The story is very much left open to interpretation and is purposely kept vague which is the intention given that Hollow Knight is exploring an abandoned kingdom, long forgotten. You start off in the town of Dirtmouth which is a small place that lies above Hammownest. It’s clear that the residents are affected by something, and it seems to have to do with a temple. That’s where the whole intrigue begins. Before you know it, you are thrust deep into an adventure where you can’t wait to uncover more of what’s going on. It is like a good book that never gives too much away but just enough to keep you wanting more. That is the only way I can describe it. While much of it is told through its environments, residents and secrets that you as the player discover, much of it will depend on how you interpret what’s going on as nothing is obviously in your face which I actually liked. The story is told in a subtle way; one which requires a little imagination from you and one where different players will have differing opinions.
Hollow Knight is a 2D action Metroidvania and you start out with a nail as your weapon which is funny in itself seeing as this thing looks like a massive sword and is almost bigger than the protagonist. Like any good platformer, you can run left or right, jump on platforms and take down enemies that get in your way. Some of these enemies charge at you, others shoot at you and then there are those that try and jump on you. You can just move past them if you wish, but then you won’t get any Geo. We will come to that in a sec.
Each hit causes you damage in which you will lose one of the five masks that you begin with. With each kill, an enemy will lose their soul which the player gains and stores in their soul vessel. Using focus by holding A can recharge your mask shards if you have taken a hit. In essence, you have five masks. Lose the soul within on all five due to getting hit or not recharging the empty ones, and you perish. The game is difficult, so believe me you will lose these quite quickly. You can also find lifeblood masks. These are blue and allow you to take an extra hit from an enemy; however, these disappear as they have one-off uses and cannot be replenished using the focus metre.
A joy to control
Hollow Knight is a joy to control. The character feels responsive in both combat and platforming. The movement system is superb especially as there is quite a bit of aerial combat later on. You can slash in four directions. Up, down, left and right slashes have quite a wide arc, and the system, for the most part, works really well.
Geo is your friend
Enemies also drop Geo which is the game’s currency and can be used to buy all sorts of specialised items. One of the key items at first is purchasing a map. As you delve deeper into the kingdom, you risk meeting one of the game’s bosses or dying either by enemies or falling into a number of traps placed throughout this world. Perish and you lose all the coin you built up which is quite a punishment but one that you will learn to manage. You will also then have a cracked soul vessel which holds around a quarter of soul, so it puts you at a big disadvantage. You will continue from the last bench you rested at which acts like a checkpoint so to speak and finding these benches replenishes your health. Finding the place where you died gives you a chance to defeat the shade and take back your coin and restore your soul Vessel. It reminds me a little of Dark Souls in that way. The game is challenging and managing that risk versus reward is all part of the game’s charm.
Over 100 characters to meet
Along the way, you will meet over 100 characters who each have something more to tell you about this world. If you have played Metroidvania games before, then you know that you can explore anywhere you like as long as you have the relevant skill to or item to open up a certain area. You will have to do a number of things to open up other areas and there is also a handy transport system which you find quite early on.
Bosses, Bosses and more Bosses
Bosses play a big part in this game often blocking the next area you need to get too, and you may need certain skills to beat certain bosses. I came up against some of them and met my demise very quickly, but I really liked how they stood in front of an area I needed to get to. It felt like they were saying “get past me if you think you are hard enough.” Often, I would take one look at these beasts, assess the situation and come back when I knew I had a better chance or the relevant skill or loadout to get passed them. For example, one of the guardians blocks all of your swipes; however, as an early example, when you unlock the Vengeful Spirit, you are able to unleash this ranged attack to beat the guardian. Some bosses though you can’t avoid and will have to fight them to the death.
I found the fights to be enjoyable, and that’s because you really felt like you deserved every single win. Each boss gives you a good fair fight and are all challenging. Each has their patterns and it can take a while to learn them as they have a good amount of phases. There are 30 bosses to keep you occupied which is quite frankly staggering. Some will need you to have the right build using the various charms of which there are many to discover.
It’s fascinating as you can literally build your knight mixing together whatever charms you like making your knight unique. You may need the charm to give you a ranged attack or applying speed. The more powerful the charm is the more slots they would take up. What is just unbelievable is the amount of content this game contains. Put in over 30 to 40 hours and you may just about 100% this game but sure enough, you’re bound to miss something. You might miss a side quest, charm or even a whole area; such is the vastness of this game.
When you do die, you will respawn at the nearest bench which you rested at. Benches allow you to replenish your health when you find them. You can also mark all of the places of interest on your map but at a cost of Geo. Nothing is free here that’s for sure. The game makes your work for everything, and in that sense, I found it to be a really rewarding experience.
There are various abilities you can gain later which allow you to explore different areas like the double jump as one example. The map feels huge with lots of interconnected areas begging to be explored and secrets to be found. If you are someone that loves adventure and exploration, then this game is certainly for you. The game isn’t perfect though, but then again in my eyes nothing ever is. If you don’t have a map, then it is easy to get lost, but I would say that’s like most Metroidvania games I have ever played. You know to expect that as well as backtracking from time to time. The game is also difficult, but I don’t see that as a negative by any means. While it may frustrate a few, I think many will persevere.
The music is incredibly subtle and beautiful sounding and I felt like it built a perfect atmosphere within each area I explored. So incredibly enchanting is the music that you can’t help but fall in love with it. It’s been lovingly composed by Christopher Larkin and what a magnificent job he has done. If you want to watch an interview by him then I implore you to check out the video below. The best track for me was a track called City of Tears. If you want to hear this wonderful music for yourself then you can check out the full album on Bandcamp.
It’s also the sound effects which really sound fantastic. Each drop of water, each swipe of that nail and each footstep makes it feel like you are there. When you come across a boss, the music will change to something a little more menacing. Coming across characters, while not voice acted, speak in their own little language which makes the game even more charming.
Visuals and Performance
What can I say about the visuals other than them being so impressive? Each of the areas seems to have a life of its own, but there is so much beauty to discover in this world. Take, for example, the area which looks like a jungle underground. Leaves fly around as you walk past them and little details are always moving in the background. I was stunned at how many unique areas there are each with their own theme and enemies to accompany it. There is a beautiful lake to discover where it’s raining constantly which looks gorgeous. It’s amazing that each area was hand drawn and how these places have been interwoven together is just stunning. The characters are all so personable, and it just shows through with their fantastic little animations and just in the way they are drawn. Everything just fits sublimely well. I could go on and on, but I would suggest you purchase the game and enjoy it for yourself.
Let me begin by saying this is the bargain of the century. I kid you not. This game is priced outrageously low. In fact it’s so well priced that you could say it’s immune to criticism because the value for money here is ridiculous. You get so much content, so many hours of gameplay and so many secrets to find here, and that’s just the gameplay itself. This does not even take into consideration the beautiful art style and wonderfully composed music. There are also plenty of abilities and upgrades you can find which will take you a good while. On top of that Switch players will have all the included updates, and the DLC will also be free to both Switch and PC players named Gods and Glory which is coming soon. What more is there to say. It is just excellent value.
Gameplay keeps you entertained for more than 35 hours or more
Nothing, this is as close to perfection as you can get