Play Novel: Silent Hill - A Horrfyingly Weird Way to Play Silent Hill
One of the lesser thought-of facts of recent Nintendo consoles, especially its handheld counterparts, is the sheer amount of ‘weird’ ports. I don’t mean ports in a traditional sense, but games that exist in one form and are later brought over to a separate platform in a notably different form. Akin to my earlier review of Crash Bandicoot: The Huge Adventure, but in this case, it’s even more drastic.
Now, imagine I tell you that Silent Hill, one of the most iconic 3D horror games ever made… ported to the Game Boy Advance. Up until recently, I’d tell you you’re absolutely insane; but it exists. By god, it exists. But, uh, is it good? Does the iconic survival horror experience translate well to a vastly different format? Well… that’s a matter of opinion. An opinion I feel, uh, rather strongly about.
As a quick side note, I am playing a fan-translation of this game which was released early last year. I do not know how to speak or read Japanese, so this was the only real way for me to experience Play Novel: Silent Hill. You can find the translation online, or you can apply it to a game… one way or another. That’s neither here nor there, however.
Play Novel: Silent Hill - which I’m just going to call Silent Hill GBA from now on - adapts the survival horror Silent Hill to the visual novel format, which in the process eschews almost all the trappings of the original property. Silent Hill GBA plays out its story in true visual novel format - you’ll spend some time reading, occasionally making a choice which will fragment the story path, taking you towards one of more than a half dozen endings. Backgrounds, and occasionally very short clips, pulled directly from the PS1 game are used to ensure you’re not just reading text on a black screen.
From what I can tell by Silent Hill’s wikipedia page, the visual novel pretty closely follows the game, though it features a more Choose-Your-Own-Adventure spin on things, which can lead to earlier, bad endings completely different to the original game. The very basic premise is you’re playing as Harry, a man who is traveling with his daughter Cheryl to the vacation town of Silent Hill. After crashing his car, Harry awakens to find his daughter missing, and the town engulfed in an unseasonal mist. Harry begins to wander the town, searching for Cheryl, and coming into contact with the strange, almost unknowable horror assaulting Silent Hill.
I’ll be blunt. I don’t think this is a particularly good way to play Silent Hill. I’ll be honest, I’ve never played the original game at all, having just a vague knowledge of the vibes and themes of Silent Hill. As far I could tell, I got a pretty good ending to this game, one that covered the vast majority of the story. But the fact is… I have no idea what the hell happened in this game. I understand even the basic game is full of symbolism and whatnot, but I just could not follow this game. The lack of any real gameplay in this (which I understand is a stupid complaint because this is a goddamn visual novel) rachets the pacing up to an insane degree - events pass in mere moments. In other survival horror games, they’ll have those big plot moments, but there are sometimes hours between those moments, where the tension slowly racks up, but there’s none of that slow burn. One second, Harry’s fighting some sort of demon bat, and then immediately he’s at a school, slowly losing his way in a mental nightmare. Normally, you’d have a bit of downtime, but here, it’s just wall-to-wall setpieces. It’s just… not a great horror game, honestly.
But whilst I didn’t enjoy the game very much on a pure enjoyment level, I must give Silent Hill GBA credit. They pulled off the impossible, truly adapting a PS1 survival horror game to the Game Boy Advance of all things. I’ve played other adaptations of survival horror games on the Game Boy Colour - namely, Resident Evil Gaidan, and whilst that used a more ‘traditional’ style of gameplay, I thought it was genuinely one of the worst games I’ve ever played. I didn’t dig it overall, but I can admit that this does fit on some sort of level. You could even say it’s a bit of a… novel idea. Huh? Huh?
But really, the fact is that this isn’t really a horror visual novel - just a real weird one.
But not all the horror is lost in the game - whilst the translation of Silent Hill GBA I read felt a little rough around the edges, there was a creepy sense of eeriness and confusion present throughout the prose, especially due to the unclear nature of the story. Entire sections are ostensibly dreams Harry is experiencing, as he repeatedly loses time - much like I do in regards to my every waking day. But seriously, the confusion on what’s real or not gave the game a bit of a vibe I really jived with, almost as much as I loved the backgrounds of the novel.
Honestly, these backgrounds are probably the most effective form of tension employed in the game; even if I couldn’t follow what was happening on, the sparse sound effects, coupled with the eerie, misty streets, or the hellish, rusted metal interiors genuinely brought a sense of unease to me, even as I no goddamn idea of what was actually going on. Seriously, going from several screens of pure black, to this metal madness… I kinda love that.
Though, ah, I’m not really sure what they were thinking in regards to the monster ‘battles’. These do not hit the same mark, that’s for sure.
