      Ruin has been delayed but not cancelled. I believe it is still set for later this year 🙂

      • Lester Paredes

        FOR SERIOUS!? I could hug you for all the joy and anticipation you have inspired in me! Whoo! I hope it’s good and that the long development cycle hasn’t ruined it…

      • Lester Paredes

        A return to sadness, for it has been confirmed that Ruin/Warrior’s Lair is officially cancelled. http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/07/03/warriors-lair-on-ps3-and-vita-has-been-cancelled

        • Jonathan Harding-Rathbone

          That sucks. I’m really starting to wonder what, if anything, Sony has under their sleeve as this was a highly anticipated release. It says over 80 games before Christmas but how many are indies? Indies are great but I doubt very much that all these indies are system sellers.

          • Lester Paredes

            Agreed. Sony needs to do something. And as cool as it is, PS4 remote play isn’t the answer. I, for one, won’t be using it right away because I won’t be able to get one at launch, or for at least 2 years.

  • Rhys Hughes

    Great review Jon. I played the demo and this lines up pretty much with my thoughts about the game as well.

  • Rosalind Harris

    Yeah, I got bored even with the relatively short demo, I can’t imagine playing this game for over 20 hours. Seemed pretty uninspiring to me in terms of gameplay, and I actually thought it was pretty ugly looking too. Haha. I was really hoping for a survival horror game more like the originals when this game was announced, so it was pretty much a huge disappointment for me. ):

  • XtemmA2

    Thanks for the review. I always need stuff like this especially when the game is under heavy PS+ discounts. Doesn’t matter how steep the discount is if i won’t enjoy playing it anyway.