In Konami’s Silent Hill 3, we got what some fans feel was “the last good Silent Hill game”. But at the same time, it’s also often the one that’s overlooked. Just how do you top what many consider one of the best (if not the best) Survival Horror games ever in Silent Hill 2? Silent Hill 3 was also one of the last traditional Surival Horror games before things became stagnant, and Capcom decided to reinvent things (for better and for worse) with Resident Evil 4. But seeing as Silent Hill 3 turns 15 today (in Europe, as Japan and North America had staggered releases later in the year), it’s worth looking back to see just how great the game was, but also just why it doesn’t get that recognition.
For those who’ve never played the game, Silent Hill 3 takes place 17 years after the original Silent Hill, and centres on Heather Mason, daughter of Silent Hill protagonist Harry Mason. While running an errand for Harry at the Central Square Shopping Center, Heather falls asleep inside a fast food restaurant and dreams about Silent Hill, where she finds herself in an abandoned amusement park. After being run down in her dream by a rollercoaster, Heather wakes up and attempts to leave the mall, but not before meeting two people who hint at her past. Soon Heather finds herself caught between two worlds, eventually leading her to venture into Silent Hill itself.
Technically-speaking, Silent Hill 3 still looks very good for a PlayStation 2 game that’s 15 years old. The characters still look realistic, retaining the recognizable features that the artists picked from real-life actors in the construction of the characters. Heather, for example, still retains features based on French actress Sophie Marceau. And Claudia still resembles Julianne Moore (sans eyebrows). Apart from some janky animations, the characters in the game are still able to communicate and express their emotions and eccentricities. And like some of the animations, the performances are a little overwrought in spots, but it fits in with the acting of the era. Predictably, Masahiro Ito’s monster designs carry on from what he started in the first game, and are ratcheted up in terms of gruesomeness and bizarreness. While the iconic Pyramid Head isn’t in the game, there are still plenty of weird designs that, as is typical in the series, are representative of the main character’s thoughts. Finally, the environments are appropriately rusty and grimy (as in the first game), and when combined with the scrapings and otherworldly noises, still hold that isolating and nightmarish feel a decade and a half later.
And you can’t talk about Silent Hill 3 without mentioning its music. Akira Yamaoka once again takes the industrial and ambient sounds from the previous games, but this time brings in vocals. Many have fallen in love with the opening song “You’re Not Here” with its melancholy vocals by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. Other songs like “I Want Love” or “Letter – From the Lost Days” fit in perfectly during the more introspective moments of the game. The North American release of Silent Hill 3 came with a soundtrack CD, but lacked one track found in the Japanese release. If you’re a hardcore fan, the long out-of-print Silent Hill Sounds Box has the track (and then some), but you’ll be paying for it on eBay.
Silent Hill 3‘s gameplay isn’t too different from the previous games, although by no means is it any easier. Monsters this time around take more damage, meaning it’s better to run than fight. The Double Head will be the bane of your existence, as they tend come in packs. Luckily, you have the new beef jerky item that will distract the Double Head in order for you to make a getaway. New this time around is the ability to adjust the difficulty of combat and puzzles independently of each other. The Hard difficulty for puzzles will require you to brush up on your Shakespeare, to give you an idea of what you’ll be facing. There are plenty of scares to experience (such as the mannequin room), and will most certainly stick with you.
The story for Silent Hill 3 was borne out of a response from fans wanting to “tie up some loose ends” in regards to the first game, hence its function as a direct sequel. In fact, Silent Hill 3 mirrors the original game in numerous ways. Both games began in a supernatural location, where the character “dies” and wakes up in a restaurant. Soon after, both characters (whose names, Harry and Heather, begin with ‘H’) encounter law enforcement figures. Both characters also fight similar first bosses, and have encounters in similar locations, and face similar events. In fact, if you have save data from Silent Hill 2 on your memory card, there will be references to that game in SH3. And, Like the previous games, Silent Hill 3 makes references to Stephen King and other horror films, most notably Jacob’s Ladder.
There are several themes running through Silent Hill 3, with one of the more prevalent ones is a coming-of-age motif. I’ll try to be a vague as I can be in order to avoid spoiling things. Throughout the game, Heather stumbles upon birthday congratulations in various forms (including the infamous Happy Birthday Caller). Each time, however, the years will change. This is in reference to a certain plot point that you discover later on in the game. There are other references, such as the abandoned amusement park with the lifeless Robbie the Rabbit costume on the bench, the mall (a typical teen hangout), and the idea of birth (again, being vague). All of these lead to the idea of a crossroads between childhood and adulthood for Heather, who must take on adult responsibilities to survive her ordeal. Then again, as evidenced by the characters of Douglas Cartland and Vincent Smith, adulthood isn’t so great either. Both men are flawed individuals who have made mistakes, but only one seeks to change that. Whereas Douglas seeks to right the wrong of years past, Vincent seems content to ridicule and exploit others using his position of power for his own benefit. Claudia, the game’s main antagonist, would rather remain blinded by her devotion to her faith as a child would be to its parents, instead of being autonomous and aware of what’s going on.
Despite its positive reviews, Silent Hill 3 still doesn’t receive the attention as the second or the first. Is it because SH3 is more linear in its gameplay than the previous game? You don’t have a whole town to explore, but SH3 does have more of an isolated feel because of it. Or is it because the game adheres to the same formula as the previous game in terms of mechanics? The tank controls, the combat, the puzzles and camera angles. It’s all here from the previous games. Perhaps it’s just fatigue with the whole genre? That kind of seems preemptive, as there were still Survival Horror games being released at that time (and having good sales). However, it could also be said that things were on a downward trend, as with Silent Hill 4: The Room being released a year later, the sales and reception weren’t as positive, and people were starting to get tired of the familiar clichés found in the genre.
Whatever the reason might be, Silent Hill 3 certainly deserves more attention than what it’s been given. And especially now, since we all know about Konami’s current view of the series. The HD Collection that was released years ago is indicative of that. In fact, if you’re looking to play the game, you’d best track down the original, and avoid the “remaster” like the plague. If you’re not aware of why, there are plenty of videos explaining the reasoning.
By all means, track down a copy of this one on either PC or PlayStation 2, and give it the attention that it’s sorely lacked all this time. Sadly, as we know 15 years later, things haven’t turned out too well…