Developer: Team Cherry
Genre: Metroidvania (Action-Adventure)
Platform Played: PS4 Pro
Hours Played: ~24 (and more)
Review Read: ~15mins
When I paid SGD$20 for Hollow Knight, I was not aware of what I signed myself up for. For what I thought would be a less than 10-hour experience of a gloomy-cute-looking Metroidvania game, turned to an approximate 24-hour gameplay of souls-like boss fights, challenging platforming, and an existential-philosophical reflection of life and death, light and dark.
A Bug’s (Depressing) Life
The first thing I noticed when I started the game was that Hollow Knight carried a very distinct aesthetic. For a Kickstarter game by a new game developer, Team Cherry really poured heart and soul into how the game feels. You can tell just by having your character stand in the square of Dirtmouth (the game’s hub). The atmosphere is usually gloomy; throughout the entirety of my journey, I was in awe of how big the world of Hollownest was with places like a dreary city that feels lived in, but abandoned; a set of tunnels filled with fungi; and even a labyrinth of a lush, green garden. All while the soundtrack throughout the game is so iconic, so melancholic, and at most times, so beautifully depressing, that I would pay more money to watch a symphonic band hold a performance for their OST than any Nobuo-Uematsu-Final-Fantasy symphonic band playthrough in the Esplanade.
A Lesson in Life and Death, Light and Dark
It’s very hard to encapsulate the gist and story of Hollow Knight in the span of a paragraph or a few sentences. What I can tell you is that you are this adorable looking stag-beetle standing on two feet (named “The Knight”) that arrives into this town called Dirtmouth to battle some waking force of evil that had laid dormant under the town and is spreading some sort of infection, causing other bug-like creatures below the town to be hostile and brainless. Heck, my explanation may not even be the least correct in terms of the story – The lore and storytelling of Hollow Knight is so deep but, at the same time, so cryptic, that it can take more than 5 playthroughs to really get the fuller picture of what this story is about. If you would like to know about the story, you can check this video here.
Throughout my journey, I encountered different characters, many of them are hostile, many others friendly (and most, useful), many of them may sound and look friendly but have ulterior motives that you will not know of until later in the game (I will come back to this later), and vice versa. With the likes of friends, you will encounter bugs like Cornifer, possibly a weevil due to his long snout, that sells you maps of the places you will be exploring; or even Sly, a firefly merchant. These characters will stick to you because of their distinct personalities, even though they are voiced in a different non-human language that is equally intriguing and adorable.
There is this part of the game where you would be given a ‘dream nail’. It’s like a sword that allows you a glimpse into the minds of any character. When you use this nail on some of them, you will find out their true nature and what is in their minds – This added a whole new dynamic of story for me. For example, I met a friendly bug, Willoh, by a stag station (This is like a fast travel of sorts in the game). Before I had the dream nail, Willoh would gesture how having company around is most welcoming in a world like Hollownest, but once I had the dream nail and used the nail on him, I found out that he had thoughts about eating me.
Do not let it’s adorable looking façade of anthropomorphic bugs fool you. This game is as tough as the shell of a man-sized Ironclad Beetle. There is no level system in Hollow Knight, but your character will earn Geo – the game’s currency – that will allow you to buy items like charms, giving you certain buffs when you equip them on a bench to rest (and in turn, restoring your health points). The level design for the game is unforgiving – when you die, you will definitely know that it’s your fault and that you will have to do better. Like the souls-borne games, when your character dies, you leave behind your geo at the place you die, spawning a shade at that area that you will have to kill before getting back what you have lost. Hollow Knight adds in a piece of lore to this mechanic – As you progress through the game, you will attain a hunter’s diary that logs in all creatures that you have fought and will give you information on them. A shade is one of those creatures. In the description of the shade, it says that when someone dies, it leaves a “stain on the world”. This was an interesting introduction of the game’s theme of life and death. Later in the game, you would meet this character called Jiji, where in exchange for an item called ‘rancid egg’, will help summon out the shade for you to kill if you think the shade is at a very tricky spot to reach. Jiji expands that idea of life and death in the metaphor of the shade as when people die, they leave behind their regrets – possibly the greatest form of their legacy.
For a game with a roster of cute supporting characters, this is not a game for kids. The story also weaved in Lovecraftian themes of the dangers of the pursuit of forbidden knowledge that can lead to the corruption of the mind. It also talks about how memories can haunt rather than give peace; that in every individual, no matter how sinister, there is humanity inside of them; and that in every person that declares friendship and peace, there is something sinister inside of them. This game blew me away with the themes they tried to explore using the story and aesthetics they’re trying to tell; leaving an imprint – a stain on my world – even when I have completed the story and put down the controller.
Done, but Not Dusted
After about 24 hours of gameplay, I was done with just the main storyline of the game. The completion percentage count only left me with 73%. That meant that I had more boss fights to complete, more charms to find, and other collectables to uncover. As you progress through the maps, there are hidden areas for you to discover, hidden shortcuts waiting to be found. All those add into the percentage of completion. A second playthrough and you would still be surprised that there are still hidden areas in plain sight even at “The Forgotten Tunnels” – the first area you will explore.
The games sits in an entirety of 22 main bosses for you to fight. All of these bosses are equally fun to battle. They demand a lot from you; you will die at their hands over and over again. And when you do succeed that one time, you will leave the boss fight areas feeling victorious and wanting more, all while heaving your sigh of reliefs. There was never at one time while I was taking breaks from playing the game where I would be thinking of how to defeat that one boss I was stuck at. For one request, I had hoped the game would have included some sort of boss rush mode for me to relive memories of fighting these iconic and gut-wrenching bosses.
Hollow Knight Voidheart Edition include all other DLCs – This meant that even after you reach a 100% game completion, there will still be things for you to do.
For a game that’s 20 dollars, you would be surprised that you will sink in more than 2 times of what I have sunk in. There is still so much to explore and talk about in Hollow Knight that all I want to do now is to go back and get myself lost in the world of Hollownest. It’s definitely a game worth playing and a game that will leave a legacy in your heart for the years to come.