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Retro Retro Games Returned #2: Silent Hill (1999)

ROMhack

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The fear of the blood tends to create fear for the flesh.

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Director: Keiichiro Toyama
Composer: Akira Yamaoka
Platforms: PlayStation One (Same version also appeared on PSP and PS3)

Background and Story

Harry Mason and his adopted daughter Cheryl are driving down the highway close to the sleepy town of Silent Hill. Without warning, a girl suddenly appears in middle of the road causing Harry to lose control of the car. When he wakes up, he realises Cheryl is missing and takes leave of his now wrecked vehicle to wander into the snowy nearby town. Noticing that it’s abandoned, Harry ambulates further before seeing an image of his daughter in the background. He calls out to her but she runs away leaving Harry to chase after her. Noticing the sight of bloody entrails on the wall and the sky growing ever darker, Harry is suddenly attacked and falls unconscious. He wakes up in a cafe, greeted by Officer Cybil Bennett. Cheryl is still out there somewhere leaving Harry to wonder once more into the darkness…

Silent Hill (1999) is the original game in the Silent Hill franchise. It was developed by Team Silent, a group working at Konami’s Tokyo office, headed by director Keiichiro Toyoma. The game began life as a project designed to appeal to Western audiences by incorporating an American setting. The team were given artistic freedom to create a game that appealed to player's bae emotions. They devised a psychological horror game leveraging creepy small town vibes and the unexplainable aspects of the human psyche, thus fitting into Japan's proclivity for horror at the time (e.g. Ringu). Thankfully for Konami, Silent Hill was a hit. The estimated budget of $4 million (edit: this is debatable) succeeded as the game sold over two million copies, making it the 15th highest-selling PlayStation One title ever. Critics called ‘engrossing’ and "terrifying". One reviewer described it as a “near-perfect sim nightmare”.





Gameplay

As mentioned, the game focuses on Harry Mason’s attempts to find his daughter Cheryl. It’s set in third-person and features both puzzle and action elements. Taking control of Harry, the player wanders around the town of Silent Hill confronting monsters when they appear, with only a collection of melee weapons and firearms to protect yourself. Harry has low health meaning the player often needs to take a cautious approach to handling enemies. Much like its contemporaries Dino Crisis and Resident Evil, survival really is the name of the game. Locations include typical traits of small town life such as a hospital, cafe, church and park. Interestingly, the game features no HUD making it a more visceral experience, but it also means you need to enter the menu each time to check on health. One of the key items Harry has from the beginning is a portable radio in his pocket - bursts of static detect the presence of evil creatures. The camera leans towards both free-floating, as well as constricted static shots.

Music

The soundtrack was composed by Akira Yamaoka, who joined the team after the game's original musician left. He took inspiration from Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti and opted for an atmospheric-driven soundtrack to reflect the game's psychological themes. The music applies industrial elements that give off a cold, wintery feel. This reflects the conflicted inner state of the main character as he searches for his adopted daughter, as well as the derelict and haunted town itself, including both it's good and 'evil' side.




Interesting Facts
  • It's unknown exactly when the game is set. We're given the impression that it's in the 1990s, but several locations throughout suggest that it’s the late 1980s.
  • Silent Hill’s Maine setting suggests inspiration from horror writer Stephen King, who set many of his books in sleepy New England towns.
  • The game has three difficulties: easy, normal and hard. The colour of the menu system chances dependent on which setting the player chose.
  • A re-imagined version of the game titled Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was released in 2009 for the Wii and PS2. It’s not as good.
  • A movie adaptation of the game was released in 2006 and surprisingly it’s not bad for a movie based on a game.
Further Reading

From Super Fan to Producer: An Insider’s Perspective on Silent Hill - US Gamer
As Silent Hill Turns 20 We Remember Why it was Great - Eurogamer
Tortured Existence: The Town That Inspired Silent Hill - Killscreen
Silent Hill: A Retrospective (Part 1 of 2) - Retro Junk
The Strange Hidden Link between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop (hue) - Mental Floss



Your Thoughts

Did you play it?

Did you love it?

Will there ever be another entry in the Silent Hill series now that Silent Hills got cancelled?

Should Konami forcefully have their IPs removed for the good of all humanity?

Did you, like me, get so creeped out by the game when you were a kid that you had nightmares about it leading to a lot of of restless nights? (Yeah, this happened).
 
