The Let's Play Archive

Hollow Knight

by Natural 20, Yorkshire Tea

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Original Thread: Hallownest Beckons - Let's Play Hollow Knight Blind



About the Game

Hollow Knight is a 2017 Metroidvania game published by Team Cherry. Garnering high praise on its release it is considered to be one of the most prolific and well regarded games of the modern era, with critics citing the incredible atmosphere the game develops as well as the tight controls and interesting exploration as reasons for its success.

I however, have managed to miss this gem, alongside, until as recently as a year and a half ago, all Metroidvania games. But really, what can one such as myself, which such scant experience say to describe Hollow Knight? Instead I’ll pass on to the one and only Yorkshire Tea for a more elaborate introduction:

From the Desk of Yorkshire Tea

Hollow Knight is somewhat of a milestone for us. Not only is it the culmination of the whirlwind tour of Metroidvanias I've dragged Nat on for over a year, but it's also the first game we've tackled together which really embodies the design philosophy of the current, "modern" gaming era.

We've looked at the two obvious progenitors of the genre - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid as well as Metroid Fusion, which, by placing a greater emphasis on active story elements, was a clear (and high-profile) indication that developers felt SotN's narrative innovations were worth emulating. Almost every subsequent Castlevania and Metroid title followed in these titles' footsteps, to say nothing of the countless games from other studios that pay homage. Some of them openly brand themselves as Metroidvanias, but even in those which don't the influences are clear.

The way I see it, a Metroidvania is a pure distillation, on a 2D plane, of the following basic gameplay elements:

1) How you move the thing

2) Where you move the thing

3) Why do you move the thing

With the added, crucial design tenet:

The player must be conscious of a sense of progress and accomplishment

An ideal Metroidvania, therefore, provides you with a character who is inherently fun to just move around and control, an engaging and interesting world to move them around in, and a compelling reason to do so. And by acquiring new gameplay elements (or movement options, if you want to really break it down), new parts of the world to explore and new story elements to consider, the player feels that they have made real, tangible progress. By making progress in the game, the world grows and develops for the player.

Not that any of this is unique to Metroidvanias, of course - just that the genre represents these elements in their purest form. Matter, motion and purpose. Hollow Knight excels in each of these: moving and attacking feels natural and satisfying, the world is memorable enough that eventually you don't even need the map to know where you are, and the storyline is full of moments and character interactions you won't soon forget.

Hollow Knight is not just modern in the sense that it builds upon the lessons taught by and learnt from nearly two decades' worth of Metroidvanias, and in doing so exceeds the sum of its parts, but also modern in very, very clearly taking inspiration from From Software's Souls games. Even as somebody who has only played Bloodborne, I can recognise how Demon's Souls and its successors have influenced the way players and developers look at video games. Uncompromising difficulty and oppressive environments are what most easily spring to mind, but there's other stuff there: an understated approach to worldbuilding that requires players to act as archaeologists, an understanding and appreciation of characterisation as conveyed in a few brief lines or a handful of unique animations. It's the small things that so often shine the brightest in the unforgiving worlds of Souls-likes. Without going into too much spoilery territory, Hollow Knight is good at this - really good at this.

For most people, what makes a Souls game is its insistence on the player mastering movement and attacking, and memorising both the environment and enemies' behaviour. We all know the drill: death is to be expected, and a necessary part of the learning curve. The penalty for death is losing your souls/blood/geo, and you can get it back if you're good enough. Save points are few and far between, and you respawn at them if you die. Progress is automatically saved if you die or quit, so no trying to cheat the system. Don't go expecting lots of cutscene-enforced invulnerability, because nearly everything happens in real time. The Souls influence on Hollow Knight in the gameplay department is very transparent, but to no detriment. Hollow Knight proves it can work in 2D and makes it its own thing. The environment and aesthetics of Hallownest are also very, very clearly inspired by Bloodborne - but again, Hollow Knight manages to own them instead of coming across like a glib imitation, thanks to its own unique and cohesive art style.

Ironically, the unrelenting difficulty of Souls games isn't really an innovation as it is a rediscovery, or at least reframing, of the difficulty found in early games, back when few titles in any genre made any friendly concessions to the player. The Souls games, and the many games they've inspired, are proof that there's a lot to be gained by going back and examining the design philosophies of the past. Very appropriate, perhaps, for Hollow Knight, a game all about delving ever deeper into ancient ruins and what lies beyond even that.

In short, Hollow Knight blends Metroidvanias and Souls-likes into one extremely enjoyable cocktail: here is a game which knows precisely what it wants to achieve and why, and looks back at everything which has come before it to know how to achieve it. Is it a truly original game, with no clear precedent? No. But such careful refinement of existing elements is rare enough these days as to be the nearest thing to originality.

As I'm sure the King of Hallownest would appreciate, nothing truly great is achieved without building upon the foundations laid by one's predecessors...

About the LP

This, as with many of our LPs will be a Guided Blind LP, where I will play with no foreknowledge of the game and Yorkshire Tea will guide me through the world, ensuring that I don’t go too far astray. (Without good reason)

Art and banners, will, as ever, be handled by the amazing Bifauxnen.


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