I’ve always been somewhat dubious of horror games on portable systems, because it’s hard to be scared when the bad guy is tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand. I still have a place in my heart for the Silent Hill series, however, so I gave the Vita version of Book of Memories a shot. Put aside whatever you might think you think about it, because it’s not the kind of Silent Hill you’re used to playing. It’s a dungeon crawler … and a darn fine one, too.
What Guardian of Light did for Tomb Raider, Book of Memories does for Silent Hill, putting the main franchise on hold while it spins off into a fresh new direction. Book of Memories takes everything you expect in a classic dungeon crawler – the isometric view, the stat management, the experience points, the monster killing – and coats it in a thick Silent Hill coat of paint. The Silent Hill setting works perfectly for the format, giving you plenty of creepy things that want to do you harm, doors locked with mysterious hexes, and lots of magical geegaws that must be collected before you can move on.
You begin the game by choosing from one of five classes – not anything as traditional as “healer” or “magic user,” but characters that favor certain stats over certain others. You’ll gain experience by slaying monsters, and be able to assign points to the stats of your choice as you level up. I started a demo in mid-stream and took up a character that was dual wielding a knife and a meat cleaver, with each hand controlling separately. Weapons degrade as you use them, which can make for some unfortunate moments if you’re not paying attention. Ever try to do battle with a skinless dog when you’re armed with nothing but harsh language? It’s awkward. Fortunately, you can bring a bit of posse with you, as Book of Memories offers multiplayer, so perhaps your buddy will take pity and save you. Or watch you die and cackle over your corpse. Depends on what kinds of friends you have, really.
You’ll use the Vita’s touch screen to do things like collect inventory items and solve puzzles; once I had collected a series of statues from various nooks and corners, I used the touch screen to place them in the proper order and unlock a door. Your backpack can only hold a specific number of certain items, however, so you’ll have to buy a bigger one at a shop if, like me, you need an entire pharmacy’s worth of medkits in order to feel truly comfortable. I don’t expect to genuinely be scared by Book of Memories, but one still wants plenty of health items when confronted with randomly generated levels and petite Pyramid Heads.
The dungeon crawl is an unexpected direction for Silent Hill, but it fits beautifully on the Vita and I’ll be intrigued to learn more when Book of Memories comes out this October.