I also think its near total lack of soundtrack is a double edged sword, occasionally ratcheting up the unease of the quiet transitional sections of the game, whilst falling flat in the big moments that actually should’ve creeped me out. There are the odd sound effects here and there, with the occasional ambient noise thrown in, but I really don’t know what they were thinking. Even though I know Silent Hill has a killer soundtrack, and whilst I know there are limitations with the GBA’s sound chip, the total lack of a soundtrack is clearly an intentional choice that I feel just doesn’t land for the most part. Seriously, I just can’t imagine why they decided this. I want some spooky GBA tunes, damnit!
Now, when it comes to visual novels, what do you think is the most important part? If your answer wasn’t ‘the story’, I want you to close this webpage, turn off your computer, phone, or however else you’re reading this, and give it to your closest and dearest friend.
But seriously, I just don’t think the story of Silent Hill works well as a visual novel. It’s a, ahem, novel choice, but the wandering, drip-feed of a story doesn’t translate well.
Additionally, every now and then, you’ll be given a choice on how to react, which eventually will move you down a path towards an ending. These choices can range from choosing what item you’ll examine next, to how you’ll react to fighting the demonic creatures infesting Silent Hill. These work fine enough for the former, but the choice system falls flat on its face when fighting the monsters. There are no ‘instant bad ends’ for these encounters, which takes out a lot of the tension once you work this out. In actual survival horror games, every battle could be the one that pushes your skills, or your resources, to the limit, but there’s just none of that in this game. I’m not even sure if the monster battles even have an effect on the ending you’ll get, which just kind of makes them feel like an afterthought. If they just played out in prose, without the choice, I honestly think I’d enjoy them a little more.
Also, this game is just way, way too short for the average player. I know Silent Hill GBA is adapting a relatively short game, but my time through the game, getting what I believe to be a pretty good ending, clocked in at just over an hour. Thankfully, there is some replay value to take into consideration. First, there seems to be more than half a dozen different endings, though from what I can gather they seemed relatively similar. The biggest draw to this game seems to be based around an entirely second playthrough, focussing on one of the other major characters in the game, the police officer Cybil. The issue is, Cybil’s route, at least the path I took, was somehow even more confusing and unfulfilling then Harry’s. Cybil just meandears around, eventually finding Harry’s daughter, and then it just kind of skips around a bunch until the end of the game happens. Really, I should’ve just spent more time with Harry’s route, trying to see what other endings I could’ve gotten.
I also think it’s worth nothing that this game is, to a point, a case of lost media. You see, back when this was first released, Konami had a mobile phone system that allowed players of Silent Hill GBA to connect to, allowing access to a third playable storyline as a young boy. From what I’ve gathered by scouring the internet’s limited information, there is genuinely no way to play the Boy storyline anymore, though I’ve still got hope it’s out there, somewhere. I’d love to play it sometime, as I’d feel it be a very unique viewpoint, since I feel it’d lean more into the inbetween, genuinely eerie sequences I enjoyed, since a kid wandering around Silent Hill would be nothing short of fantastically terrifying. Though, I hope it’d be a little more engaging overall then Harry’s storyline… to say nothing of Cybil’s.
What else can I really say about Silent Hill GBA? I don’t like this game very much, but I don’t really think that’s such a bad thing. This game will absolutely work for some people, but it fell completely flat for me. But that doesn’t matter - I love, love, love crazy concepts like this. Up until I found out about it only a few months ago, I never would’ve believed it possible that you can, successfully or not, make a survival horror game work on the goddamn GBA. Play Novel: Silent Hill isn’t a win for the most part; it’s plot is incoherent, it’s pacing insane, its soundtrack non-existent… but at the same time, there is so little else like it. Play Novel: Silent Hill isn’t great, but if you’re a fan of Silent Hill as a franchise, or just want to play something utterly unique, not only to the GBA or honestly gaming in general, I think this weird little visual novel is more than worth a play. Hell, I’d be nothing short of delighted if this worked for y’all - I never want to go into - or out of, for that matter - disliking it, but if any of these reviews make someone fall in love with a game I disliked… Well, I think that makes playing a game, even one as weird as Play Novel: Silent Hill all the more worthwhile.
Thank you so much for reading my review of Play Novel: Silent Hill, easily the weirdest game yet I’ve found in the Game Boy Abyss. I know it’s already kind of a meme, but I am actually playing Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Heartbreak, so HOPEFULLY that’ll be the next review. Now that I’ve actually finished Elden Ring, I’ve actually got time for, y’know, other games.
If you’ve any concerns or questions, or have a particular game you’d like me to try out, you can find me on twitter @Lemmy7003 or you can email me at email@example.com. Have a good one, and I’ll see you in my next review!