Shadow of Phoenix

Respect for Games

Shade’s Review of Silent Hill 4: The Room

Posted on this site: Friday, March 25, 2022

Originally Published on Sunday, January 11, 2015 at https://shadevideogames.blogspot.com/2015/01/shades-review-of-silent-hill-4-room.html

One year after the release of Silent Hill 3 in 2003, Silent Hill 4: The Room hit the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC.
During the development of Silent Hill 3, Team Silent split in two teams.
The first team including Hiroyuki Owaku and Masahiro Ito created Silent Hill 3.
The second team involved Suguru Murakoshi (writer & director), Kosuke Iwakura (program director), Masashi Tsuboyama (art director & creature designer), Akira Yamaoka (sound director & producer), and Akihiro Imamura (sub-producer) developed what came to be known as Silent Hill 4: The Room.
 
I am including several quotes from Team Silent members Masashi Tsuboyama, Akira Yamaoka, and Akihiro Imamura from interviews around the time that Silent Hill 4 was released (2004-2005).
Silent Hill 4 has a lot of changes in gameplay making it different from the first three games.
Some fans like the game, and some don’t.
These quotes are from the team members explaining why the game is the way it is.
Whether these changes are liked or not, it’s good to know why the creators made the decisions for the changes.
The links for the interviews I use are pasted at the end.
 
For years, it has been claimed by many fans that Silent Hill 4 was not originally suppose to be a Silent Hill game.
In an interview in April 2005, Akihiro Imamura states “Well, keep in mind SH4 was not originally suppose to be a Silent Hill.”
Masashi Tsuboyama and Akira Yamaoka said in an interview, “In a sense this is true because the game began life as simply Room 302. However, it was always at least a spin-off of Silent Hill and the most important thing was simply that it be different to the previous games. Certainly if Silent Hill had not existed we would not have gotten the idea for The Room, so in that sense they have always been together.”
Unfortunately, the Boomtown interview with Tsuboyama and Yamaoka does not list who gave each answer.
Due to this, I don’t if Tsuboyama or Yamaoka said the latter quote.
 
Despite this fact, both quotes prove that Silent Hill 4 started out as a game with a connection to Silent Hill with the working title Room 302, and later called Silent Hill 4: The Room.
Some Silent Hill fans claim that Silent Hill 4 is a Silent Hill game in name only because Konami thought it would make more money with a Silent Hill title.
It is possible that Room 302 became Silent Hill 4 partly due to a business decision.
Business decisions play a big role on how video games turn out.
Whether Room 302 became Silent Hill 4 due to a business decision or a creative decision (maybe both played a role), Silent Hill 4 has everything to do with its predecessors.
Yes, it is quite different from the previous games, but it makes a good Silent Hill game even with its changes and its flaws.
 
The protagonist of Silent Hill 4 is Henry Townsend.
He lives in a city called South Ashfield, and he has been living in his apartment room 302 of South Ashfield Heights for two years.
One day he began having a strange dream every night, and he became trapped in his room.
The door is chained on the inside, he can’t open the windows, he can’t make phone calls to anyone, and no one outside his apartment can hear him no matter how much noise he makes.
After five days of being confined in his room, a large hole appears in the wall of his bathroom, and his only choice is to crawl through it with the hopes of escaping.
 
The first thought that comes to someone’s mind might be, “if it doesn’t take place in Silent Hill then what does this game have to do with Silent Hill?”
I can’t answer this question without giving too much of the plot away.
I will say that Henry visits different dream worlds when he goes through the hole in his bathroom wall.
Two of these dream worlds take place in or near Silent Hill.
Also keep in mind that part of Silent Hill 3 does not take place in the town itself.
Just because the game does not entirely take place in Silent Hill does not mean that it has nothing to do with the town.
 
The game has two different play styles.
Henry’s room is always in first person mode, and all exploration outside of Henry’s room is in third person mode.
This is the first Silent Hill to have first person mode.
Some people don’t seem to like first person in Silent Hill 4.
I have no problems with first person in the game, and it controls just fine.
The buttons are mapped the same in first person as it is in third person.
The only difference is that there is no fighting while you’re in the room (all fighting take place outside the room in third person), and the left analog stick is used to walk while the right analog stick moves the camera.
 
In the Boomtown interview with Tsuboyama and Yamaoka, they’re asked about using first person for the room, and one of them responds, “We wanted to bring another kind of atmosphere to the game, as if you really were in the room.”
When asked about the game’s setting in the same interview, “The idea for The Room is that we wanted to show somewhere that should be the safest place in the world. But turning this assumption on its head we hope to generate the fear you feel in the game.”
 
