Living up to its name, the Book of Memories allows those that possess it to change the memories of others, essentially warping events in their favour to gain anything their little heart’s desire. Since said book arrives from the twisted town of Silent Hill, the consequences are inevitably twisted as well.
Changing memories in your favour comes at the expense of someone else’s good fortune. At least, I think that’s how this works.
After an initial delivery from a familiar postman, narrative depends on snippets of text, which during the first level detailed one person’s troubles at work, eventually leading to my own character getting a promotion because of said woes by the level’s completion. As with Silent Hill: Downpour earlier this year, the series seems continually flustered in the attempt to capture the essence of minimalist story telling that has made previous entries in the franchise successful.
The less-is-more approach here feeds detachment from events and characters that players have no emphasis or opportunity to make a connection with, which severely hurts the grind of play the game offers as the main course.
In order to change memories, players will enter an isometric chamber of horrors. Rooms filled with the iconic deviant monstrosities of Silent Hill are connected by passageways, which at times touches upon a delightful sense of being inside an insidious cube, ala Hellraiser, or, you know, Cube. Said rooms offer similarly iconic weapons, from steel pipes to meat cleavers, and pistols consistently lower on ammunition than one might prefer.
Players can hold two smaller weapons in each hand and switch attacks by alternating button presses, while larger weapons, like the steel pipe, require both mitts while offering a wider reaching swing. In keeping with the series, weapons will deteriorate with use, but wrenches found throughout the rooms can be used to restore these.
Player stats will rise while stumbling through the dungeon crawling action RPG mash-up, and enemies will drop currency that can be used to purchase new items and weapons on occasion.
Each level involves a person of interest for the protagonist, which is then split into zones wherein the goal is to collect puzzle pieces that ultimately unlock the doorway to the next zone, with all of this leading toward a boss encounter before changing the desired memories. Of course, the puzzle pieces require solving a puzzle, entirely by placing objects on the correct tiles. It’s about as engaging as it sounds, and undermined by the fact that you will need the help of the switch that tells you which pieces aren’t in their correct places. I mean, that’s how much faith WayForward had that these puzzles make sense – they had to leave a giant safety switch in place, because if they hadn’t I wouldn’t have made it far enough to even begin talking about the game.
So now that we have some of the nagging details out of the way, here’s the thing – Book of Memories is really about moving from room to room clobbering the bestiary of Silent Hill until your fingers hurt.
Rooms with puzzle pieces require players to smash a glowing orb to summon a set amount of monsters, while other rooms toss a bunch in before players will find a quiet moment to search the drawers and shelves of an area to find supplies, notes, and keys. On the subject of keys, they are a complete pain. If I had a nickel for every time I had to retrace my steps to find the one drawer I missed with a key inside, I’d have had enough money to buy WayForward some more development time.
As the game progresses, the number and variety of monsters increase while the weapons and health supplies decrease, because that’s what you do in these situations, I suppose. But the game might have gotten more mileage out of doing one or the other without both happening together, because the sliding scale of the difficulty gets a tad ridiculous. This doesn’t create an immensely difficult game, it just feeds a sense of tedium until you lose all interest in progressing, and if players had more supplies, then there would at least be that much more of an ounce of motivation toward progressing to see more of Silent Hill’s disturbing creations brought to life.
The damndest thing is, that as boring as this sounds, there is a degree of legitimate fun here to be had. As a long time resident of Silent Hill, I rather enjoy knocking these monsters over the head via this isometric viewpoint. The ability to drag friends into the mix with a multiplayer game via ad hoc and/or the Internet opens that fun portal a little wider, though you may have trouble finding strangers on the Internet to share a game with at the moment. There’s also something a bit strange about stabbing nurses with a friend in Silent Hill land. What I wouldn’t give for a Silent Hill game that let others play as the monsters.
But, anyway –
The problems that stab away at the fun are familiar to regular entries in the series of late, a muddled attempt to tape together signature pieces of the franchise with a half-hearted effort to spin a new direction for the ride.
And once again, as with Downpour this year, it’s a damn shame. The Book of Memories is a terrific idea, but one that players have no real interaction with here, in a game filled with characters and events we are told the significance of rather than being given the opportunity to feel and experience for ourselves.
As a Vita title to boot, a general lack of save points and some muddy aesthetics leave the game feeling like a PlayStation Portable port with some admittedly handy touchscreen features for item use, which makes it that much harder to recommend what certainly is an interesting deviation for the series, though ultimately another misstep in attempting to make one of the most cherished franchises in the horror genre relevant today.