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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #20—Silent Hill 2

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OnlySP Favorite Games 20 - Silent Hill 2

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s entry to the list is an elder statesman of the survival horror genre; the granddaddy of great modern spook-ems.

Silent Hill 2 gameplay screenshot

#20. SILENT HILL 2, by Ben Newman

What really keeps people up at night? What niggles at society’s heels when it isn’t looking? Where does horror really come from? These are big questions to ask, but thankfully, 2001’s Silent Hill 2 has already answered them. Following on from 1998’s surprising Silent Hill for the PlayStation, Konami’s Team Silent had amassed quite the reputation.

What was planned out as a mere Resident Evil clone, Silent Hill subverted its contemporary’s reliance on jump scares for deep, emotive horror. Despite Silent Hill’s cult-hit status, the industry-shaking impact of its sequel could not have been estimated, especially given that the ripples of its ruminations can be felt today.

Silent Hill 2 opens with the game’s plain-looking protagonist, James Sunderland, staring into the mirror, touching his face. James has just driven into town to meet his wife Mary. All appears well, except for the fact that Mary died two years beforehand, and James has recently received a letter from her asking to meet him in “their special place.” James takes the news in his stride, before descending on the blanketed fog of Silent Hill to find a wife who he knows is dead.

Evidently, not a lot has happened in James’s life after Mary moved on. Here, though, is the first warning that not is all right with James, nor the town which he will find himself lost in.

Silent Hill 2 gameplay screenshot 2

The town of Silent Hill is breath-taking, but not in the traditional sense. Walking through the game’s carefully disarranged corridors and endless, unflinching ocean of fog is suffocating; to call Silent Hill 2’s environments unnerving would be somewhat of an understatement, you can feel its influence seeping through your pores. The town feels as though it is stretching out of the screen, mostly due to the game’s superb sense of place and environmental design.

This combination, amalgamating the unknown with the familiar, is what carries the game’s unshakable horror. Wandering through the empty backstreets and dilapidated apartments of Silent Hill gives off the sense that the place was once habitable before descending into unquantifiable, strange disrepair. In Silent Hill 2, the town feels like a character in and of itself, goading everlastingly.

Rounding off the attention to detail of the environments is the title’s sound design. Just standing in the game is deeply unsettling, met with a never-ending drone, dispersed only with anxious silence or unrelenting industrial music. The game’s overall ambience is rounded off by its music, which is gorgeously—or perhaps horrendously, in some cases—detailed.

Gameplay-wise, Silent Hill 2 is rough. However, at the risk of sounding controversial, that doesn’t matter in the game’s case and, in fact, reinforces James’s strong sense of characterisation. James is not a fighter, he’s an average guy. He tires quickly, his running looks strange, the swinging of a melee weapon and the use of guns feels awkward, but these actions would naturally function and appear as ungainly in a soft, unseasoned man. While playing the game may not feel good in a strictly narrow, gameplay-first sense, the jankiness of the gameplay embeds the player in James’s shoes, along with making each altercation with the game’s enemies feel riskier.

Silent Hill 2 does run off the same Resident Evil-inspired routine as its predecessor: conserve resources, solve puzzles, and unlock doors. While the central gameplay loop is obvious and, by today’s standards, played out, the game manages to keep the loop entertaining by its penchant for sound design, tension, and environments.

Combat, though, does not have the same sense of satisfying conclusion as its Resident Evil counterpart. Following a fight with one of Silent Hill 2’s myriad of enemies, players can end up feeling a little drained and, well, sickened. Silent Hill 2 is not fun to play, but games are not meant solely as avenues of mindless entertainment.

Silent Hill 2’s story nestles into the creases of your brain. Running wholeheartedly with cinematic influences ranging from David Lynch to Jacob’s Ladder, as well as a healthy dose of genre fiction references, the plot comes across as especially nuanced. What the game does best, though, is matching symbolism with the story in a way that doesn’t come across as heavy-handed.

Without wanting to spoil the story too much, the symbolism of the game’s monsters, characters, and the erratic behaviour of James himself leave the player, sometimes unconsciously, questioning where horror really lies. For me personally, when I put down the controller after viewing the credits for the first time, the horror that lingered wasn’t from the monsters or environments of Silent Hill, but from James himself.  

The Everyman, a broken-hearted victim, slowly sows distrust in the player. No other game manages to have the patience to have this effect players, planting seeds that sour. If the Everyman is this unnerving, what does that say about us?

James’s characterisation has drawn comparisons to Crime & Punishment’s Raskolnikov which speaks volumes for the depths of Team Silent’s writing and development behind Silent Hill 2. 18 years later, there is not a video game character I think about as much as James Sunderland. I’ve felt sympathy for him, I’ve felt repulsed by him, I’ve felt him as some sort of Byronic hero, but also a vapid, cold symbol of masculinity.

I’m still not sure how I feel about James, and I probably never will know. Combined with one of the best stories and characterisations in the medium, Silent Hill 2 is so carefully and lovingly crafted that players cannot help but appreciate what Team Silent has done. Silent Hill 2 is a reminder that horror doesn’t lie with the boogeymen and jump scares of the world but lurks somewhere deeper, often where it is least suspected.

MORE HORROR AND THRILLS

Silent Hill 2 represents a hugely popular genre here at OnlySP, and several other survival horror or thriller games have featured as part of our 50 Favourite games so far.

There are skin-crawling titles like Dead Space, Hellblade and Alan Wake that, at times, dive into psychological horror inspired by the greats. Additionally, horror can also be found in Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which takes an adventure game approach to the scares. Further afield of classic survival-horror are the horror-tinged action games BioShock and Gears of War. Similarly, the Soulsborne games are terrifying in their own ways, particularly Bloodborne.

