Discussion The Patient Gamer - Hollow Knight - Basically Perfection

GodisanAtheist

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Nov 16, 2006
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So I've just spent a couple hours every day over the last month playing through Hollow Knight. As a guy with a full time job, a family, bills to pay, and chores to do, this is really a somewhat remarkable feat. I've been playing video games for the last 30 years, and with that level of exposure it takes a lot for a game to transcend just basic casual enjoyment and become something like an obsession, the way a really good game might have when I was a kid playing on my NES.

Remember than scene in Ratatouille where the jaded critic guy takes a bite of a simple meal his mother would make him when he skinned his knee, and it took him straight back to his childhood when life was simpler and everything was gonna be ok? That was basically Hollow Knight in a nutshell, for me.

The game takes the Metroidvania genre, an already classic, clean game design methodology and executes it to near perfection while drawing on some of the Souls-like game design philosophies (not surprising, given Souls-likes and Metroidvanias are sort of cousins of each other) to elevate the genre.

From the Souls-like the major standout addition to the game is the varied timing related bosses as well as the "Shade retrieval" mechanic.

Shade retrieval is if you die in the world you respawn at the last bench you sat on and have to go kill the shade your death left behind to recover any money you had accumulated up to that point. Its fairly straight forward and a nice way to add some stakes to your own survival while not punishing you in the form of losing XP or any serious progress that cannot be quickly regained. Benches where you respawn are intelligently located, typically never more than a couple minutes away from a boss (where you will be leaving the most shades to recover) and the trip back to the boss fight actually serves a purpose in refilling your "Soul" which is essentially a mana pool used for casting spells or healing yourself that is replenished by striking enemies.

The real star of the show are the bosses. They are plentiful, they are varied, and they are most importantly extremely challenging but very very fair. Each of the bosses involves a solid mastery of The Knight's various powers, pattern recognition, tight timing, and generally involves some amount of repetition to beat. Like a Souls game, Hollow Knight punishes mistakes. There are 0 cheap shots, and in theory each and every boss in the game could be beaten with the starting kit and upgrades if a player was skilled enough. Take challenging but fair bosses and layer over some incredible back story (The Hollow Knight), fun lead ins (Nosk), and most importantly make contextual sense where you encounter them (Hive Knight, Crystal Guardian, Dung Defender).

The art direction in the game is absolutely beautiful, with most areas having unique art assets ranging from underground cavern, garden, mushroom kingdom, underwater caves and more. The hand drawn art has that timeless quality to it, it looks like what you remember really nice 2D SNES games looked like (although if you went back and looked at them, they don't actually look that great anymore).

The Music. Oh god the music. Its haunting, its beautiful. Such understated melancholy, the music and the art meld in a way I've rarely experienced in a game, where the two typically exist in their own lanes. The music is almost an outgrowth of the art, and vice versa. Its like a metaphor, or synesthesia, where the music sounds like the art looks, and the art looks like the music sounds. It helps that the music sort of just continues on in its melancholy way as you encounter enemies in game or as events happen, never falling into the contextual up-tempo action music thing with rare exception. I have the Dirtmouth theme playing in me head as I type this.

If I had issues with the game, and these would really be minor nitpicks, is that some of the meatier DLC (Grimm's Troup and Godhome) are difficult to just stumble across, often being hidden behind breakable walls in an area you may have already fully explored, not really giving you a solid clue on where to find the content unless you go out of the game. There are also a handful of quests that feel unnecessarily vague about what exactly you have to do to complete them (I'm looking right at you Pale Mourner and your Flower). Really these are extremely minor things and I am glad I let me ego get out of the way and just look up the wiki so I didn't get frustrated by them. Once you know what you have to do, its right back to skill and timing. Lastly, as beautiful as the art style and presentation is, there is occasionally some flavor stuff that's happening in the foreground of the 2d plane that can block your view of what's happening on the game plane. While its again a very minor nitpick and really adds to the overall ambiance of the game, I did get cheap-shotted once or twice thanks to this and although it never resulted in a death it definitely did not help the sweaty palms situation on my end.

I eventually rounded out the game with 99% completion (technically 112% is possible thanks to the free DLC packs that come with the game). Its been a long time since a game had gripped me like this, but I felt the burnout coming at me hard and fast. Unlike virtually every other game I've "patient gamed" over the last several years, I'll leave this one installed and come back to it in small bites between other games to finally hit that 112%. I know a full bodied sequel to the game is in the works, Silksong, which features one of the game's memorable NPCs and I look forward to see what Team Cherry does there as well.

