[Note: Contains some relatively minor plot spoilers.]
I’m obsessed with the Silent Hill 2. It had me right from the premise. In it, a man named James Sunderland lost his beloved wife Mary to illness two years ago–or at least that’s what he thinks until he gets a letter from her. The letter asks him to meet Mary in their “special place.” That place is the town of Silent Hill, and James goes there to find her.
Visiting Silent Hill is like a trip through James’s subconscious. While the series’ games in general reflect the mindset of their main characters, I don’t think the others take it as far or make it nearly as intimate as Silent Hill 2 does. Everything–and I do mean pretty much everything from the setting to the monsters to the actions of other characters–builds on the central mysteries of not only what happened to Mary, but what goes on in James’s head and who he really is.
A common feature of Silent Hill games is how the protagonist’s thoughts and fears are manifest in the monsters. Nearly all James’s enemies are at least vaguely feminine, drawing on James’s feelings towards women and/or towards his wife during her terminal illness. For example, the very first enemy is a shambling, acid-spewing horror literally trapped in its own skin. It’s easy to draw a parallel between it and Mary, who couldn’t escape her own suffering or the gruesome physical toll that her disease took on her body. Even if James wanted to, he can’t get near the thing. If he does, it just sprays him with poison. Much like how, as we later find out, dying Mary lashed out at James whenever he showed her kindness.
Other monsters have clear sexual overtones, which could mean several things. Maybe James has issues with women and finds them all repulsive on some level; maybe he’s the type that sees women only in terms of sex. It’s also downright probable that during Mary’s long illness, James wasn’t getting any and was really frustrated, which could readily tie in with the other explanations–or exist all on its own with a heaping side order of guilt.
The only distinctly male entity is the mysterious Pyramid Head, who made his debut in this game. I’m guessing most of the gaming world knows about his “hobbies,” but let’s just say he lends credence to the idea that James is 1)really, really frustrated and 2)either, deep down, a horrible person or a generally decent one who’s frightened of his own impulses and sees them as something monstrous.
You might’ve noticed a pattern here: when it comes to explaining James’s psyche as shown through Silent Hill, there’s rarely just one angle. Even James himself seems unsure since right at the beginning, he studies his own reflection like he’s looking at a stranger, and each of the game’s many endings reveals a somewhat different persona. It’s left mostly up to the player to determine who James is and how they prefer to see him.
As for things like graphics, for me, it’s just not that important. The game looks fine for what it is and has some really interesting, grotesque-looking monsters, but even for a PS2 game, it’s not the sort of thing to make you scream “OMG GRAPHICSGASM!” The music and the sound design rank higher on my priority scale; I think that’s what lends the most to the creepier gameplay moments as well as providing the proper mood for dramatic cutscenes. A second, third or fourth playthrough can reveal how brilliantly Silent Hill 2′s soundtrack ties certain themes together. Seasoned players who have seen a few endings and the darkest ending in particular may want to note the reprises. They seem to draw a parallel between James and someone else.
If you haven’t played Silent Hill 2 before, I highly recommend it. Not for the fancy graphics (which it doesn’t have) or even the music and sound design (which are excellent), but for a mature, unusual story that really makes you think and may make you question, “What would I do in James’s place?”
Oh, and if you want to know what I think of James, I’d call him a fairly normal guy who wound up dealing with terrible issues he wasn’t prepared to face. The ending that suits him best, I think, is the one that seems kind of inevitable… albeit not very happy.
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