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Can I Gush About Hollow Knight For A Minute?

Hollow Knight is good. Like, really good. This isn't news; since the game's release in early 2017, it has received almost nothing but praise. If you follow gaming trends at all, chances are you've at least heard of this game, and that it's good.

That's one of the reasons put off reviewing Hollow Knight. At this point, what more is there to say? Is it worth rehashing the points others have said a hundred times already?

That's why this isn't really a review of Hollow Knight—this is a love letter to what, in my opinion, is one of the greatest games ever made.

My History With Hollow Knight

I was late to the party. I only picked up Hollow Knight back in November, long after its initial release. I was looking for a new game on my Nintendo Switch, which I only had a handful of titles for. 

I had heard about Hollow Knight. That was basically Bug Souls, right? A 2D "ripoff" of the Dark Souls formula, but featuring some nice artwork and bug characters. That's certainly what it looked like at first glance. Well I like Dark Souls well enough, so for $15 it seemed worth a buy. 

That's where my mind was when I first turned on Hollow Knight. I was expecting the same vague background storytelling, dark mood, and intense combat from Dark Souls.

At first, that seemed to be what I got. The quiet town of Dirtmouth—with its one resident and abandoned buildings—gave me the same impression as Majula from Dark Souls 2. Benches functioned in a similar manner to bonfires, and the mechanic of losing your currency on death unless you can go back to retrieve it was taken straight from the Dark Souls handbook. In the beginning, Hollow Knight's combat wasn't too rough, but I knew it'd get there. 

Again, this was fine with me. I am a half-hearted fan of the Dark Souls franchise—I enjoy the setting and atmosphere and mostly like the combat, although the punishment is a little too harsh for me to play for long periods at a time. An hour or two in, all signs pointed to a similar experience with Hollow Knight.

Boy, was I wrong.

Defining Art

Video games are a complex form of art. They incorporate visual art, music, storytelling, and add an element of interaction uniquely their own. It's easy to assume that a video game's job is just to "entertain" you, but it runs deeper than that—video games, like any art, exist to create an emotional response. 

Often times sure, that emotion is one of fun or entertainment, but good games can also create purposeful senses of stress or frustration. If a horror game does its job well, it shouldn't be "fun." Intensely difficult games don't exist for simple pleasure—they want to create a sense of exhilaration when you finally surpass something that seemed impossible. 

I say with absolute, complete certainty that no video game creates as strong of an emotional response in me as Hollow Knight

From the moment the first notes of the title theme play, this game elicits emotions from me. Here, just listen to the main theme...

Until you've really played Hollow Knight, this will just sound pretty. But the deeper you dive into Hallownest, the more meaning each note takes on. 

Emotional Exploration

I didn't expect to love Hollow Knight. But as the game slowly revealed itself to me, I couldn't help it. 

How do I even begin?

The world within Hollow Knight is vast and varied. Hallownest is the shell of a once-great kingdom, and the more you explore the greater sense of its tragic history comes to light. The artwork is beautiful, and the sound design is exquisite. The music perfectly captures what each area about, and lends so much to creating an immediate feeling as I played.

That was the first thing I came to love about Hollow Knight; beautiful visuals and the incredibly moving soundtrack. A sense of wonder overcame me as I explored this world, caught up in a story told mostly through musical notes and world design. 

Then I started really listening to what these bugs were saying, and a whole new depth presented itself to me. 

The Greatest Story Never Told

At first the plot of Hollow Knight played out in a similar fashion to Dark Souls. You wander into a ruined kingdom, NPCs spout out cryptic dialog, and item descriptions hide pieces to a story you have to figure out on your own. That's well and good; I believe gameplay should come first, and don't mind if the story is put in the backseat.

But Hollow Knight did something Dark Souls never did; it made me care.

I remember the exact moment it happened, too. It was shortly after reaching the City of Tears (which in and of itself is among the most atmospheric places in the game). This city was beautiful and somber, buried deep underground but drenched in constant rain from a lake above it. I entered the city by descending towers with rain-splattered windows, at first thinking this was just another beautiful location like many others.

Then I found this statue. (Very minor spoilers ahead, but the good kind, I promise.)

What... was this? I assumed I was playing as the titular Hollow Knight, but I looked nothing like this statue. And as far as I could tell, I wasn't in a vault. 

Reading that message gave me chills—and made me genuinely curious about this world.

From that point on I played not just to enjoy the scenery, but because I needed to know more. I had to uncover the truth of Hallownest. And the more I discovered, the more enraptured I became. 

I've played a lot of games over the years... and believe me when I say the story of Hollow Knight is my favorite of any video game, ever. 

No other game has made me as invested in its history. None left me thirsting for answers as much as this. Never before had the very thought of a game's story given me chills like this...

I can only tell you so much, because I won't spoil it for you. And who knows—maybe the story won't grab you like it did me. But in my book, this is one of the most chilling, dark, yet brilliantly crafted stories and worlds. Everything about it elicits an emotional response from me, and isn't that the point of art?

Balancing Control and Difficulty

Hollow Knight has a reputation for tight controls and difficult combat. Striking a balance between these two points is essential. To me, difficulty is only fun when I feel in control of the character—I hate when it feels like I'm fighting the game or its clunky controls, and not the intended enemy. 

Yes, Hollow Knight is difficult, although I feel it eases into it very well. The game spends a lot of time building you up, teaching you how to control the character and handle combat. It doesn't start out too bad, and by the time it got hard I really felt prepared for it—especially with how tight the controls are. The difficulty feels just right, saving the real intensity for near the very end.

My only real gripe is in the "DLC." The two major content updates—the Grimm Troupe and Godmaster—tip the scales in the direction of feeling unfair. But I put quotes around DLC because these were included for free with the base game, so they don't cost anything extra. I would have loved new content with a higher emphasis on exploration than insane combat, but since these were added for free I can't complain. 

Beyond Hallownest

When the trailer for Hollow Knight: Silksong dropped, I lost my freakin' mind. I expected another DLC, and got more than I could have ever hoped for; a full-blown sequel to one of my favorite games of all time. 

I will definitely be talking more about Silksong, but I had to end it on this note. The hype is strong for Hollow Knight right now, and if you haven't played it yet then what the heck are you waiting for?!

Hollow Knight is available on PC, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4... pretty much everything. And for a ridiculously low $15, this should be a must buy on whatever platform you like best.

How about you? Have you ever played Hollow Knight? What did you think? What games cause such an emotional response to you? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!


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