Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a spin-off of the popular horror series created exclusively for the PlayStation Vita. What is interesting, and may be a source of some disappointment to long-time fans, is that this title is a dungeon-crawling, action RPG. That’s right, WayForward really took a huge departure from the series when creating Book of Shadows. Once you overlook this fact, however, Book of Shadows proves to be a very fun game, and is currently the best multiplayer option for the Vita.
Being a Silent Hill game, one would expect scares and a psychologically disturbing story with a relatable, ordinary protagonist. Sadly, you won’t be getting any of that in Book of Memories. Instead of a horror title, you have a dungeon-crawler; instead of a disturbing story, what is presented is ultimately narratively flat; and instead of an ordinary man, you have a created character that you feel no attachment to. These are the game’s big weaknesses, and the ultimate sources of my disappointment.
In terms of depth, the story is very lacking. The game starts you off by tasking you with creating your character, and you get to pick from 5 classes (jock, bookworm, goth, preppy, and rocker). Once you pick your class, you can customize how your character looks, though initially you are limited. After your character has been created, you receive a gift from someone that lives in Silent Hill. This gift is a book, and this book contains all of your life memories. Shortly after reading through the book, your character decides to re-write some of it. However, before your changes can take place you must go through a dream realm. In this realm you will find notes and ‘memory’ broadcasts that explain what you are trying to change in the real world. The catch is that when you improve your life through the book, someone else’s gets screwed up.
Now this scenario could have provided something gripping and disturbing, but ultimately it falls flat. The majority of the story is told through notes and broadcasts, and provide very little in the way of context as to what is going on in the real world. Not once do you get to step outside and witness what is happening to the people that you are affecting. On the plus side, there are six endings, and, in true Silent Hill fashion, one of them is a joke ending. Whether you want to see them all depends on how much of a completionist you are.
Another dropped ball is the karma system. Each enemy comes in three base types (light, blood, and steel). Killing an enemy may cause them to leave behind good or bad karma. The result of what your karmic standing is depends on what magical powers you have (light equates to health and blood equates to damage powers). What is frustrating is that you have to move over the residue to pick it up, which isn’t bad per say, it just feels clunky. Sometimes you will accidentally pick up the opposite karmic standing, or get knocked into one. Also, your standing will determine how the chapter you are playing ends. A light standing results in a ‘good’ result and a dark standing results in a darker end to the scenario. Sadly, variations between the good and bad standings are not terribly significant. It is a good idea, just one that was poorly implemented.
Despite the bland story and poor karma system, Book of Shadows is a blast to play. The action is fast paced, and very responsive. You can either have two one-handed weapons, or one two-handed weapon. Naturally, the two-handed weapon will be slower, but will offer greater reach and more damage. Since this is Silent Hill, the weapons have a limited amount of use. Use that pipe too much, and it will break. There are times when you will be scrapping with your fists, hoping to find a weapon or to find the shop to buy one. This does add in a nice touch of tension during the fights, sometimes forcing you to avoid unnecessary battles. You can carry some repair tools though, which will come in handy later on in the game. Firearms are available for those the prefer to fight from a distance, just know that ammo is scarce.
Book of Shadows also adds in some lite RPG elements. As you kill monsters and complete optional missions you will gain experience. Once you level up, you get two experience points to spend on two separate skills. There are also charms that can be found or purchased that can be equipped to add stat boosts for multiple skills. Adding to the elements is also the ability to level up your weapons. The system is very straight forward: the more you use a weapon, the experience it receives and eventually it will level up.
In the first two chapters resources like health packs, ammo, repair tools, and spare weapons will be found in bunches. In fact, you can say that you will find too many of them, and complain that you can’t carry them all. However, this is just to ease your way into the game, because in later levels the resources will be extremely limited. In the end, WayForward nailed the resource management areas of the series with Book of Shadows.
Despite the gameplay being fun, the game can become repetitive. Each stage’s goal amounts to finding keys to unlock doors, clear a combat challenge to collect a puzzle piece, complete an optional challenge (like kill Pyramid Head) for a rare weapon or charm, complete the puzzle at the end, and repeat until you make it to the boss stage. This is an inherent flaw with the dungeon-crawler genre in general, but it would have been nice to see WayForward add in some variety. Also, while the bosses are a nice change of pace, they all basically boil down to dodging and attacking while the boss is open for a hit.
Adding to the repetitiveness is the soundtrack. While the tracks are good and add to the atmosphere, they just become repetitive after about five minutes. Since each chapter is broken into three section, you will here the same track for the entire chapter which gets grating after awhile. Thankfully, the sound effects are great, for the most part. Combat sound effects carry a certain weight behind it, the monsters make their iconic noises, and the VO is very good. Sometimes though, sound will be dropped, mostly in-between gunshots.
Graphically, Book of Shadows looks great. The characters are detailed, the monsters look exactly how you expect them to look, and the environments are dark and drab (in a good way). Unfortunately, though, the environments do lack variety. It is very common to walk into different rooms that look identical to one another, and some of the textures are a little flat. Overall though, Book of Shadows is a very good looking game.
Technically, it runs perfectly. Not once did I notice any frame rate issues or screen tearing. Surprisingly, the same can be said when playing multiplayer. I cannot tell you how great it is to play a handheld mutliplayer game that is lag free, and it gives you the feeling that the people you are playing with are sitting right next to you.
On the subject of multiplayer, Book of Shadows has to be the best mutliplayer game for the Vita. Joining a game, and hosting one, is very easy to do. Once you have a game set up, you and up to three others will go through the section together. You can continue to forge ahead with the same crew for as long as you want. Voice chat is enabled, and there is a great text-based system set up for those without a headset. Multiplayer makes the game easier, especially during the later chapters. Let me tell you, it feels great taking down hoards of enemies with a group of people. Book of Shadows really shines when you are playing it with other people.
Despite being a huge departure from previous Silent Hill games, it is very easy for me to recommend Book of Shadows. You are getting a very fun, co-op dungeon-crawler. While you may be disappointed by the lack of scares or a gripping story, Book of Shadows is a great portable title. Does Book of Shadows suffer from repetitiveness? Yes, but it is also the best multiplayer game for the Vita, and it is a very satisfying dungeon-crawler for fans of the genre.