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Wolf Kanno's Crazy Ramblings and Incoherent Statements

WK's Top 100's Lost but Not Forgotten List: Silent Hill 3

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Is this honestly the first non-RPG on this list?
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Well I fell into the Silent Hill series rather late. By the time I had played the series, the "glory years" were over and fans were knee deep in Konami trying to take the series in a different direction without Team Silent. I was a huge fan of the first two entries of the series, being instantly sucked into the second entry and surprised how much I really enjoyed the first one. So it came as a bit of a surprise that the third entry, which is often regarded as being equally good as SH2 just wasn't doing it for me. It took me close to three years to finish the game, and I seriously powered through the last third of the game just to get it over with. SH3 is ultimately a strange game for me. I can see why fans love this entry, but it also has so many nagging issues that I just can't place it in the same category as the first two entries.
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Silent Hill 3 is the story of Heather, a typical high school girl in [strike]Japan[/strike] the good ole U.S. of A. who has spent an uneventful day at the local mall. The game begins with her having a prophetic dream of an eerie amusement park and her untimely death while being chased by monstrous creatures. She calls her dad to tell him she is finally coming home but notices she is being followed by an older gentlemen who eventually confronts her and reveals himself to be a detective named Douglas Cartland who has been hired by someone to find her. Creeped out, she ducks into a bathroom and tries to escape the mall through the back halls but soon encounter strange monstrous creatures and an eerie woman named Claudia Wolf who acts like she knows Heather and is happy to find her. Soon after, she disappears and Heather finds herself in the Nightmare realm and finds the mall transformed into a dark twisted version of itself filled with the nightmare creatures she faced in her dream. From here Heather tries to escape and find her way home to her dad while fighting through monsters and the uneasiness of being stalked by some unknown assailant.
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Since I don't mind spoiling a game that is almost twenty years old, when Heather finally makes it home, she finds her father has been murdered by Cluadia and that we've been playing as Heather Mason, the grown up baby from the Good ending of the first game. Claudia is connected to the cult that tried to have Alessa give birth to their cult's god, and as her reincarnation, they are now trying to do the same with Heather. Partnering up with Douglas, who feels guilty for alerting the Order to Heather's whereabouts, the two head back to Silent Hill to put an end to the cult.
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The narrative of SH3 is a mixed bag for sure and there is a part of me that feels like the development team had meant to go in a different direction than what we got. On the one hand, the cast of the game is quite good and Heather might be one of the most endearing leads within the franchise, she hits a nice middle ground of being your typical vulnerable horror heroine, but also grows into a mouthy, sarcastic badass that would make Ash Williams proud. Honestly, her commentary on a lot of the weird stuff going on in the game gets pretty hilarious after awhile as she gets desensitized from all the SH nonsense and gets fed up with its bulltrout. It hurts the horror aspect of the game a bit, but it also makes Heather relatable and fun. The rest of the cast are also fairly well rounded though it was a shame that Harry Mason is killed off screen, but he lives on in his notebook he leaves behind. Claudia is the right amount of creepy and psychotic that is befitting the leader of a cult and her partner Vincent is equally sleazy and deceptive. I only wish there plotline had been fleshed out better and this here is the rub of the game.
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The pacing of this game is off and suffers from being a bit back loaded on plot. two-thirds of the game is essentially just Heather trying to get home. She gets introduced to most of the cast in this part, but it doesn't really make sense why someone like Vincent would be there and both he and Claudia don't exactly get a lot of screentime here. Instead it's just Heather taking the most contrived path home ever with her being in a mall, subway station, sewer, construction site, apartment building and finally she makes it home. Most of these sections have a normal and nightmare world as well, dragging out this whole scenario where little happens to move the plot along making it a real chore to get through.
