To be fan of Silent Hill is to ingrain yourself in a world that is inherently designed to defy logic, yet, that world is such that you can’t help but infer meaning in everything you encounter. The games encourage this, often making vague reference to people and events you’ll never see. While there are certain implicit things about the town and the history of it, if you are to dig deep enough, you reach a point of uncertainty, where authorial intent becomes a wild mass guessing game. It’s one of the many reasons that the Silent Hill fandom is so… divisive. Everyone has their own idea of what Silent Hill is all about and of what everything in it represents.
To me, Silent Hill was never about fog or monsters. It’s about a town full of spiritual energy and the ways that energy is turned against the people in it. It’s about the occult and symbolism. It’s about our own fears manifesting in front of us, even if we don’t, at first, realize it.
Silent Hill 2 is, arguably, the best game in the series. It’s certainly the most well-regarded, taking a step back from the cult-centric storyline of the first and becoming more of a character study. It stars James Sunderland, a man drawn back to the town after receiving a letter from his long dead wife. It’s a conscious departure from the first, no longer working under the same set of limitations. Streets are now narrow and winding. The dark, industrial “Otherworld” of the first game is absent, instead giving way to something more subdued. James isn’t just a bystander in this place; he is an influence, and such, it’s more damaged and depressed, often quite literally drenched in its own sorrow. When you meet other people, they appear distant, as if they are attempting to communicate from a world of their own. Occasionally, you even see glimpses of these worlds yourself.
James’ world however, is, in the words of character designer Takayoshi Sato, one of sex and death. No longer centering around a mysterious 14 year old girl allowed the narrative to embrace and explore more… adult subject matter, for better or worse. It would be deceptive to say that Silent Hill 2 is a sexual game; more that it leaves space in your own mind to explore those themes, often in the most uncomfortable way possible. It’s a rare thing, given how much (well deserved) flak Japanese game developers get for how often they seem incapable of dealing with sex in a nuanced manner, especially it comes to women. Even Maria, an object of intended attraction, is imperfect. She has spots on her skin. Her exposed midsection isn’t particularly toned. There’s an inherent understanding that we are capable of, and more likely to, care for people because of their flaws, not in spite of them.
In many ways, Silent Hill 2 is both the best and worst thing to happen to the series. It is, unquestionably, a labor of love; a conscious effort to make something completely different within the rather vague parameters of what the series had established to that point. It works entirely on its own, without any real prior knowledge of Harry Mason or the adventure he embarked on a decade before.
In that sense, it’s like a Twilight Zone episode. Where things began to fall apart (for me) is when the series fell into the hands of people that assumed Silent Hill was to be the same; a series of vaguely connected anthology tales about personal demons and a town that played off of them. The world was suddenly full of a hundred James Sunderlands and all of their stories needed to be told, even if if they were, essentially, all the same. Silent Hill 2 was so captivating and well directed that it created a want and a need for there to be more, even if it was, like its predecessor, something that could not be replicated.
Is there an echo in here?