In closing, if you like Metroidvanias, if you like Souls-likes, if you love the artistry of gaming, if you like a challenge, if enjoy 2D side scrollers, if you love tons of high quality content for little money, please please please pick up Hollow Knight. TWO PEOPLE MADE THIS and it is honestly so much better than the mountains of AAA openworld trash people will choke down while crying about bugs, imbalance, fetch quests, copy pasted assets and areas.

My only regret is I waited so long to play this.
 

nakedfrog

No Lifer
Apr 3, 2001
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I like Metroidvanias. I don't like Souls-likes, so I guess that's part of where this game fails to live up to the hype for me. The art is well-executed, yes, but it doesn't really appeal to me. I've heard so many people mention the music, too... for me it was mostly just "there", it did the job, it's quality music, but didn't particularly stand out compared to any other game's music that I've played in the last few years.
I don't necessarily mind a challenge, but I don't care to fight the same boss over and over and over again until I find just the right way to pull off the correct moves.
I didn't finish the game, but it seems like I got fairly far looking at a walkthrough (the second Hornet fight), that was when I decided the overall fun/enjoyment quotient just wasn't there to get me to keep flailing away at this one boss so I could carry on. I finished Guacamelee, Axiom Verge, and Shovel Knight, for comparison.
So yes, many, many people love this game... but you may not. If the art and music specifically appeal to you, it may be a better bet.
 

GodisanAtheist

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
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It's personally a little surprising to me that so many people found the bosses as difficult as they did.

I gave up on actual souls games because of their punishing difficulty and just absolute slog getting back from bonfires to where ever, but Hollow knight didnt have that same issue for me.

I think the Soul Master was the toughest boss for me, a combination of being fairly early in the game + being a long boss fight, and he took me less than 10 tries to beat. Everyone else was at most 2-3 attempts, and plenty were taken down in my first go with my "explorer" charm set-up.

I agree it's definitely not everyone's thing, and frankly I've bounced off of Souls and Souls-like games a lot, but Hollow Knight found that perfect sweet spot for me.
 

TheELF

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Dec 22, 2012
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It's personally a little surprising to me that so many people found the bosses as difficult as they did.
Yeah especially compared to guacamelee where you get stuck in a room with a dozen enemies with the ground being deadly and having to switch between spirit and normal and every enemy needing a special attack to be hurt, there are so many mechanics all at once and you only got two hands, hollow knights bosses where hard but manageable.

I finished the game in about 40 hours and got 41% achievements in steam.
I tried to play the new game+ and there yeah the bosses are ridiculous but in normal mode it's ok.

Guacamelee I'm stuck pretty far in but can't even manage the normal grunt fights any more.
 
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GodisanAtheist

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Yeah especially compared to guacamelee where you get stuck in a room with a dozen enemies with the ground being deadly and having to switch between spirit and normal and every enemy needing a special attack to be hurt, there are so many mechanics all at once and you only got two hands, hollow knights bosses where hard but manageable.

I finished the game in about 40 hours and got 41% achievements in steam.
I tried to play the new game+ and there yeah the bosses are ridiculous but in normal mode it's ok.

Guacamelee I'm stuck pretty far in but can't even manage the normal grunt fights any more.
- Yep, HK bosses are all timing timing timing. The game also does a good job ensuring that if you are able to enter a boss fight, you are equipped with everything you need to beat the boss. Obviously having more health and more charms and more upgrades to open up more options will change how hard or easy a boss is, but all the bosses are absolutely beatable with solid timing.

I think a major problem people encounter, and is possibly the result of AAA game design, is thinking "if I can reach this boss, I am *ready* to fight them" and honestly that is absolutely not the case a lot of the time early in HK.

Absolutely nothing wrong with just walking away from a boss battle that is starting to frustrate you and doing some more exploring, or going back to a bench and mixing up your charm combo, and then taking another crack at the boss.
 

TheELF

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Dec 22, 2012
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Eh, games are about personal preference, while it's a great game I can see people not liking it for whatever reason, some people just have a bug phobia, they wouldn't like this game.
 
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DAPUNISHER

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Eh, games are about personal preference, while it's a great game I can see people not liking it for whatever reason, some people just have a bug phobia, they wouldn't like this game.
I had no idea how bad the bug thing was until I was playing Avengers on game pass and it has one of those warnings, like about seizures, only it's about the appearance of spider like enemies.
 

quikah

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Apr 7, 2003
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I tried this game a year or 2 ago. Definitely not my jam. I quit at the hornet(?) queen. Cannot remember exactly, but I think my main complaint was the damage on touching enemies combined with the short range of your attack. Just annoying for me.
 

nakedfrog

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Apr 3, 2001
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It's personally a little surprising to me that so many people found the bosses as difficult as they did.

