Very seldom in our lives something comes along to change all of what we know. For some that can be a book, movie, event or even a person. However, more recently video games have had quite the impact on the art world. Not only in presentation, but also in design and in some cases story. It is the combination of these different aspects of a game’s creation that make it a whole experience. With these experiences, games have become more than mindless button presses, but instead have grown into a powerful symbol of what humankind is truly capable of. For better or worse games truly personify the deepest and often darkest desires in the human heart. It may seem like rambling but there is in fact a point to all this. That being Silent Hill 2. What I often consider to be one of the greatest if not the best works of art in the history of mankind.
It starts off simply enough. A man named James Sunderland receives a letter in the mail. Suspiciously, though it was sent from his wife who lost her battle with cancer some years ago. It told him to come meet her in their “special place.” James of course interprets this to be in the town of Silent Hill due to the time they had spent there together in the past. It is a place of rather unfortunate history with the occult which may or may not be the reason why the town has many disappearances.
The story of Silent Hill 2 has an interesting set up from the get go and continues throughout to impress. In fact, the story is one of the most impressive parts. The investment in the overall presentation really moves you forward in the game. Honestly, James Sunderland’s plight starts to feel much like your own. Before I noticed anything I was completely invested. I had to know what happened next. However, that is where things get most difficult. This is a horror game after all. To advance means you must face new horrors that block the path to your destination.
To this day the creature design is by far the most impressive I have seen to this date. Keep in mind this video game originally released September 24, 2001 so it has aged quite a bit. However, one abomination sticks out above the rest and since the release has been a symbol of Silent Hill as a series. It is none other than the monstrous Pyramid Head or as James Sunderland liked to call it “Red Pyramid Head Thing.” According to the history of the town of Silent Hill, back when they still killed individuals, they had executioners. Not any normal executioners by any means. They were very cruel individuals who in a way are being punished themselves by wearing massive pyramid like structures on their head. They wore what seemed to be a butcher outfit on their bodies and often carried massive knives and spears to finish others off. Now Pyramid Head is sort of the antagonist to the story. He is supposed to symbolize James Sunderland’s guilt or his inner felt desire to punish himself for the misdeeds he has done.
Throughout the story James encounters Pyramid Head only to run away. Never encountering him on a meaningful level. That is up until near the conclusion of the game when instead of giving in to despair, he decides to fight with all that he has barely scraping by in the fight that follows.
One of the main reasons I repeatedly come back to this title is the music or sound effects. All of which was designed by the esteemed Akira Yamaoka. Over the years he has composed numerous pieces for video games like Contra: Hard Corps, Gradius III, Gradius IV, and Killer is Dead. For Silent Hill 2, Akira Yamaoka specifically set a theme of sort of a dark, ambient and emotional set of sounds. He often considers it his “magnum opus” or his best work yet. Many would be inclined to agree with him in this regard due to the fact that many consider it to be his best just in the Silent Hill series alone. It has a way that conveys emotion that can move even the coldest of hearts. However, some of the background music that comes with it also brings feelings of great discomfort. A sort of creeping feeling of despair with very little hope to go on. Overall the soundtrack captures the mood of the game perfectly and without any noticeable flaws. I could honestly say that the soundtrack of the game could stand well off on it’s own.
Now unfortunately, the game does have flaws. The flaws being mainly the age it released in. It can all be chalked up to the combat system of the game, which is clunky and often difficult to handle. One could argue that the combat was purposeful in showing that James was an amateur in fighting and therefore made it more difficult to confront the creatures roaming the dark depths of Silent Hill. I would be inclined to agree that it does serve to make confrontations more difficult. Especially, how it emphasizes the “fight or flight” response when you come across a creature. You either have the option to fight or run from the creature. The option is usually up to the player. The only exception is Pyramid Head, but that is fundamental to James Sunderland’s story. My point is that the combat is flawed and frustrating at times, but as a whole it actually serves to improve the player’s experience in dealing with James’ plight and have them begin resonating with him.
Personal Stake: Conclusion
Now I could go on about how great Silent Hill 2 is but that is not what this is truly about. What this really is about is that the Silent Hill series (just in general) came into my life in a time when I felt so alone. I grew up with very few friends and I was a bit odd. I never really knew how to interact with anyone. To initiate conversation with anyone was like pulling teeth. I felt like there was no way to make a connection. The friends I knew went in their own direction and left me to my own devices for a time. What I did in that time really showed me how lonely someone could get. My only solace at the time was Silent Hill 2. I had found a copy of it at Bookman’s which at the time there was no short supply of them (virtually none can be found now). However, there was something special about the copy I had found. When I came home and opened the box I found that it was covered in a bunch of signatures which turned out to be some of the developers. I only came to know the true value of this item to me after I played the game. Playing through it really taught me how to look into myself and realize all of my strengths and flaws. It helped shape who I am and I think likely who I will eventually become.