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What is really disappointing is when she finally makes it to Silent Hill, she ends up being stuck in the part of the town from SH2 instead of being able to revisit locations from the first game except the Amusement Park and the final section being a redo of the Nowhere dungeon. In fact, wandering through Nowhere with it's callbacks to places from the first game sort of drives the knife in about the games lost opportunity to have Heather explore a PS2 remake of the first game's locations where Heather could have learned more about her past self, instead the game kind of dodges this issue but I this was not the intention of the developers. According to Yamaoka, SH3 was meant to be a stand alone title, but fans demand concerning loose ends from the first game made some of the heads of staff go this route despite protest from others within the staff. This likely explain why a lot of the connections to the first game feel a bit forced and mostly dumped on the player towards the end. Which is a bit annoying how the Order power struggle subplot is all revealed and resolved in the final dungeon more or less. Would have been more interesting to see Heather explore SH more and be manipulated more by Vincent into taking out Claudia so he can take over. It's the overwhelming flaw of the game being the fact you spend two-thirds of the game waiting for the plot to actually begin and then the disappointment of having most of it stuffed into the last three areas of the game.
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On the gameplay front, SH3 takes more cues from the first game than the second. While many of the monsters in SH2 are fairly iconic, they were also pretty passive for the most part and often fell into the Resident Evil Zombie issue where you would realize it was often more practical and easier to just run past everything than waste any ammo or effort on killing them. SH3 on the other hand tries to make combat a bit more involving with the enemy A.I. being a bit more aggressive and more enemy types designed to force the player into confronting them. Enemies like the lumbering Closer and Insane Cancer will often block Heather's path and can soak up quite a beating. Double Heads and Pendulums are incredibly aggressive and will make short work of Heather if they are not dealt with, and the sexy Nurse monsters are back from SH2 and now have guns, making them a much bigger threat. The game introduces more weapons to use, and has now introduced new mechanics like side stepping and the slowest and most useless block move I've ever seen in a game short of Crisis Core.
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What's funny about the combat is how the game sort of jerks the player around with it, as getting the games bad ending involves killing most monsters you encounter over the course of two playthroughs, which feels a bit discouraging considering the heavier emphasis on combat. Whereas unlocking the game's hilarious UFO ending involves killing as 31 enemies with the Heather/Sexy Beam attack you get from her Sailor Moon style costume transformation before reaching her apartment. Combat overall is not terrible fun, but that's the norm of this franchise in general. Of anything, the more aggressive enemies and roadblock types that appear everywhere are far more annoying than rewarding. While the combat in the first two games is terrible, it was easy enough to avoid enemies that combat never became aggravating, whereas I feel SH3 makes it unavoidable without putting in a lot of effort. So combat does drag the game down since you're forced to do it more often. On the bright side, the puzzles in the game are still fun and mind twisty. There are a few that will have you screaming bloody murder as you look up a guide, but overall the game doesn't feel as backtrack heavy as other entries outside of the Mall and Nowhere dungeons.
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The other area that hurts SH3 is its stuffy linear nature. Heather doesn't even make it to Silent Hill until almost 2/3rds of the way in and up until then the game is a bit of a linear slog. While the individual locations certainly maintain the series usual feel and are fully explorable and require backtracking for puzzles, the lack of an open area to "cleanse the palette" so to speak, hurts the game overall. It's difficult to maintain tension constantly and eventually you just get exhausted instead and I feel that played a large part in why I kept putting the game down because I couldn't be bothered to maintain the heightened tension it asked for and it made coming back more difficult cause I needed to build it back up. It's sort of like watching a horror movie where the music swells as though something happens and then instead of either fulfilling the excitement or doing a fake out before the actual reveal, it just keeps going for another ten minutes. By the time the punchline gets there, you're too exhausted to care, and that's what the level design of the game ultimately feels like. It would have been nice to have a few more breather spots within locations before going all Otherworld on the player.

