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  • João Luís Gomes

Hollow Knight: a game review

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

Released on February 24, 2017, Hollow knight is an indie, 2D, Metroidvania ,action-adventure game developed by Team Cherry. The game sets place in the fictional kingdom of Hallownest, a ruining, decaying, and ancient kingdom, which the player explores and experience it through the Knight, a speechless and emotionless (that’s why he is hollow) bug (it’s really hard to tell what he is; however, he does have a bug-like mask). Hollow knight was nominated for some of the most important awards of the videogames scenario and achieved world popularity in the last 4 years.

What makes a game exceptional ? This question is obviously subjective; still, it may be possible to create a set of criteria to, at least, level games. What I would judge to be the fundamental criteria to level a game are: Lore (the storyline and narrative nuances throughout the game), art (the graphic and looks of a certain piece), progression, music, and gameplay.

The Art

Hollow Knight is somewhat of a distinctive, and rather creative game when it comes to its art style. Although the graphics are not ultra-realistic they are still rich and unique. Due to the narrative nature of Hollow Knight, the developers were able to create an exceptional art style that is the visual translation of the narrative and the marvelous environments in which the game is set. As said previously, Hollow Knight takes place in Hallow Nest, yet I purposefully omitted the fact that Hallow Nest is not a usual kingdom, it is not a human kingdom. It is an insect kingdom. This narrative artifice possibilities a particular art style, a dim, ruined, ancient, insect-like, and dark style (due to the fact that it is a ruined, underground (so there is no sunlight) kingdom. Some of the Knight’s foes are very monstrous-like as well, which creates a perfect plot for a dark and, sometimes, scary art style).

The art style of the game is fitting and greatly improves the atmosphere in which the game is set. All scenarios tell a story and the variety of biomes and places that the player can go are utterly important for the game's exploration. There are 15 different biomes and each one of them has a different visual identity. It's a mixture of curiosity and exploration that embeds the player while reading, it’s almost as if the player needs to play all the game and discover everything. Most of my friends that played the game said that they played the whole game, the 112% progression ( it’s not 100% because of the two DLCs).

The Progression

It’s a common theme in metroid-vanias that the progression is one of the core values of the game. In most games from the genre the protagonist starts with only the most basic skills and mechanics of the game (usually jump, walk, and a basic attack) and throughout the gameplay many skills and mechanics are acquired and learned by the protagonist; those mechanics then open new doors and places to explore. Hollow knight has simple and wide tree skills that are acquired, mostly, by fighting the bosses of the game. For instance, if you defeat the Mantis Lords (one of the most amazing boss fights of the game) the player opens a new path on the map and wins the respect of all mantis (they bow to the Knight every time they see him). Most skills are very simple to use and all of them give the player the sense of improvement and development, by comparing the gameplay in the beginning and in the end it’s very clear that the game does a very good job of evolving the experience for the player, constantly adding new mechanics to the player that maintains his attention and open new possibilities of exploration and combat.

Now, perhaps one of the best in game progression of all games is the Crossroads (the first underground region of the game), where the whole biome changes in a certain point of the game's narrative. The game feels alive when this particular event happens and the progression is so clear, and greatly schemed that it is almost as if the game is constantly mutating, the players curiosity never ends, even when the final boss is defeated there are still discoveries to be made.

The Music

Hollow Knight music was composed by Christopher Larkin, a Australian video game music composer. The game has 26 pieces of music, most of them are related to a region in the game or a boss fight. The regional music of the game further helps to create an identity to each and every region, for example, my favorite music is the one in the City of Tears (the kingdoms capital) and it does a really good job to create the regions particularities, the harp arpeggios sound like someone is crying (which is a perfect match with the cities environment) and the great and melancholic melody is perfectly combined with the greatness of the city (the most central region and “civilized” region of the map) and the depressing present state of the cities, ruined, and long forgotten.

The music in the game is amazing and it does a really good job on setting the different scenarios of the game, not only in the different regions of the map, but also in the intense combats. I recommend anyone taking a look at the game's music (a full playlist exists in Spotify.

The Gameplay

This might be the least remarkable part of the game, simply because there is not much to it. It’s alright, don’t get me wrong but nothing that new. The most interesting part of the in-game mechanic is the map writing, every time you reach a new room (if you have the pencil item) the next time the Knight takes a rest in a bench he will draw the rooms he discovered. Different from other games, where you just receive the full map, in Hollow Knight, the player constantly needs to explore and to discover the map with the protagonist. Another creative mechanic of the game is the one of the charms. Through the game you unlock and discover charms that give you a passive ability and that when combined do different things that helps in the combat Apart from that there is no revolutionary mechanic, nothing that it doesn’t exist in a other games; however, the gameplay is still well polished, varied, and simple so anyone can play.

The Lore

The game's narrative is not linear nor obvious, actually, in a way, it is fragmented. The game never tells the player directly what is happening, the narrative it’s always silent and some of the characters talk in different languages; therefore, all the narrative is, or written (which is not easy to understand since it is written in prose, and sometimes only in small dialogues that are not that illuminating), or seen through memories (which happens only a few times). The narrative and the lore is there but it is not explicit, so the player must chase after it. And, as I said, there is deepness into everything ,the world of Hollow Knight is constantly changing. Those factors influence thousands of people that are passionate about Hollow Knight to create the most intricate theories about the game, in fact, the Hollow Knight community is a very united and big one for an indie game.

My conclusion is that Hollow Knight is one of the best games of the metroid-vania out there and that anyone who is interested in games should play it. Not only is the game good for the reasons I listed, but it is also affordable and available in all modern media (Xbox, PS4, PC, Switch) I recommend the game for anyone and I do think it is a must if you really enjoy games.

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