In wilds beyond they speak your name with reverence and regret,
For none could tame our savage souls, yet you the challenge met,
Under palest watch, you taught, we changed, base instincts were redeemed,
A world you gave to bug and beast as they had never dreamed.
With these, and only these words, you’re thrown into the awe-inspiring and highly unforgiving world of Hollow Knight, with no clue whatsoever as to what you’re supposed to do. You make your to a now largely deserted town of Dirtmouth, where an Elderbug tells you that the place once teemed with life, but drawn to the mysteries of the forgotten kingdom that lies beneath the surface, they’re all gone. It’s up to you to discover the ancient secrets and rid the town of the curse. Hence begins your journey into the depths of Hallownest.
At it’s core, Hollow Knight is a game about adventure and exploration. You don’t know much about the story, and need to piece it up yourself. The world around you is filled with bugs and creatures of all forms and sizes, just waiting to be revealed. And believe me, every inch of the immensely huge map is worth it. The game follows the Metroidvania style, meaning that you’ll be repeatedly stonewalled by areas that you can’t access till you unlock certain abilities. As a result, there’s a good amount of backtracking involved, but it only makes the game more exciting and intriguing.
One thing that always comes to mind whenever I think about Hollow Knight is how incredibly adorable the game is. It’s dark, gritty and punishing, but adorable nevertheless. All the characters you comes across are really quirky and cute, which creates a good contrast against the game’s seemingly grim premise, and prevents it from getting depressing. Even the dialogues and the songs the NPCs sing have a really nice ring to them, but don’t take them at their tone. I met a cutesy little bug mining his way through, humming a catchy, adorable tune. Upon striking a conversation with the fella, I found out that the song talks about burying his entire family, including himself. Maybe it’s just me, but the game seem to have a twisted take on what the word cute means. And I love every single bit of it.
The world of Hallownest is as expansive and well detailed as it is beautiful. Team Cherry has done an amazing job of creating a vast labyrinth that excites you with the notion of what secrets it holds, and makes you anxious at what dangers you might encounter at the same time. It’s quite incredible to see the amount of content they’ve put in, making sure you never have a dull moment. Whether you’re exploring the grassy Greenpath or trying to escape the teleporting bugs in Soul Sanctum, the game leaves you awestruck. You know, unless you busy furiosuly mashing your attacks just to make sure you don’t die. As you walk across the lands, you can slash through grass and stones and signposts, which I have to admit, is quite satisfying.
That satisfaction of slashing through objects extends to the combat as well. It’s fairly simple to get used to, but a pain in the ass to master. Timing is the key to every action, and the game doesn’t care if missing an attack sends you plunging to your death. But even when you’re making your way back from the last checkpoint which might not be anywhere near you died, you can only blame yourself. Every time you strike and hit an enemy, you move back a little, which adds some weight to the combat, and encourages you to make sure that you don’t keep mashing that attack button. Every time you take a hit, the world around you slows down to a halt for a moment as a crack fills the screen, and then you’re sent flying back. It does an amazing job of adding some feel to the fighting. If you die, you drop all the Geo (currency dropped by dead enemies) and your soul-container breaks. You can only store half the amount of Soul until you kill the shadow you leave upon death, restoring your soul container and Geo. It’s pretty easy to heal yourself, though. Every successful strike gives you Soul, which you can channel and use to recover your health. The channelling takes a couple of seconds and can be disrupted, so you need to make sure to be at a safe distance. Like I said, timing is the key.
In addition to the conventional hack-and-slash, you also come across charms and abilities which help you in customizing your character. The abilities, like dash and wall climb, help you reach previously inaccessible areas, along with enhancing your combat capabilities, while the charms can be equipped or switched for bonuses and upgrades. Each charm requires a certain number of notches, which are limited, so you need to do some thinking. In order to equip a charm, you need to be resting on a bench. These benches are scattered throughout the world and double up as checkpoints. Resting also updates the map, marking the explored areas. You can buy the map for each area from Cornifer. And that’s not where it ends, for there are tons of secret passageways and areas within these locations. No matter where you are in Hallownest, there’s always something right around the corner.
One of my favourite things about the game is the music and the sound design, which is probably one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Each area is accompanied by a fitting soundtrack which goes perfectly with it’s theme and art. Each sound, whether it’s the rustling of grass or even the quirky yet unsettling laugh of a shopkeeper, brings everything together for an incredible, immensely satisfying experience.
As amazing as the game is, it’s not perfect. There’s a slight occasional hitch at times, and while it’s not much of a problem most of the times, but if it happens when you’re trying to evade an attack, or trying to make a jump over a bunch of spikes, you may just end up dead. Apart from that, there’s not much to complain about.
Hollow Knight is hands-down one of the best, most rewarding Metroidvania titles out there. It may also be one of the most unforgiving ones, but that only makes it better. The amount of stuff you can do in Hallownest is absolutely staggering, and the visuals and music just add on to it, culminating into a classic experience that only a handful of games can provide.