I gave up on actual souls games because of their punishing difficulty and just absolute slog getting back from bonfires to where ever, but Hollow knight didnt have that same issue for me.

I think the Soul Master was the toughest boss for me, a combination of being fairly early in the game + being a long boss fight, and he took me less than 10 tries to beat. Everyone else was at most 2-3 attempts, and plenty were taken down in my first go with my "explorer" charm set-up.

I agree it's definitely not everyone's thing, and frankly I've bounced off of Souls and Souls-like games a lot, but Hollow Knight found that perfect sweet spot for me.
The earlier bosses may have taken me a few tries, but generally weren't too bad. But it felt like a bit of a contrast with the difficulty outside of bosses, like suddenly every time you hit a boss there's a huge spike in difficulty.
Yeah especially compared to guacamelee where you get stuck in a room with a dozen enemies with the ground being deadly and having to switch between spirit and normal and every enemy needing a special attack to be hurt, there are so many mechanics all at once and you only got two hands, hollow knights bosses where hard but manageable.

I finished the game in about 40 hours and got 41% achievements in steam.
I tried to play the new game+ and there yeah the bosses are ridiculous but in normal mode it's ok.

Guacamelee I'm stuck pretty far in but can't even manage the normal grunt fights any more.
I remember some bits of Guacamelee being a challenge, but nothing that kept me from finishing it (in contrast to HK...)
- Yep, HK bosses are all timing timing timing. The game also does a good job ensuring that if you are able to enter a boss fight, you are equipped with everything you need to beat the boss. Obviously having more health and more charms and more upgrades to open up more options will change how hard or easy a boss is, but all the bosses are absolutely beatable with solid timing.

I think a major problem people encounter, and is possibly the result of AAA game design, is thinking "if I can reach this boss, I am *ready* to fight them" and honestly that is absolutely not the case a lot of the time early in HK.

Absolutely nothing wrong with just walking away from a boss battle that is starting to frustrate you and doing some more exploring, or going back to a bench and mixing up your charm combo, and then taking another crack at the boss.
Yeah, I think I had sessions on three different days before I decided I was just done with it, which included that kind of experimentation.
I tried this game a year or 2 ago. Definitely not my jam. I quit at the hornet(?) queen. Cannot remember exactly, but I think my main complaint was the damage on touching enemies combined with the short range of your attack. Just annoying for me.
It's nice to hear from the occasional other person who isn't in love with the game!
 

Dannar26

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Mar 13, 2012
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I emphatically agree with the OP! But I can't say enough about the lore, art, and music in this game. Let me just say that you can in no way enjoy it by watching short videos or looking at screen shots. The experience is greater than the sum of game's parts. This game has evoked genuine emotional responses out of me, though it wasn't until I was closer to the end of the game. Don't quit early. You can beat <insert boss here>

I personally really love music. The composer is Christopher Larkin, and I feel he's well on the way to joining the ranks of awesome video game composers such as Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, and Motoi Sakuraba. No this isn't a JRPG (all those guys I just mentioned primarily did music for those), but this guy is going places.
 

DigDog

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Jun 3, 2011
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If you don't like it I'll just say you suck at the game. That's how this works.
played about 15 seconds, quit forever *or* until i get a controller.
WASD on arrow keys is not something im prepared to go back to; it's not 1980 anymore.
 

GodisanAtheist

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Nov 16, 2006
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played about 15 seconds, quit forever *or* until i get a controller.
WASD on arrow keys is not something im prepared to go back to; it's not 1980 anymore.
-Oh yeah, wow. I can't imagine playing this with a KB+M.

Played though the whole thing with an Xbox controller.
 

TheELF

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Dec 22, 2012
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played about 15 seconds, quit forever *or* until i get a controller.
WASD on arrow keys is not something im prepared to go back to; it's not 1980 anymore.
We had controllers back in 1980 you know, it's not the stone age.
Keyboard is still the best input for some games.
 

GodisanAtheist

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
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Frankly, with so many games starting on consoles and being back ported to PC, I've had an xbox controller in one form or another over the last 10+ years. Doesn't even occur to me that people game without a controller available nowadays.
 

nakedfrog

No Lifer
Apr 3, 2001
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Frankly, with so many games starting on consoles and being back ported to PC, I've had an xbox controller in one form or another over the last 10+ years. Doesn't even occur to me that people game without a controller available nowadays.
I'm still using the Xbox 360 controller I got a decade ago :D
 

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