BY LUKE JOHNSTON: Hollow Knight is a video game masterpiece that no one really expected. Ask anyone who’s played it and they will tell you the care that went into this small indie title with only three developers. With over 50 hours of gameplay and consistent free updates and a price of only fifteen dollars, it’s no wonder that people are still talking about a three-year-old title.
Hollow Knight’s success can be attributed to a variety of factors: Its tight gameplay, compelling story, and striking visuals. But one of the biggest ways Hollow Knight stands apart from the other 2D Metroidvania is its atmosphere. Since Team Cherry’s sequel Silksong is still stuck in development purgatory with no announced release date, I thought it would be nice to sit back and remember what made the original game Hollow Knight such an instant classic.
Every element in Hollow Knight works in tandem to create a haunting, ethereal world that you can’t help but be drawn into. The story is a winding, twisting mess of dialogue and NPCs that form a hazy, indistinct narrative that never ceases to intrigue the player. There are countless hours of fans speculating online about the game’s symbolism and narrative style. The cut scenes are sometimes cute and friendly like at the beginning, but then adrenaline pumping and terrifying as the next twisted bug monster arises from the earth.
Hollow Knight encourages the player to stop and think. When saving the game, the little knight will sit down on a bench and wait for the player to prompt them to move again. During that waiting, the player can listen to the rain or music, stare out at the bleak but colorful world around them, and relax. The music uses simple, haunting notes to drive home an overpowering feeling of loneliness that hits hard for seemingly no reason at all. The amount of emotions I feel simply sitting there on a bench as I listen to the rain never ceases to amaze me.
Hollow Knight is difficult but not brutal. Those more casual players will avoid the toughest bosses until they have the right charms or spells for the job. Other players will grind like dark souls and be satisfied with the thrill of the victory. Hollow Knight naturally adjusts for all player skill levels by allowing the player to choose for themselves. This works with the tone of the game, the world is full of danger and peril with monstrous beasts, but never reaching horror levels.
Exploration is a key feature of the game, and the Metroidvania aspects help soften the blow of retreading old areas. The game is huge, with 150 distinct enemies and a dozen different areas. As the player, you really do feel like a lost and lonely adventurer traversing a strange land which makes you appreciate those moments of quiet rest even more.
I’m definitely not the first to point out Hollow Knight’s appeal. But the brilliance of Team Cherry’s debut game is that there is no opportunity wasted to give the player some powerful feelings. The enemies, while threatening, all seem somehow sad and empty at the same time. I’ll go on record stating that Hollow Knight’s has the best saving system of any game, ever. Even booting up the game makes you feel something, as you hear that simple, quiet tune, and know the journey is about to begin again.
For those of you who haven’t dived into this masterpiece yet, I would definitely recommend it. To me, the gameplay is not even the main appeal. The tone and emotions that I feel as I play are the reasons I keep coming back again and again. Hollow Knight is available on Steam, the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4.