Silent Hill: The Short Message throws a bitter message in a bottle – News

First of all, what is Silent Hill? An episodic tale following an abominable satanic cult drawing its power from the suffering of a young girl burned alive? An American small town shrouded in fog Stephen King style where our own past materializes to torment us? A codified horror game intertwining puzzles, creepy imaginary and fragments of offbeat humor? So many rhetorical questions that unnecessarily agitate the community. Rarely have we seen a zealously passionate community like that of the “defenders” of Silent Hill. We should revive the magic of P.T., but without copying it; delve into the psychological horror of Silent Hill 2 without adapting it too much to our modern issues, for fear of pandering to Generation Z; especially not turn towards action and sweep under the rug the ridiculous boss battles of Silent Hill 3, yet held in high esteem, where Heather takes down ghouls with the help of uzi and katana. The rock tint of Silent Hill 2 Remake is decried, but “Theme of Laura,” with its memorable guitar, is the great masterpiece of Akira Yamaoka…

Germany, it’s not the foot

From the get-go, Silent Hill: The Short Message offers plenty of ammunition to its principled detractors. Konami abandons New England in favor of the Villa, a complex of dilapidated apartments in the industrial town of Kettenstadt. The town welcomed a small contingent of Japanese immigrants in the 1930s and some echoes of neopaganism tinged with Shintoism still haunt the walls, but the wallpaper mostly gives way to graffiti from a disaffected youth, further churning by the pandemic and an abnormally high rate of child abuse. Teenagers regularly throw themselves off the roof of the Villa in hope of reaching a better world. Our protagonist, Anita, wanders the corridors in search of her graffiti artist friend Maya. She worries about her declining number of followers, online harassment, and illuminates her path with her smartphone. She also practices self-harm. In short, things are not going well.

Let’s be frank: the English script of The Short Message is abysmally mediocre. If Konami and Hexa Drive make their best effort to encompass several contemporary themes with an obvious concern to do things well, all the dialogues seem to have been translated literally from Japanese with a lack of subtlety, attacking each trauma with the violence of an unmanned bulldozer. Even the lip-synch in the live scenes suffers. This partly explains the very tepid reception of The Short Message in English-speaking media. Fortunately, the French localization is making a big effort to make up for it, and if the text doesn’t become more refined, the turns of phrase are at least more agreeable than in English.

You feel it, my big ambiguous protagonist?
You feel it, my big ambiguous protagonist?

Divided into three chapters, the experience will offer a few convoluted chase sequences, throwing us into labyrinths of sheet metal without a clear direction with a colossal floral monster on our heels ready to stab our hearts. The final phase may break a few controllers. In a labyrinth of rooms with few distinctive signs, Anita must assess the distance from the creature using the crackling of her phone. She will often have to leave it behind in a panic. Getting lost in the grand labyrinth is more frustrating than truly frightening after a while, once we grasp the trick, and we would really like to see the conclusion.

Is this enough to condemn Silent Hill: The Short Message as a mediocre and minor title? No, as evaluating it as a “traditional” game is already mistaken; Konami fully assumes the experimental nature of this appetizer. So what is the Japanese publisher looking for, usually wary of all things commercial, preferring pachinko to authorial intentions?

Do not shoot the messenger

To understand Silent Hill: The Short Message, one must take a few steps back. Stop comparing it to its august predecessors and start thinking about what it represents. Studio Hexa Drive didn’t get there by chance: Konami recruited them based on a prototype of a Silent Hill 2 remake, yes, the very one that was later commissioned to Bloober Team. This small team based in Osaka had already worked on the DLC Resident Evil 7: Not a Hero where Chris Redfield was cleaning zombie-infested caves with dynamite. Note the irony; the studio accustomed to action phases must design an experimental narrative title, and it’s Bloober who ends up with the panpanboumboum twist.