Recent additions to the canon include The Evil Within 2 and the revived Resident Evil series with both Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Resident Evil 2 Remake. And of course, though Days Gone eschews the psychological depths of Silent Hill, the game’s whopping sales success is likely to prove as a boon for the survival-horror genre over all.

Not to mention there are several more horror titles coming up on our 50 Favourite games list …

Thanks again for joining us with this week’s entry. Next week changes things up again with a look at a different genre that is also well represented amongst the most cherished single-player games. For now, why not share your own favourite survival-horror games in the comments below? Don’t forget you can follow OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

Single-player games coverage. Every day.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #17—Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s game is a classic—a founding title in a genre loved by many to this day.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night gameplay screenshot 4

#17. CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT, by Daniel Pereira

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is truly a special game. Few titles within the industry can be labeled as a work of art, and Konami’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is, without a doubt, one of them. Being born of an ideology that a new direction could be what was best for the series after three iterations  of the same style, Symphony of the Night took a leap of faith for the franchise, and looking back on its success, players will have no question that the leap paid off.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night takes place five years after the events of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, where Richter Belmont traversed Castle Dracula to take down the main man himself and once again reset the Castle’s reappearance cycle .

What is interesting about Symphony of the Night was that  the game begins as Rondo of Blood ends: with the climactic battle of Richter and Dracula in the throne room. Once the battle is complete the game transitions and players are now reintroduced to Alucard, Dracula’s half-vampire son with a human woman. This game is the first time players had seen Alucard since Castlevania III (1989), and this time he is the primary playable character.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night gameplay screenshot 2

Alucard’s introduction within Symphony of the Night as the playable character created a whole new dynamic for the player to wrap their head around. Since Alucard is not a vampire hunter nor a member of the Belmont family, he does not use a whip to slay monsters. Instead he uses a variety of weaponry that players can discover throughout their journey into the castle. Interestingly, the game starts the player off at what is essentially Alucard’s peak performance, as he is able to slice and dice his way through any enemy before him—that is, until Alucard is reunited with Death, who strips him of his abilities and gear forcing the player to start their adventure empty-handed.

The developer ’s choice to start the player completely fresh and weak contributes nicely to the game’s new direction. Unlike previous playable characters, Alucard can equip different armor, weapons, and abilities to further aid him while traversing the castle. Ultimately, Alucard’s goals are to figure out why the castle has reappeared only five years after being destroyed, and locate the missing Richter Belmont. Despite a narrative that captures player attention  immediately, Symphony of the Night proves that its new gameplay direction is what will ultimately steal the show.

As a revolutionary new direction for the Castlevania series at the time, Symphony of the Night was the first entry that did not end after a stage completion or boss fight . Instead, Symphony of the Night surprised players by simply continuing forward. In previous games, after completing a stage, the player would be taken to a map screen to select the next area of play; however, in Symphony of the Night, the map can be toggled with the press of a button and only indicated areas that were visited by the player, with everything else nonexistent until discovered. This promoted exploration and returning ventures to familiar areas, allowing the game to really showcase its roots  and establish a formula that would usher it into the history books.

In addition to the new approach to level design for Symphony of the Night, what is most surprising about the game, and perhaps what solidified it in most gamer’s memory, is the fact that after what would seem to be the final boss fight, the castle would then invert and could be played entirely upside down. For this event to conspire, the player would have to complete specific tasks before and during the boss encounter, and whether or not those tasks were done would determine if the game ended there or continued with the Inverted Castle. As a truly remarkable feature, Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was designed to look just as beautiful upside down as it was during the normal playthrough. Not only was the aesthetic of the castle perfectly preserved in its inverted state, but it also played just as seamless as it did right-side up.

As a testament to the wonderful art and craftsmanship by the developer for this title, the gothic horror atmosphere combined with the excellent sound design of the game only attributed to how incredible Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was. That the artistic integrity of Symphony of the Night has withstood the test of time is truly astonishing. At a time when the industry was shifting to 3D models, the team behind Symphony of the Night chose to go against the grain and create what feels like a swan song for the 2D gaming genre.

Recently, director Koji Igarashi released the long-anticipated Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. OnlySP had the privilege of reviewing the new game, and although it exceeded our expectations and presents itself as a worthy successor, it cannot replace or recreate the zeitgeist that was Symphony of the Night. The 2.5D graphics of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night are outclassed by the 2D pixel art  of its predecessor. A style decision, yes, however one cannot help but wonder what the final product would have looked like with a 2D template.

Of course, Symphony of the Night cannot be truly praised without mention of its greatest contribution to the industry. Without this game, players would have never known that man is a miserable pile of secrets. Thanks to Symphony of the Night’s original intro battle, the industry will always remember the significance surrounding Dracula’s rhetorical question of “What is a man?”

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a stylish love letter to fans of the series. More importantly, however, is the game’s contribution to the industry and the Metroidvania genre as a whole. To this day, Symphony of the Night is recognized and referenced as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Metroidvania game of its generation.

From the outset, players might question how this game could come with such accolades, but the easiest answer is more often than not the simplest one. For one to understand what makes Castlevania: Symphony of the Night so great and worthy of a spot on OnlySP’s 50 Favorite Games, all they need to do is play it.

Thanks for joining us as we take a look at one of the founders of the Metroidvania genre. Join us next week as we look at a very different game from a different genre—but one that has remained inspirational for years nonetheless.

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