It's almost Halloween, so it's time for another marathon! Each day until October 31st I will be covering my experiences with the Silent Hill video game series.
Survival horror games have always seemed very intriguing to me, but I was also a bit scared to play them too. Now that I've been watching more horror films, I thought I might be ready for them. When the Silent Hill HD Collection was announced, I wanted to start with the very first game in the series to see if I could handle it. The game was made in 1999 for the original Playstation. The graphics are downright horrible in places. Surely it wouldn't scare me, right?
The game starts out fairly mild, as the lead character Harry gets in a car accident with his daughter, but then she disappears from the car. You're tasked with finding her in the fog covered town of Silent Hill. This world frequently switches between a deserted but otherwise normal town to a freakish nightmare world. Even the normal world isn't safe though, as it's inhabited by skinless dogs and large birds. The nightmare world features ultra-creepy faceless children, zombie-like doctors and nurses, and faceless corpses looking to hump you. No, really.
The first major task of the game is to go to the abandoned elementary school, and this is where things start to get scary. While the graphics are outdated, the sound more than makes up for it. The children giggle and whisper, there are random slams and bangs to make you jump out of your seat, and the music builds as you enter certain areas of the building. I found myself really scared to open doors, uncertain of what I might find on the other side.
It's a really great feeling you simply can't get from watching a horror film. When you watch a movie, you might want a character to not go in the house, but they are going to regardless. With these video games, you and only you are responsible for making it happen. You can delay as much as you want, but if you have any intention of getting through this game, you're going to have to do it.
Unfortunately, the further the game goes on, the more you get used to its methods of scaring you. Each enemy you run into initially can be quite creepy, but after awhile the effect wears off. You go from "Die you creepy little kid!" to "Just shut up already!" Even the music starts to wear off after awhile, as I found myself telling it "Yes, yes, you're very scary. I'm proud of you." You can only hear ominous music build so many times and find nothing on the other side of the door until it just doesn't have an effect on you.
I'm willing to forgive the diminishing returns because when the game does get you, it gets you good. What I'm not so willing to forgive is the complete mess of a story. The dialogue is absolutely terrible. It's clear that someone did a perfunctory translation of the Japanese and then seemed to ask the voice actors to record their dialogue one line at a time. Honestly, that last part is probably related to disc memory and such, but it makes everything come off sounding really stilted. It's also just really stupid in parts.
Harry: "This time was different. Instead of just shifting from the normal world to the nightmare world, it felt like the normal world became the nightmare world."
Thank you, Mr. Exposition.
Harry: "It's an altar. I wonder what they worshipped?"
You've seen corpses hanging on walls and blood splattered all over the floor, and only now you are starting to wonder what kind of religion this is? Seriously, he says this at the climax of the game.
This dialogue also results in the actual plot of the game not being explained very well. I felt a lot like I was watching Akira or playing the original Final Fantasy in that there was definitely a story going on underneath the surface but the translation just was not giving me all I needed.
The other frustrating thing about the game was that it is exceedingly easy to get lost. While wandering the hospital, I never found a map of the place. Being given no clear direction on where I was supposed to go, this resulted in me losing out on picking up a few key items that would have allowed me to get the best ending. Later, following the directions the game told me, I very nearly ended up stuck with the worst ending. The only reason I avoided it was because Jak had previous experience with the game and told me I had missed something. I ended up having to redo a half hour worth of gameplay, but I'm just glad I had kept an alternate save point from earlier that allowed me to even do that.
While not a perfect game by any means, I consider this a great introduction to the survival horror genre that made me want to dig deeper.
Here's a really silly video Jak and I made after sitting through the mind numbing dialogue in this game.