The novelty of vibes is a powerful force. It can sometimes solely carry games to stardom (EarthBound [Mother 2 ギーグの逆襲]
anyone?). Hollow Knight can pretty squarely fit in that camp too. What are you left with when you push aside the fantastic atmosphere, well-written, hard-hitting characters, and memorable music? Extremely shallow combat, (besides a few exceptions) boring, unmemorable bosses, and a charm system that is horribly balanced and heavily pushes you towards the "must haves" instead of feeling like you can pick ones you'd want to use.
The characters are easily the best aspect of Hollow Knight. Helping The Last Stag find his nest felt great, hearing the hum of Cornifer when entering an unknown area is an unbeatable feeling, and seeing Quirrel to the end of his journey could bring a grown man to tears. And those were just my favorites! Every character in the game is flawlessly written, not a wasted line or moment paired with perfect execution. Even though every spoken line is gibberish, it's all very memorable (*Sighs* "Bapanada.")
In terms of music and atmosphere, this game bodies most games in the Metroidvania genre. Tracks like "Sealed Vessel," "Hollow Knight," and "Greenpath" are golden and just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the quality of the soundtrack. Every area gives off a distinct atmosphere and personality.
The last thing I want to touch down on is exploration. Exploration feels satisfying and pretty much always rewards you with something. Exploration feels much less boxed in like Super Metroid [スーパーメトロイド]
and more open like Dark Souls
. You also get those satisfying moments where you've looked everywhere except one little spot that happens to be precisely where you need to go, and you get exactly what you need. Overall, feels great to go off the beaten path, which is always good. I do want to point out though, this is a staple aspect of the genre, so Hollow Knight being good at exploration isn't that surprising or should be given that much praise.
Now, where my complaints start to come in lies mainly in the gameplay. A game can have all the vibes you want, but if it's not fun to play, then what's the point (*cough* *cough* EarthBound [Mother 2 ギーグの逆襲]
)? Now I keep throwing jabs at EarthBound [Mother 2 ギーグの逆襲]
, but the gameplay in Hollow Knight isn't close to being as bad. It's still not great, though.
My biggest gripe with the game is its combat. Frankly, it is just way too easy and one-note. It feels a lot like Dark Souls
's combat, but without any of the fun intricacies. You know all those memes about Dark Souls
, where people say, "All you do in Dark Souls
is dodge attack"? Hollow Knight's is just that, dodge and attack with no meat on its bones. And because of the lack of depth in the combat, it just makes it too damn easy. Of course, there are charms, but they are so horribly balanced. Why would I use Quick Slash and Quick Focus over more quirky/zany charms like Joni's Blessing and Fury of the Fallen when they're much worse and frankly not as fun to use? Every boss I fought besides The Hollow Knight and the Traitor Lord
were piss easy and a complete pushover. This made combat feel unsatisfying and only made the annoying enemies feel worse.
Since the combat is so one note, it makes the game drag on way too long. I completed 79% of the game (according to the end screen), and it felt like it took eons to do. Something that's super repetitive and drags and drags on is not a good combo. Dare I say, a lot like how I feel towards EarthBound [Mother 2 ギーグの逆襲]
I thought a lack of motivation was a writing aspect that was very distracting throughout the entire game. What is the Knight's motivation to sacrifice himself to seal the infection? Why should I care about Hollownest at all? Nothing in the game makes me give a single shit about Hollownest. In something like Dark Souls, you're the chosen undead. You were chosen, so you have to ring the bells and link the flame. Not only that, but you have almost every character pushing you along the way the whole time to link the flame, giving you their own motivations and reasons to do so (or leave the flame to die).
In Hollow Knight, Hornet is the only one pushing you towards the end, but you only see her a few times. The Queen does the same thing, too, but it's much worse than Hornet. It's just a bunch of "You must do this, you must do that!" fluff that doesn't give me any reason to do anything, and you only see her once anyways. You just wander into Dirtmouth, and the game expects you to care enough about Hollownest to want to sacrifice yourself to save it. Of course, there are the Voidheart endings where you kill Radiance, but everything I said still stands. Why should I care about Hollownest enough to kill a god or sacrifice myself? Because the game never gives you that motivation. This is just abysmal writing.
I know this will be somewhat contentious, but I want it to be known that I still like the game. Even though the combat is repetitive, it still has its moments, especially the last boss. Character writing is fantastic too. And, of course, combat isn't the only thing you do; the rest of the game (barring some aspects of writing) is great. But because Hollow Knight's shortcomings and the elements I like don't gain any value on replays, I will likely never play this game again. Many games in the genre do gameplay better, and I can just play Dark Souls
if I want a similar story that is written much