A hollow night

Getting lost is never fun. The feeling of uncertainty, thast feeling of being as far from control as possible, where your path depends not on some carefully calculated plan but on the happenstance of fate. The idea that no skill nor practiced study can aid you in your escape from the situation you find yourself in.

It’s probably not a good concept to base a game around.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

Hollow Knight is a metroidvania, that genre dedicated in part to the idea of getting lost and refining oneself thanks to gradually completed maps. There is a reason I’ve never taken to this genre. The idea of willingly losing control of the situation is not one I relish and this ties in to why I play games in the first-place; they are power fantasies, escapist dialogues that allow the player to take absolute command of their surroundings in a way reality never really allows. In most games you are the exceptional, you are the One who can do the thing that no-one else can, you are Special.

Hollow Knight is a good metroidvania as it shares its heritage with another vastly different genre, the Soulslike. This variety of game, again named after its progenitor, is another inversion of the power fantasy, but it maintains the idea of a power fantasy by allowing you the player to learn the skills for which your avatar is so dearly sought. Skill based, brutally fair and punishingly tough, Soulslikes have popped up everywhere recently, and elements of the genre have bled into many other genres besides, Hollow Knight included.

As you make your way through the suitably atmospheric dungeons you carry with you a currency that, upon death, is temporarily lost. You must retrieve the currency on your next life or lose it forever. The enemies, from lowly worms to multi-stage bosses, are tough and the combat entirely skill based. No button mashing here. As you continue through the freeform dungeons your abilities increase as do your possible routes forward.

And it is here the game lost me. After a solid 15 hours of frustration and jubilation, I lost my way. I had mapped each of the regions as best I could, finding secrets a-plenty but no way to progress. The game had never held my hand, but through superior level design and subtle inference had guided me ever on. But now it had abandoned me. No signposts, no cryptic dialogue from NPCs, no tempting holes in the ever growing map screen. I was, and am, lost.

So I gave up. The power fantasy I so coveted disappeared and had been replaced by a frustrating sense of reality, of being lost and not knowing how to progress. I have more than enough of this in real life, thank you so very much, and with the game’s title finally ringing true I turned off the console and returned to that most crushing of Soulslikes in search of new escapes.