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Neff

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First one is still by far the best imo. The low-fi 3D, stark palette, '90s voice acting, and staggered line delivery due to ancient CD seek times conspire to lend the game a unique, surreal atmosphere. The game world wasn't too big, the challenge was nicely pitched, and the story wasn't overly intrusive. Silent Hill never got as good again.
 

Orta

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Apr 26, 2018
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One of the most beautifully fucked up games I've ever played. I loved it which makes playing it nowadays all the more disappointing what with the camera system and shite controls.

If ever a game deserved a complete fix it's this (and SH2 obviously).
 
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ROMhack

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One of the most beautifully fucked up games I've ever played. I loved it which makes playing it nowadays all the more disappointing what with the camera system and shite controls.

If ever a game deserved a complete fix it's this (and SH2 obviously).

Yep, two of the best games ever for my money.
 
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I finished it again on the Vita last year and had no issues,still felt good and creepy. Though to me, SH2 is the pinnacle.

One thing I will never forget is the very first gameplay section at the very beginning. You go down some alley, fucked up dogs attack you, eerie music playing with that clock ringing non stop and I cant do shit...game over...oh wait it was a dream 🤣.

I appreciated this game much later. I was. Resident Evil fanboy so this felt like an enemy walking into my town. SH2 changed all that.

It was a unique series, 10 times more disturbing than anything else then but titles started coming out too fast and it lost its charm very fast. Last 3 games dont even exist for me, they are that bad.
 
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Clear

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$4m budget in 1999, hahahahahahaa!

No way in hell. It would've cost a fraction of that.
 

Northeastmonk

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Mar 18, 2013
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I rented it a lot in the late 90’s. I owned it sometime there after. I use to love getting to the school part. The game gets real good towards the end too. I still remember completing it. Definitely worth it for anyone who has ever been interested. You can also grab a digital copy off PSN.

The OST was good for the time. Nothing could touch Silent Hill 2’s OST. Silent Hill did atmosphere and cutscenes incredibly well. Especially the nurse, Lisa. That cutscene still looks good.

Once the games were stopped being made by Team Silent, everything turned to trash. Konami really messed it all up. Kojima could have saved it and brought it back, but all we got was PT.
 
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marcincz

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One of the best games on PS1 and my favourite SH game in the series.
I remember first contact with this title. Fog, radio and something attacking me. Yes, I was afraid to turn on console in next days. And this scary scene in the first minutes of game with somebody hanging on the cross.
 
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ROMhack

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One of the best games on PS1 and my favourite SH game in the series.
I remember first contact with this title. Fog, radio and something attacking me. Yes, I was afraid to turn on console in next days. And this scary scene in the first minutes of game with somebody hanging on the cross.

It really was terrifying as a kid. I wonder if the new generation of gamers are getting spooked in the same way.
 

xpresstuning

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Adapting to these controls depends whether or not you think the experience is worth the effort required to adapt and learn the control scheme. The original Silent Hill is a very, very well worth package to experience despite the "tank" controls (which are a product of their time) because the game doesn't feature any other significant impediments to enjoy within its design. The exploration, enemy encounters and dynamic camera system works in tandem with the control scheme, and once you've got the controls down, the game flows very well. I think the art direction is done exceedingly well and that it transcends the technical limitations of the original Playstation, which is why i believe the visuals aren't a significant issue, allthough it depends on your leniency towards 5th generation graphics.

Personally speaking, i never had a problem getting into the original Silent Hill. I dabbled with this series in 2014 and started with the original. I think it's my favorite, it's an extraordinarily good game. Silent Hill 4 is the worst one i've played. I think it's incredibly tedious to the core.
 

jadefire66

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Love this game. Played it like 3 times in recent years with a PS1 emulator. Unfortunately, the second half of the game (after you finish the hospital level) is much worse than the first half. It's full of confusing and hard to navigate places such as the sewers, dark streets with low draw distance and even recycled areas (hospital).


PS:
 
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Helios

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The most atmospheric of the SH games in my opinion. The low poly artstyle adds to that.
$4m budget in 1999, hahahahahahaa!

No way in hell. It would've cost a fraction of that.
I don't know. This was Konami's response to Resident Evil. They might've poured a lot of money into it.
 