Hexa Drive deeply loves Silent Hill. No doubt about it. But this experimental title does not target the veterans at all. Silent Hill: The Short Message’s avowed intention is to recruit a young audience by taking an interest in the traumas of their generation. The issue of social networks is just a smokescreen masking the real subject (isn’t the supernatural fog meant to mislead us?). Hexa Drive regularly bombards us with anti-suicide messages, encouraging players to contact a therapist if the events depicted resemble too much of their own experiences. The experience partially aims to sensitize us to these themes, in a very direct way, admittedly, but with the best intentions in the world.

Thank God, Konami spares us the self-harm QTE. But not the act itself.
Thank God, Konami spares us the self-harm QTE. But not the act itself.

I’ll play the devil’s advocate: if Konami is targeting the teenage audience, being as raw as possible can absolutely work. I’m not saying they should be taken for illiterate ignoramuses incapable of grasping a subtext. But it’s no coincidence that emo music is characterized as much by the exaggerated sentimentality of its lyrics and melodies as by the rather young average age of its diehard fans. Adolescence is obviously a complicated time. Between the hormones preventing clear thinking, the distorting mirror magnifying and distorting reality, and the constant process of reconstruction after the first disillusionments, raw feelings pierce the mental fog like a knife, piercing the uncertainty to let in an irrepressible emotional truth. Something simple to understand when the world seems horribly complicated. When it’s already time to question the education of our parents, the school structure that guided us until then, or any other preconception to break to start the path towards maturity, towards the true self.

You don’t kill an idea

The long concrete corridors of Silent Hill: The Short Message distantly recall the aesthetic of Kairo, a Japanese horror film (already in 2001) about the impact of technology on social relationships. In Anita’s mind, getting closer to others is a fatal mistake. Both because the fake world of social networks disrupts her bearings, but also because her self-esteem is incredibly low. She is bruised, lonely, uncertain, some will say “whiny”, she lingers on details that seem puerile, but well, she’s basically a high school student, so yes, she’s essentially a big child not yet fully formed. The experience of The Short Message emotionally culminates in a sequence (quite disturbing in its atrocious banality) at the heart of Anita’s memories with good staging that helps us understand – beyond the literary nullity of the script – her attitude. Her journey is not as out of touch as the most acerbic critics like to suggest.

Kairo, aesthetic predecessor of P.T. and spiritual ancestor of The Short Message.
Kairo, aesthetic predecessor of P.T. and spiritual ancestor of The Short Message.

Especially since the text is not as literal as it seems. Anita is fascinated by her friend C.B. (for “Cherry Blossom”), an accomplished graffiti artist covering the walls with women covered in cherry blossoms. “Because cherry blossoms are the only ones to die without withering,” she explains. Each petal that falls dies preserving its beauty. Should one then take one’s life at the height of our human existence to depart magnificently? C.B. seriously poses the question. Should Silent Hill have ended after the third episode? Some fans will argue it just as seriously. But it’s not a question of forgiving the shameful economic model of Ascension; one will hardly support this position…

Silent Hill: The Short Message almost sins by excessive reverence towards the second episode: an amnesic protagonist with crushing guilt, dilapidated metal-filled apartments, and an iconic monster generated by our heroine’s anxieties. The title bears the mark of the veterans. The flower-headed beast was designed by Mr. Masahiro Ito and the excellent soundtrack was written by Akira Yamaoka himself. Beyond its many flaws, Hexa Drive has tamed well what a modern Silent Hill could be. The visuals are very well done (to the point of making the PS5 lag) with beautiful graffiti murals as well as very nice lighting effects. In the staging, we think of P.T., in the framing and sensations, we lean more towards Resident Evil 7 with a very slight touch of Candyman in the sets. In fact, the little thing is that the early Silent Hill games themselves were very imperfect and sometimes not very subtle. Never to the extent of The Short Message, but seeing Claudia engulf a fetus is not particularly elegant, in every sense of the word. One can blame it for many evils, but this new episode does not betray the spirit of the franchise for a single second.

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