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    dkirschner's Hollow Knight (PC)

    [November 12, 2021 09:50:59 AM]
    Phenomenal experience. Beautiful/sad story, haunting setting, exploration-heavy, challenging combat, creative enemies, outstanding level design. The one gripe I imagine people having with this is its difficulty--a coupling of the Souls-like death system and the definitely-sometimes-annoying checkpoint system.

    I'll start briefly with those gripes, and then gush about the rest of it. This is a 2d metroidvania that most reminds me of the Ori games (also phenomenal). But it certainly takes inspiration from Dark Souls. When you kill enemies, you get Geo (money). Geo is precious for the first half of the game because purchasing items from the world's vendors is key to survival and exploration. As you explore, you will find benches. These are "save points" of sorts. Sit at one and it records your progress, updates your map, and serves as a respawn point. When you die, a shadow of you spawns where you died and you respawn at the last bench you sat at, with 0 Geo and decreased health capacity. You are supposed to trek back to your shadow, kill it, and retrieve your Geo. Not always easy! Often, you will have died far, far, far away from the last bench and have to traverse 10 minutes of deadly enemies and environments to find your shadow (which is VERY handily marked on your map!). But if you die again before you kill your shadow, you respawn back at your bench and permanently lose your Geo. Brutal. This happened to me a few times. The risk to carrying around tons of Geo (without spending it regularly or depositing it in the bank) is huge, and when you die and go to find your shadow again, you need to be very, very careful.

    Once you get farther in the game, the death/Geo loss risk decreases significantly. You'll eventually buy everything from all the vendors and Geo becomes a mere trophy. And as you unlock more and more areas, benches, stag stations (fast travel locations), and upgrades, all the backtracking becomes less tedious. And backtrack you will do, especially if you're seeking out all of Hallownest's secrets. But the character movement is tight, the environments are eerily beautiful, the enemies are fun, and so all the walking back and forth was rarely bad for me (except the one night I stayed up till 2am playing this and couldn't stop because I was stuck in an anxiety-inducing loop of dying, killing my shadow, trying to get out of the ridiculously dangerous area I had stumbled into called Deepnest, dying again, killing my shadow, etc. I was so tired, which just made me die more.). Otherwise, I enjoyed zooming around to revisit previously inaccessible secrets that I had marked on my map after obtaining movement upgrades. Plus, you will become more powerful and the enemies and environmental hazards will stop posing much threat.

    I really liked how once difficult areas became a breeze to zip through later in the game. Deepnest, for example, so terrified me after that marathon session lasting till 2am that I avoided it for probably 10 hours of playtime and did everything else I could before revisiting it. When I did revisit it, I was pleased to find that the enemies that had once seemed impossible were now relatively easy (and could be farmed for Geo!).

    The game takes place in a ruined city, Hallownest, that fell into misfortune some time ago. Explorers delve into it seeking knowledge, treasure, and adventure. As you explore, you'll meet other adventurers, characters who still live there, and corrupted denizens. The story is drip-fed to you through cryptic dialogue and environmental storytelling. Basically, some sort of infection consumed the city and the king tried to stop it by creating a vessel, which he locked away and sealed. But the vessel was tainted and the infection continued to wreak havoc on the city. So you, adventurer, learn about what you are doing as you go along (your character doesn't speak, so this is all through others speaking/thinking about you). You need to open the seal and destroy the vessel (though in the process...).

    You'll explore a huge, huge map (huuuge, look up a picture) with different parts of the city that connect in various ways. There are the cliffs above the city, the royal quarters, the waterways, gardens, a beehive (did they produce honey?!), and more. Each section is aesthetically unique with different kinds of enemies. Sections are gated off in various ways and as you get new abilities, you can open the paths to them. Despite this, I imagine that no two players will take the exact same path through the game. Exploration was one of the best parts of Hollow Knight because you never knew when you would come upon a new area and you never knew what was there. When you enter a new area, you have no map of it until you locate the Cartographer. You'll hear him humming a tune and you'll see map fragments on the ground. Follow the sound and paper trail to find him and purchase the area map. Sometimes he's pretty close to where you enter the area and you can methodically map it out. I mean, you'll methodically map it out whether you actually have the map or not! In some areas, the Cartographer is not easy to find, which makes "find the Cartographer" like your first objective whenever you discover a new area. One area, Fog Canyon, I had completely memorized because it connected a couple other areas and I never found the Cartographer until just before I beat the game. I heard his humming and saw a paper scrap, but he was behind some impassable barrier (which I never found the way to open until looking it up after beating the game). I eventually found a different way to him, but yeah, you have to do the work to get the maps!

    I said that you never know what is coming next. "Surprise" is another of my favorite things about Hollow Knight. And bosses! There are a lot of bosses. Some were pretty difficult, especially sort of in the mid-point of the game for me. Early on, bosses didn't give me much trouble, I think just because they were easy enough to read and I'm good at video games (/flex). Half-way through, though, I ran across several that gave me trouble, and a couple that I just ignored after repeated attempts (like the Grimm Troupe in the expansion pack and some of the "enhanced" versions of some regular bosses). I think these bosses were objectively more difficult and meant to be tackled later, plus I think I was slow to upgrade my weapon. Once I found the weaponsmith, I had materials to upgrade two or three times, and most of the rest of the game sailed by. I wound up beating later bosses by just equipping "weapon upgrade" type runes and spamming XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, only pausing when my health was low, and sometimes even killing the boss before I even had to heal. I wound up killing the last boss like this, while taking advantage of his choreographed "pauses" to heal. Spam XXXXXXXXX. Boss pauses to catch his breath. Heal. Spam XXXXXXX. Win. There are definitely some MUCH harder fights than the final one, including some nerve-wracking arena wave battles. I never did beat the final arena challenge.

    SO. I hear there's a sequel to this on the way. Sign me up. I did not expect to like this so much. Metroidvanias are not my favorite genre, but I seem to get into some of them. I haven't yet identified what makes one "click" with me. I'm going back through old metroidvanias or metroidvania-adjacent 2d puzzle/platformers seeing which ones I liked a lot: the Ori games, the Guacamelee! games, Outland, Carrion, The Swapper (definitely more puzzle there). But then others have really not clicked (...Metroid Prime, most metroidvanias that mix roguelike elements like Dead Cells, although other roguelikes like Spelunky or FTL I have really enjoyed...). Truly, a mystery. I should reflect on this more. Until then, it's time to dust off Breath of the Wild, which I remember nothing about but am determined to complete over winter break!
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    dkirschner's Hollow Knight (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Monday 12 April, 2021

    GameLog closed on: Friday 12 November, 2021

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Feels a lot like Ori games. Seems charming and exploration focused. ------ Phenomenal.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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