Ranked: The ‘Silent Hill’ Franchise

Back in 1999, Konami wanted to develop a game that answered back to 1996’s huge hit, Resident Evil.  They entrusted this to a small group of developers, a sort of rag-tag group that weren’t considered the top performers at the development company.  What resulted was the psychological counterpart to the survival horror that Resident Evil helped solidify.  With Resident Evil leaning more toward action-horror, I found my preference in Silent Hill, as it chose to focus on the more subtle, inward forms of horror and terror.

Being as the anniversary of the release of the first Silent Hill game is approaching, I thought it was high time to share some thoughts and rankings of the games in the series.  Not only does the collection adequately wear the cloak of “survival horror”, but, perhaps more importantly, the one of psychological horror.  Stemming from this genre, the game further delves into multiple subgenres, including body horror, family horror, and personal horror – when repressed memories and actions are illuminated, and our dark halves are turned inside out.

I cannot say that I dislike any games in the series, as each one has something to offer (or so I’ve found, anyway…);  the ones that rank lower do have their own respective flaws, certainly, but if one can look past wonky controls or a frustrating camera set-up, they will be thankful, as the pros vastly outweigh the cons.  The thematic material, the darkly tragic stories, and the opportunity for introspection that the series has to offer make this collection of media some of the most profound and emotional pieces of narrative that I have found in any medium.

Welcome to Silent Hill (and my rankings of the main games)

<<Keep in mind – these are not ranked from Worst to Best, but my Least Favorite to Favorite>>

 

#8 – Silent Hill: Origins (2007)

This was the last Silent Hill game that I played, and oddly enough it’s the last on the list.  While the music and atmosphere was great and unsettling, it really didn’t add anything of value in terms of lore, or even visuals – it was mostly more of what we had already seen.  I understand the allure of origin stories, however the attempt to tie ties with the first installment wasn’t as good as it could have been.  That said, the game had some decently frightening moments, and Travis the protagonist has arguably one of the most messed up backstories of the franchise.

 

#7 – Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009)

Shattered Memories serves as a loose remake (some call it a re-imagining) of the first game.  I was a bit skeptical of this one, as it was made for the Wii console (honestly, how good could a survival horror for the Wii actually be?).  Shattered Memories takes the series in a drastic different direction control-wise and concept-wise;  part of the game has you playing Harry Mason as he searches for his daughter, but it also has you engage in a therapy session with a psychologist.  From guilt to family to death, the game tracks your answers in the therapy session, as well as how you play as Harry, with the psychologist’s notes regarding your personality being shown after you complete the game as the credits roll.  This game and its thematic implications bothered and stuck with me for a long time after I played it, truly making fear personal.

 

#6 – Silent Hill: Downpour (2012)

A lot of “firsts” for the series came with this game.  I would say Downpour is the most expansive of them all, and relies the heaviest on exploration.  The first SH game that is slightly “open-world”, it really had a lot of neat things in it, with the addition of side quests offering more backstory regarding the dark secrets that reside in the homes of other Silent Hill citizens.  The biggest downside to Downpour was its monster design;  the series is known for its menacing and symbolic monsters, but in this game…the monsters (save for the main boss and the mannequins) were very blah.  Aside from that, this game was solid.  The plot was well-executed, the characters were well-written, and the puzzles were among the best.

 

#5 – Silent Hill: Homecoming (2008)

Homecoming is, by a large amount of Silent Hill fans, considered to be the worst game in the series.  Okay, so yes it is more action-based than any other, and yes, it does kind of feel like Saw 3 had a love child with Hostel, but I actually really enjoyed playing it.  While some of it takes place in the neighboring town of Shepherd’s Glen, it demonstrates the pervasiveness of the Order, the cult behind all the humanly evil shenanigans in the town (the plot is supremely twisted, and centers on ritualistic filicide).  Homecoming can be way over-the-top at times with its gore and script, but that’s what made it fun, almost campy;  plus, it contains the most intimidating boss battle I’ve ever battled – Scarlet, a tall, skinny, domineering doll monster that is made of flesh underneath.  Oh yea, and in her second phase she turns into a spider.

 

#4 – Silent Hill (1999)

The original game is so bizarre and off-putting, one really does feel like they are in an alternate reality while playing.  As Harry Mason, an average, run-of-the-mill dad, you have to search for your missing daughter after a car crash – in the town of Silent Hill.  The fog/ash is oppressive, the sound assaults you, and the dread that you encounter is so real.  There were times when I was playing that I was literally frozen with fear, unable to carry on.  And I’m talking like at 11 am on a sunny day – I’d be terrified and have to quit.  It is a living nightmare-scape where you have no choice but  to move onward (literally, by playing).  If you are interested in beginning your foray into survival horror and want to understand how this specific genre came to be, this game is an absolute must.

