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Demo Impressions: Silent Hill: Book of Memories

October 4, 2012, Author: Andy Corrigan

Poor old Book of Memories. Despite never being billed as anything but a non-canonical spin-off, the upcoming Silent Hill game has received nothing but undue scorn for not being a canonical instalment. Given the level of the outcry, you’d be forgiven for thinking that developer WayForward had travelled back in time and erased the classic titles from the history books, before heading to every single fan’s house and bricking puppies on their doorsteps.

Call me crazy, but as long as it’s not hurting the legacy of the series (it’s not, plus Konami have done that enough themselves), I kinda like the idea of a dirty-looking top-down RPG in Silent Hill’s clothing…

Well, whatever your disposition, every Vita owner now has the chance to see how the game might turn out, thanks to the recently released demo…

How does it play out?

When you first boot up the demo, you’ll be offered a choice from one of eight ‘lucky’ charms. Naturally, being a psychological game, you’ll pick the one most attractive to you, and this will have a slight effect on your opening stats.

Following that, you’ll get to create your character, picking their gender, class and then basic features. There are only two classes on offer in the demo and those are Preppy and Goth. Of course, their available outfits and style will differ depending on which you choose. Being the superficial type, I picked a male Preppy due to the sharp blazer. If I accidentally refer to my character as ‘him’ occasionally in the remainder of this piece, you’ll now know that it’s not because of sexism, despite that being all the rage in the games industry at the moment.

Looking suave!

Even though it’s not a canonical iteration, the game still follows a basic yet interesting story. Your character is in their dorm when a knock on the door provides an interesting surprise. It’s a familiar face, delivering a mysterious package from Silent Hill. Confused, your character discovers that it’s a book, and scribbled therein is every memory they have ever lived. Feeling a tad anarchistic, they decide to re-write parts to their fancy, before falling into a deep sleep.

They wake up in the Otherworld, where they are greeted by a demon. You are advised that by doing their bidding, your character be greatly rewarded, and then you’re thrust into gameplay.

From here, it’s plain to see that the game borrows heavily from the likes of Diablo and Torchlight, as Book of Memories ditches the horror tropes for some classic adventuring at an isometric angle. The odd coupling does work pretty damn well, providing both an addictive dungeon grind and plenty of fan service, ironically aimed at those who are most up in arms about the game’s existence.

Book of Memories does look suitably grim and dingy, and though scares are not its aim, The Otherworld is still dank, creepy and rusty, while all the enemies you’ll encounter here are instantly familiar. Two-headed dogs? Check. Nurses? Check. It’s nowhere near the best-looking game on Vita, but at least from a design point of view it suits the series’ legacy.

The content of the demo itself is generous in gameplay time, but it doesn’t really show you too much over its two levels and boss fight. You work your way from room to room fulfilling the mission set for you from the outset, while collecting the pieces to solve a puzzle that will open passage to the next level. The tutorial system isn’t the most informative, it must be said, but it’s pretty easy to work out the buttons, and the controls are nice and responsive.

They're not going for the scares in this instalment!

You’ll begin empty-handed, but it doesn’t take long before you find some blades and blunt weapons to use on the early enemies. Square acts as the attack button for one hand, Triangle the other, and once you get your hands on those weapons, the flexibility of its implementation becomes clear.

For example, you could go for a knife in the left and steel pipe in the right, and alternate these attacks in combos as much as you like. It also works particularly well once you find your first gun, allowing you to switch between ranged and melee attacks on the fly (the left shoulder button allows you to lock on to enemies, which makes aiming a piece of cake). As with a lot of RPG’s, you’ll need to be mindful of your weapon’s conditioning, as they won’t ever last very long.

Elsewhere, block and dodge is assigned to the Circle button, X acts as your action button, and the Select button toggles your flashlight. Other than that, every other action, including health and ammo management, is performed via the touchscreen with all options within a nice, easy reach.

The combat does get a little repetitive, but let’s face it, that can be typical of the dungeon crawling genre. Here in the demo, though, it was highlighted by the fact that there really isn’t much in the way of special powers to play around with. It is easy and intuitive to jump into, handling well overall, though I hope that as you climb the levels in the full release, more interesting attacks and abilities will make themselves available. In this instance, levelling up a few times only provided a handful of points to meagrely spend across basic attributes, and the immediate impact of that is negligible.

Any self-respecting RPG features loot, and for this you’ll need your torchlight on, which will highlight (in bright red) anything in the scenery that you’ll be able to interact with; this usually means drawers and dressers. When you approach a piece of furniture and hit the action button, the drawer will appear in the middle of the screen, and you can tap on what you’d like to take. Nice touch!

The basic level structure repeats itself over the two available dungeons. You explore room by room, taking on what’s in there as you go. While the demon who first greets you gives you a mission before you head off (and will give you a sweet-ass weapon when you complete it), your other objective is to find Challenge Orbs to unlock puzzle pieces.

Challenge Orbs provide you a task before it hands over what you need, though, and this seems to just involve defeating spawning enemies under certain criteria. The first one, for example, is simply to kill just two enemies, while subsequent challenges involve time limits and health restrictions. Once you’ve beaten all the challenges in an area, you can take the puzzle pieces to the level exit and solve a cryptic touchscreen puzzle to move on.

On each of these two levels there is a shop in which you can buy new weapons, ammo and other gear, plus a Forsaken Room, which is an eerie chamber that once bore witness to dramatic events. In the nursery themed room here, your character will encounter a crying little girl, who will interact with you slightly differently each time. Forsaken Rooms will only ever appear in the offline game in the full retail release.

A familiar face acts as the shopkeeper...

To be fair, multiplayer is looking to be a huge part of the experience, but unfortunately I’m unable to test it out with this demo. Although the ‘Invites’ option appears in the menu, there was no apparent way to invite friends, nor was there any evidence of a matchmaking system in effect, so I assume it’s a single-player demo only at this point.

As it is, despite its decent length, I fear that this taster tells us very little about the long game. Although I’m still very much interested in how the full release pans out off the back of this demo, my main concern at this point remains a question of potential repetition; will it vary things up as much as we’ve come accustomed to in similar RPGs? Will the rewards be there for playing?

Regardless, I remain hopeful that Book of Memories hits its mark when it releases later this October.