Of course people play these games for the horror and atmosphere of it all. Here SH3 really doesn't disappoint. We move from Jame's Otherworld of drowning and water back to a blood and rust design from the first game, but it's much more visceral and filled with even more sexual imagery than SH2. The Otherworld emphasizes blood and bodily flesh more than the one from SH1. Womb level doesn't even begin to describe some of the locations. This plays into the heavier emphasis on the type of horror specific to women that the team was going for as the center of their design. There are themes of unwanted pregnancy, body image, and most of all stalking as centers of the game's horror and it's female protagonist. James' enemies often had a heavy emphasis on sex and disease symbolizing James's hidden sexual desires for his ill wife. In SH3, many of the humanoid monsters are distorted creatures resembling body image issues. Insane Cancers bear a resemblance to the Venus of Willendorf and the Closer wears a dress based of Aleesa's old outfit and may even represent her abusive mother. Another running theme is stalking which shows up in several dungeons. The subway has this really cool sequence where the camera switches to the perspective of someone watching Heather that is very eerie and the Brookhaven Hospital has an entire puzzle based around a patient named Stanley Coleman who leaves behind letters and dolls speaking of his obsession with Heather.
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The ultimate form this theme takes is with the game's resident monster Valtiel who takes on a similar role to Pyramid Head acting as a recurring figure that is deeply connected to the the main characters connection to Silent Hill. Valtiel is never fought, nor is he very antagonistic like PH was, instead he is an eerie figure that constantly shows up and quietly stalks Heather, usually caught doing some kind of eerie act that can usually be best described as "violation" though not necessarily violent or as graphic as PH was in SH2. I especially like how sometimes when Heather dies, you'll see a cutscene where Valtiel drags her body away into darkness. Really creepy and sinister. The feel of the game is certainly unsettling and keeps you on your toes with lots of memorable sequences like the the roller coaster, the subway, and the mirror room in the hospital. Hell, even the haunted mansion in the Amusement Park was pretty fun until you get to the awful end section where you're chased by a red light that instant kills you. In fact, SH3 has a high number of instant kill sequences where not acting fast enough will see poor Heather get murdered in no second flat. Kind of amusing the first time it happens, a bit annoying and repetitive around the fifth time the game pulls it on you and especially aggravating on the sequences that are easy to screw up.
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Finally, to complete the atmosphere we have Akira Yamaoka's amazing soundtrack with wonderful vocal styling from Mary Elizabeth McGlynn who also voiced Claudia. The soundtrack is easily on par with SH2's and flips back and forth from the series trademark industrial sound for the tense moments as well as more quiet and jazzier pieces to punctuate the powerful character moments in cutscenes. I was so happy that the PS2 version actually came with the soundtrack because I ended up buying SH2's after I finished that game. The music works beautifully with the overall game helping to strengthen the horror aspect while also just being a fantastic listen on its own with tracks like Lost Carol, End of Small Sanctuary, and Please Love Me...Once More to name a few. It's real obvious that Yamaoka hit his stride with this entry and solidified the overall sound of the series. His use of industrial and more contemporary styles works really well despite the strange disconnect. Honestly, even if you have no desire to play the game and simply like good music, I'd recommend this soundtrack to people.
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Overall, I found SH3 to fun, if a little disappointing. This is certainly a game where I wish I liked it more cause I love the cast and atmosphere but it just often felt like the game was taking too long to make it's point. None of this is helped by a stuffy design and trying to make the least likable aspect of the game, the combat, more important. Maybe I'll be able to come back to this and discover why it's so well loved, and I still do enjoy it, just not as much as the first two. I still have the fourth entry to play, so who knows how that experience may change my evaluation.

Comments

  1. Fynn's Avatar
    Yeah, this one is puzzling to me. I like it fine, but it pales in comparison to... pretty much all the other Team Silent games, imo, and to see it praised so highly when the far better conceived 4 was torn to shreds is always pretty sad to me. But still, the characters were great and the atmosphere was as good as it always was.

    Also, this game had a strange obsession with death by train.
  2. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    Maybe they had a lot of them in the news during the development of the game, so they threw it in.