 

#3 – Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004)

Definitely the most abstract of the games, SH4 was largely experimental, a chance for Team Silent to try new things.  Consequently, this has led it to be the most polarizing entry in the series:  you will either really like it, or really, really hate it.  And I will say this: the game is not a fun one to play – it’s hard, frustrating, and sometimes straight up insufferable.  It violates many rules of gaming:  the mandatory repeating of levels, the extensive escort mission, and the “unsafe-ing” of the player’s Safe Room, to name a few big ones.  That said, it is because of these violations that it had such an impact;  the player never feels safe in this game, and never feels sure about what they heard, what they’re looking at, or even what exactly is going on.  All you know is something very bad is happening, your apartment that you thought was a safe haven is slowly becoming haunted, and you have the unkillable ghost of a serial killer chasing you.  For me, SH4 remains the scariest game in the series, and arguably contains the best story.

 

#2 – Silent Hill 2 (2001)

The eminence of SH2 almost goes without saying.  Considered as the de-facto “best” in the series, and one of the greatest games of all time, I too believe it to be the objective best entry.  The music, pacing, tone, storytelling – everything about this game is perfect.  James Sunderland lost his wife three years ago.  However, he recently received a letter — from his dead wife.  She says that she’s waiting for him in Silent Hill –  he travels there to find out the truth, a truth that might be a hard and bitter pill to swallow.  Before SH2, I had never experienced such an emotional reaction to a video game when the final twist came.  It is a shame that video games as a whole are a tad more difficult to recommend and consume than movies or music, but if I could somehow force everyone to play this one, I would.

 

#1 – Silent Hill 3 (2003)

Part of my placement of this one at the top is attributed to nostalgia.  Being the first Silent Hill I played, I was not quite ready for what was to follow in terms of the amount of affect that could be experienced from a video game.  It serves as a direct sequel to #1, and delves deep into the town’s lore – it incorporates themes of maternity and unwanted pregnancy, along with fanatical religion and ritualism.  The whole thing is red, gory, grimy, and disturbing.  The player encounters all this, as they play as Heather (Harry Mason’s adopted daughter), a smart and sarcastic 17-year-old who has no idea why any of this crazy shit is happening to her.  With the strongest protagonist, the most dynamic soundtrack, the most visceral visuals, and overall the best playing experience, Silent Hill 3 is not only my top SH pick, but my favorite video game period.

6 thoughts on “Ranked: The ‘Silent Hill’ Franchise”

  1. Dear Tiffany,

    As I read this, as your father naturally I made some observations, and questions arose.
    1. What color is the cloak of survival horror?
    2. If Saw 3 and Hostel had a love child, what would his name be? Sawstel?
    3. What in the hell is ritualistic filicide?
    4. Why would you be perched in front of the television on a sunny day at 11 AM playing video games?
    4. The epileptic seizure-like spasms you exhibited while playing Shattered Memories would seem to indicate that you’re enjoying the Wii version of this horror game.

    All in all, this is very interesting reading, and it’s too bad there wasn’t a Masters program for video game reviews. This would be a good thesis project.
    And in closing, all I can say is I look forward to buying the seven games I haven’t played and spending the next three weeks perched in front of my television at 11 AM on a sunny day playing them.

    • Thank you, father, for these questions and reflections; I shall attempt to answer your inquiries.

      1. The obvious answer here would be blood red; however, in the case that it is not, my next best guess would be periwinkle blue.
      2. Sawstel — I cannot think of the child’s name being anything but this.
      3. Ritualistic filicide is the killing of one’s offspring according to a specific ritual, often demanded by a deity. Don’t get any funny ideas.
      4. I was perched because even though I could have been playing in the backyard or shooting hoops or something of that nature, I deemed it more important to finish this saga of videoludic horror.
      5. Yes, I do not deny that I was thrown into a type of muscular entropy whilst playing that game; twas definitely indicative of enjoyment and engagement, even if I got bruises! I’m glad you were there to witness that event.

      Thank you again for your observations and input! I haven’t written too much on video games, so I’m not exactly used to it…but a lot of analytical skills that are used to criticize film and other media can also be utilized when looking at games, especially those that are narrative-heavy.
      This for surely would be a major candidate for a thesis project, as I have other ideas forming around these games; I’m currently working on something that I really don’t see a lot of scholars writing about…perhaps I will post some drafts on this site in the future.

  2. I loved the article and, while I have only paid the first game (and rather poorly at that), I find the the exchange in the comments a worthwhile bonus. Like the Easter egg nestled in the gameplay that makes you smile and gives the player that personal fan service that she craves. Thank you Eric and Tiffany for giving this article that extra, and highly amusing, touch. You guys made my night!
    Also, I’m going to have to start downloading some “Evil” \(^o^)/

    • Haha! I am so glad you enjoyed the article, and also the afterwords that were had. My father can be quite the commentator at times xD

      Also, I forget – did you finish all of #1?

      Download that “Evil”! You might also wanna check out the trailer for the new RE3. Nemesis looks…well, shit-your-pants terrifying, if I can put it mildly.

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