Review: Silent Hope
I’ve been a fan of Marvelous’ work for a while, starting with the old Harvest Moon games way back when and more recently with the Rune Factory series. So when I watched the trailer for Silent Hope and saw some classic monsters return, I was delighted and knew I had to check this out.
While it seemed to lean away from the life sim elements of those other series and into pure action this time around, adding action had made Rune Factory better for me than Harvest Moon, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that sooner or later they would decided to go all in.
Silent Hope was developed and published by Marvelous Inc. It releases October 3, 2023 on Switch and Steam. The Switch version was played for this review.
Silent Hope aims to harken back to classic designs with a lot of its design decisions, and one extremely notable way is with the story, or lack thereof. Long ago, there was a once-peaceful kingdom that fell into ruin after its king stole everyone’s words and plunged into the abyss. Abandoned by all, save for a princess encased in crystal, it lay dormant until one day seven lights flew out from the abyss. Shortly after, seven adventurers arrived and the princess awoke from her long slumber.
Thus the story begins, and honestly that’s kind of where it stays. Due to the abandonment of the kingdom, the seven playable characters and the princess are the only ones in town. And due to the theft of words, the princess is the only one to say anything. As can be expected, this makes a lot of typical storytelling difficult.
As you explore the abyss you’ll come across beams of lights where you can hear the princess’s recollection of how things were in the days leading up to the kingdom’s ruin. Then at the end of a given section you can find a stone stele where you can read the king’s side of what was recalled in that section.
Unfortunately, this sparse storytelling and emphasis on backstory means you don’t really get to be part of the story until the very end. It has little to do with what you’re doing; just events long past narrated by someone who already knows what’s going on. Essentially it’s like being on a guided tour of a museum. Once you save the day and reach the credits, THEN you’re allowed to be characters and have a personality and such… though I don’t simply mean in the credits. One of your rewards for beating the game is that your characters are now voiced and actually have a fair bit of character to them, as well as having a postgame that’s taking a direct interest in the heroes and what they just did.
I’m left wondering, for all my frustrations over the storytelling, if they had put some of this kind of content sprinkled in through the base experience how much better it could have been. As it was, I was a good 20 hours in first, and that feels too little too late.
A Direct Delve
Thankfully, the gameplay fares a bit better. You control one of seven adventurers, each of whom have different talents for exploring the abyss. Silent Hope plays out like a typical dungeon crawler, and as you level up you’ll earn skill points you can use to learn and improve skills. Each character has a different class, and you’ll unlock a second partway through your adventure, with a third reserved for beating the postgame.
Each class has a few abilities you can put points into, and you can mix and match skills among a character’s given classes to create a hybrid that suits your playstyle. Many of the class’s skills are also designed to play well with each other, like spells to gather enemies into a centralized location alongside powerful AoE explosions, or skills that stun enemies alongside powerful attacks that take an age to come out.
Now, in a departure from classic gameplay, Silent Hope is notably more user-friendly than the retro titles it takes inspiration from. Respeccing is done at the push of a button on your menu, with the only cost being your skills going on cooldown. In addition, there’s what feels to be the game’s core mechanic, enough that it’s featured prominently in the opening movie: Swapping characters.
Just about every level of the abyss has at least one crystal on it where you can retreat to town, or swap places with one of your reserve adventurers. While you CAN just push through with a single character, there’s plenty of reasons besides variety to swap often. For starters, each time you swap you’ll gain a buff for the rest of the run based on the adventurer swapping out. In addition, healing is rather sparse with each adventurer only carrying two healing potions, and swapping allows you to trade out one weakened member for a fresh one.
This does mean needing to keep each adventurer geared and leveled, which is a bit of a detriment to the system. For those who like grinding this is probably fine, but you may find yourself getting into a groove of just gearing up a few of them and leaving the rest for a rainy day.
While one adventurer is off exploring, you’ll have the other six set to work processing ingredients (which takes time, progressing as you adventure), or crafting equipment and food. While this is essentially the town-visiting one does in any given dungeon crawler, there’s no NPCs to talk to, and you’re basically processing loot from the dungeon rather than browsing a shop’s stock. So, for better or worse, you won’t be spending much time there.
The end result is a more or less pure dungeon crawling experience. On the one hand, one can see it as no useless hoops to jump through before hitting the next tier. But on the other hand the lack of extra fluff like story beats means a lack of variety, and can lead to things feeling stagnant.
Too Little and Yet Too Much
Silent Hope has an adorable chibi 3D anime-inspired art style. I’m particularly fond of the monster designs, which manage to be pretty cute without falling into pure saccharine. The soundtrack is also really good, with each section of the abyss having its own varied theme to set the mood. The theme for the frozen section in particular stuck with me long after I’d left it.
…that said, even here I have a few criticisms. You’ll recall earlier how I mentioned the princess was the sole character with any words left, which means she’ll be the only one doing the talking for the whole game. Unfortunately, she has the voice and personality of a child. Now, I’m not as critical of these kinds of voices as some out there, but they’re only ok in moderation. Not when it’s the only voice you’ll hear.
She also likes to randomly chime in whenever you’re setting up your workshops in town… with a fairly limited number of lines. “When you think about it, waiting is part of the fun!” has been seared into my brain and I don’t think it’s ever going away. Thankfully disabling it is an option, and once you hit post-game you’ll have a decent cast of varied people to listen to. Again, I really wish they’d implemented some of the postgame changes earlier…
At a Loss for Words
For folks who don’t mind a bit of grinding there’s a surprising amount of depth to be found here, as well as incentive to push things further. Even once you’ve beaten the base game, there’s incentives to clear each tier of the dungeon as fast as you can, and the post-game actually increases the difficulty in a meaningful way. For everyone else, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if most gamers simply bounce off outside of a core niche.
At the end of the day, how you feel about Silent Hope will depend on how big a fan of classic isometric dungeon crawlers you are. At it’s heart it’s a pure experience that encourages experimentation and learning a variety of playstyles, but this comes at the cost of all the extra bells and whistles.
Review copy provided by XSeed Games for Switch. Screenshots provided by reviewer.