It definitely worked for me.
Being in first person in Henry’s room makes me feel like I’m really in that room, and I feel safe in there.
The room even heals Henry’s health, but that changes later in the game when Henry’s room is not a very safe place to be anymore.
When I first played Silent Hill 4 and I got to this point in the game, I had to quit playing for a while.
The fact that the room was no longer safe made me feel very uncomfortable.
 
The room also serves as a hub.
You save your game in the room, and there is no other place to save.
The pause inventory screen with infinite space in Silent Hill 1-3 is not in Silent Hill 4.
Instead, the inventory is limited to ten slots.
Players access the inventory by pressing the square button (PS2 version), and the items in the inventory appear at the bottom of the screen.
The d-pad scrolls through the items, and pressing square will equip a weapon or use an item.
The game does not pause when the inventory items are on the screen.
I think the game pauses when you examine an item in the inventory though, and players do this by pressing the select button.
Unneeded items can be storied in a chest in Henry’s room, which does have infinite space.
 
Understandably, some fans do not like this kind of inventory.
One criticism I have is that it is easy to accidentally press square, and use an item like a health drink when you don’t need it.
I do wish Silent Hill 4 had the pause inventory screen like the previous games except with just ten slots to hold items.
Limiting item inventory is not well liked by some fans either especially when items like health drinks, ammunition, etc. will go in each slot one at a time.
For example, if you want to take two health drinks then one will go in one slot and the other will go in the next slot.
Limiting inventory space, how many items each slot can carry, and how often you can save your game are among the main characteristics of survival horror.
 
Silent Hill has always been categorized as survival horror since that it is how all horror video games are known.
In Silent Hill 1-3, players do have to worry about surviving to a certain extent especially on harder difficulties, but they’re more focused on psychological horror.
Silent Hill 4 is more of a mix of psychological horror and survival horror.
Surviving is more of a worry in Silent Hill 4.
One tip I have for surviving in the game is to take advantage of the room healing Henry’s health in the first half of the game, and save as many health items as you can for later in the game when the room no longer heals him.
The inventory is not as good as Silent Hill 1-3, but it is not bad either.
I just have the one criticism of how easy it is to use a health item when you don’t need it.
 
Speaking of Henry’s health.
Since there is no inventory pause screen, a meter for Henry’s health appears on the upper left corner of the screen when he takes damage and/or when he is fighting enemies.
I’ve heard an argument that the on-screen health meter is a distraction while you’re playing.
That is true in a way.
The good thing is that the health meter is not on screen when Henry is not taking damage or fighting enemies.
Thus, it is not a distraction throughout the game.
 
I could not find any interviews of the team explaining why they changed the inventory.
I’m guessing it’s partly because they wanted the room to be the place players spend a lot of time in, and it is place that you spend a lot of time in.
You will go to the room to heal Henry’s health (part of the game), save your game, and store items in the chest.
Most memos in the game are found at the front door of the room as if they were pushed under it from the outside.
You can look through the peephole of the front door to see characters walking outside.
There are some scenes with these characters through the peephole.
You can also look through Henry’s window, and see everything going on outside including what tenets are doing on the other side of the building.
The room is kind of fun namely since this is the only Silent Hill game that has such a concept.
 
Something else to note is that there is more fighting and less puzzles than past games.
Akihiro Imamura explains in an interview with Game World why Silent Hill 4 has more fighting, “Sometimes the most vocal opinions, for example the desire for more battles, are not always the best ones, especially for a series like this. We wanted more melee combat in SH4, but realized from fan reaction that there was just too much action, regardless of it being melee or not. That kind of action doesn’t make the atmosphere creepy anymore, but kind of obnoxious.”
Were there people asking for more fighting in Silent Hill?
This quote makes it sound like it.
 
Team Silent seemed to be good about listening to their fans.
Silent Hill 3 was originally suppose to have a completely different story, but fans wanted a continuation of Silent Hill 1.
Due to fans’ requests, Silent Hill 3 was made show the outcome of the characters’ stories from the first game.
Increasing combat and decreasing puzzles may have been due to some fan requests.
This got a mixed reaction, and Team Silent was going to correct it with the next game that unfortunately never happened.
I admit that it is too bad that Silent Hill 4 does not have puzzles like the first three games, but it doesn’t take away from the game being good.
 