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JimmyRustler

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I replayed the entire series from December last year to May this year and looking back I have to say that the first one is the best of the series, followed closely by SH2. Atmosphere, story, riddles.... amazing. My only gripe with the game were the dated controls and the huuuuuggggge amount of enemies towards the end. Aside from that it's pretty much perfect.

Oh, and by the way... I was surprised just how well the entire series holds up. The quality is, throughout, astonishing. Rated SH1-3+Downpour with 9/10, SH4 and Origins with 8/10 and SH Homecoming and Shattered Memories with 7/10. Really didn't expect Downpour to be as good. God, I loved this game. Beginning was lame a fuck but once you reach Silent Hill the game fires from all cylinders.

I sure hope that Konami will do something with this series again. Time will tell.

Why there where like 20 people working on this game.
Yeah, and Keiichirō Toyama was only 21 years old. Crazy shit... Imagine a game director this young these days.... looool
 
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Clear

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The most atmospheric of the SH games in my opinion. The low poly artstyle adds to that.

I don't know. This was Konami's response to Resident Evil. They might've poured a lot of money into it.

Games of that era just weren't made on budgets that large in general, and Silent Hill specifically was made by a small and relatively inexperienced team. For example, Takayoshi Sato did all the CG for the game single-handedly!
 

ROMhack

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$4m budget in 1999, hahahahahahaa!

No way in hell. It would've cost a fraction of that.
The most atmospheric of the SH games in my opinion. The low poly artstyle adds to that.

I don't know. This was Konami's response to Resident Evil. They might've poured a lot of money into it.
Games of that era just weren't made on budgets that large in general, and Silent Hill specifically was made by a small and relatively inexperienced team. For example, Takayoshi Sato did all the CG for the game single-handedly!

Alright, I've done a deep dive into this and you're probably right that the budget wasn't $4m. There's no specifics but it's mentioned that $4m was the budget of a big game like Final Fantasy VII. Let that be a lesson to everyone that Wikipedia isn't a reliable source of information. A good lesson for me in the future.

Here's the original source:

GS: And with the next game you worked on (Silent Hill 2) you had a lot more story control. Do you miss having control over a project like that?

TS: Well…I don’t know, I’m in the United States now, and the hierarchy is so different. When I worked on Silent Hill 1, the budget average was like three to five million, like Final Fantasy. Around the time of Silent Hill 2, the average budget was maybe seven to ten million. So it was easier to get power over a project at the time, because the cost wasn’t as much. But now games could cost, I don’t know, ten to fifty million? That’s too much. Way too much money.

I edited the Wiki page but they'll probably edit it back.
 
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Badlucktroll

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Badlucktroll

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I wonder if this tweet means anything:

Ito has expressed interest in doing another game with the Silent Hill people. Watch it be a 9th generation Blue Point Fox Engine Silent Hill remake with some of the Team Silent people working on it as well.
 
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Helios

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I wonder if this tweet means anything:

Ito has expressed interest in doing another game with the Silent Hill people. Watch it be a 9th generation Blue Point Fox Engine Silent Hill remake with some of the Team Silent people working on it as well.
It doesn't. I've been following Ito for quite a while and while he wishes to bring back team silent and create a new SH he also said he has no say in it. And that it's all up to Konami.
EDIT: Nvm, I just saw that he says the exact same thing under this tweet.

Honestly, I just wish people would hire him for more horror video games. I love his designs.
 
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May 22, 2018
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I know Silent Hill 2 always gets the biggest share of the praise, but SH1 is by far the best in my opinion. It was genuinely quite a terrifying experience playing the demo that came with the PAL version of MGS.

As some have mentioned above, but the low resoultion assets and the short draw distance really added to the experience and it wouldn't have been the same without it. Combined with the harsh scraping and banging and general industrial noises, it was quite the sensory assault at times. I don't think there was ever a moment when i was scared in Silent Hill 2, and i found most of the characters to be irritating rather than throubling. The ending i recieved may have been one of the best I've seen in a game and genuinely upset me though, so i guess it was worth it so some degree.

I still hold it as one of my favourite horror games, right next to RE1, Clocktower, Alone in the Dark and Fatal Frame/Project Zero.
 

xrnzaaas

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This game is on my list of shame of horrors I've never finished. I remember playing a bit at a neighbor's house and I think also a demo of some sort. I'd really love if Konami released the original version as a normal port for the PS4. I know there are ways to play it right now, but I'm too lazy. ;)