Like Imamura said, there is more melee combat this time.
There are two firearms in game: pistol and revolver.
I use melee weapons throughout most of the game such as the steel pipe, baseball bat, shovel, and axe.
I save the pistol or revolver for certain parts of the game.
There are several golf clubs that can be used as weapons, but I don’t pick them up because they’re breakable.
I find breakable weapons to be frustrating.
Enemies in the game are a little difficult to fight at times.
Their difficulty could be a way of making the game more action based and/or make it more difficult to survive.
 
Another change is that the game doesn’t have tank controls like its ancestors, which makes it difficult to control Henry when the camera goes to a different angle.
Again, I can’t find any information on why they did this.
My guess is that it could be due to people complaining that they don’t like tank controls.
Silent Hill 4 shows that tank controls are needed in a game where the camera is not behind the main character at all times.
 
One last change that I must list is that Henry never gets a flashlight or a radio.
The flashlight and radio played a role in the horror in the preceding games.
The flashlight allows the player (and the character) to see better in the darkness, but having the flashlight on can also attract enemies to attack the character.
The radio emits static when enemies are nearby, which in itself can be frightening when you can’t see enemies in the fog or dark.
In Silent Hill 4, all the areas are well-light, and the flashlight is not needed.
There is a radio, but it stays in the room.
In the first half of the game, you can listen to some radio messages every so often.
It is more useful later in the game.
 
The fact that the flashlight is not needed and the radio stays in the room may be due to the game having less fog and darkness.
Tsuboyama and Yamaoka explain why the game is more well-light in the Boomtown interview, “The brightness of the game, the lack of fog and darkness, is to ensure that combat is fair but it could affect the atmosphere negatively. We didn’t want it that way. This time we wanted to do more obvious horror – to make the question for the player what to do about a monster rather than wondering what or where it is.”
I agree that less fog and darkness (as well no flashlight and no radio with Henry) does hurt the atmosphere a little bit.
At the same time, I do think more about what to do when I see enemies.
It makes me contemplate whether I should try to fight them or run.
It may not be as scary, but it does work the way that they wanted it to.
 
Before I move on to explain the replayability, I must give a little word of caution.
There are three things about Silent Hill 4 that some fans have a lot of dislike for: revisiting the dream worlds, the escort mission, and Henry’s personality.
By revisiting dream worlds, I mean that in the first half of the game you play through five different worlds.
After playing through the hospital (which is the midpoint of the game), you play through the same five worlds for the second half of the game.
Of course, there is a reason why Team Silent chose to organize the game this way.
Tsuboyama and Yamaoka explain this in the Boomtown interview, “In regards revisiting the different worlds in the game, we wanted to introduce the various characters in the first half of the game, then show them again later to see how they had changed. To us it was more important to see the psychological horror of the characters.”
If you’ve played the game or will play the game, this will make a lot more sense.
 
It is actually not uncommon in Silent Hill to revisit an area.
At least once or twice in Silent Hill 1-3, you play through an area such as the school or hospital while it’s normal.
Then something triggers the nightmare to take over changing the environment, and you explore the same area again this time in its hellish form.
The entire second half of Silent Hill 4 is revisiting areas except the environments don’t change much.
I definitely understand that revisiting all the worlds a second time is to see how the characters you meet in the first half have changed, but it does feel a little repetitive.
Maybe it would have helped if the environments had changed a lot more the second time around.
Revisiting the worlds with much different environments could make it feel less repetitive.
 
Something else about the second half of the game is that Henry has to escort another character.
Yes, he must escort someone else throughout the latter half of the game.
The other character is also injured so Henry must wait on this person to go though a door, or the character will be left behind.
You can equip the escort character with a weapon, which can help in fighting enemies.
The problem is that if you want to run from enemies, the other character will be too busy hitting enemies to follow Henry.
Furthermore, when the other character fights enemies then that person is more likely to take damage.
The character doesn’t die while following Henry.
The amount of damage this person has, however, can effect the ending.
 
Once again, I have yet to find information on why the creators decided on an escort mission.
I understand that whether or not this person is saved is one of the conditions for the endings.
I do think, however, that saving this character could’ve been done differently than having an injured companion through half of the game.
 
One last thing that I must mention is that Henry does not have much of a personality, and that bothers some players.
Tsuboyama and Yamaoka explain Henry’s character, “It is true that Henry does not change much as a character, but rather things change around him. Henry is supposed to be the player so we wanted it to be possible for you to impose your own feelings of the game onto him, without him contradicting you. Also if the character is too heroic, this might be unrealistic. We wanted him to react to everything just as an ordinary person would.”
 
Henry’s personality does not bother me.
In fact, it makes sense that he doesn’t have much of a personality because the story has very little focus on him, and he does not impose feelings on the player like Tsuboyama and Yamaoka said.
Much of the thoughts and feelings from the game will come from the other characters, reading memos, the disturbing images, and the seclusion of the room with one way out.
 
Now for the replayability.
I’ve heard some fans say that Silent Hill 4 does not have good replayability like the first three games.
That depends on how one looks at it.
I look at all four games, and see that each one has its own elements of replayability with two things that are common among all of them.
It doesn’t have fourteen difficulties like Silent Hill 3, nor are there two sets of difficulty levels for action and riddles like Silent Hill 2 & 3.
It has one set of three difficulty levels: easy, normal and hard.
 
When the game is beaten once, save after the results screen, and Brand New Fear can be played during the second playthrough.
There is an extra weapon when playing Brand New Fear: the chainsaw.
If a player scores 90 points, an unlimited sub-machine gun will be available for the escort character during the next game.
The two female characters can wear sexy costumes, but players must fulfill certain conditions for each woman to wear them.
There are also two in-game challenges.
Beat the game with a perfect score to unlock one weapon mode.
In one weapon mode, players choose one melee weapon to use during the entire game.
Then beat one weapon mode with a perfect score to unlock all weapon mode.
 
The two common replayability elements in all four games are multiple endings and the intricate storylines.
Silent Hill 4 has four endings, and which ending a player gets depends on two factors.
As for the storyline, some fans say that the quality of Silent Hill 4’s story is not as good as past games.
A few others say that it has nothing to do with Silent Hill.
I respectfully disagree with both statements.
Like Silent Hill 1-3, the story of Silent Hill 4 is not straightforward, and requires multiple playthroughs to better understand it.
Silent Hill 4’s connection with the first three games is not obvious, and it takes good comprehension of all four games to see the connection.
The nightmare in Silent Hill 4 also has everything to do with the nightmares in the previous games.
The nightmare and the trigger for the nightmare is different in each game, and that includes Silent Hill 4.
 
I love Silent Hill 4 just as much as the first three games.
I would love to recommend Silent Hill 4 to anyone that likes Silent Hill 1-3, but I know it’s not a game for every Silent Hill fan.
The gameplay in Silent Hill 4 isn’t quite as good as the previous games, but I still enjoy it very much.
If you have not played the game, and there things that I wrote about it that you are not sure about then I would recommend watching some gameplay footage on YouTube, Twitch or Hitbox.
It’s always best to play the game yourself to see if it’s for you, but seeing the gameplay footage can show how the game is played before deciding to buy it.
For anyone who plays some of the game and decides that you don’t like it, I would suggest to give it another chance after some time has passed.
Honestly, I did not like Silent Hill 4 when I first got it, and played the beginning of it.
A few months later, I gave it a second try, and I really liked it.
 
Tsuboyama in the Kizio interview comments on the concept of Silent Hill 4, “We wanted to make a sequel after Silent Hill 3 and you could say that was the initial concept, but upon that we needed to implement a lot of new flavour to the sequel, otherwise it would have been the same old Silent Hill.”
Silent Hill 4 does bring something new to the series, but it is a big change from the first three games.
It’s common for people to have a hard time accepting big changes.
If you love Silent Hill 1-3, and you think that story along with the nightmare is more important than gameplay then I say give Silent Hill 4 a shot.
It shouldn’t be hard find on PS2 and Xbox, although the PC version seems to be a different story.
Silent Hill 4 is the most under-appreciated game in series, and sometimes the most misunderstood.
 
 
Akihiro Imamura and Akira Yamaoka Interview with Game World (Apr. 23, 2005)
http://www.silenthillmemories.net/creators/interviews/2005.04.23_imamura_yamaoka_gameworld_en.htm
 
Mashashi Tsuboyama and Akira Yamaoka Interview with Boomtown (Aug. 31, 2004)
http://www.silenthillmemories.net/creators/interviews/2004.08.31_tsuboyama_yamaoka_boomtown_en.htm
 
Mashashi Tsuboyama and Akira Yamaoka Interview with Kikizo (Sept. 6, 2004)
http://www.silenthillmemories.net/creators/interviews/2004.09.06_yamaoka_tsuboyama_kikizo_en.htm