Against all odds, someone actually wanted to write a guest post here on Valiant Ghost. He goes by the online handle of ‘The Last Gamer’, and he’s been a good internet friend of myself for six months now. The utter madman asked to write an article here about Silent Hill 2, in preperation for Halloween, and I allowed him. I hope you enjoy this piece, I know I certainly did.
From the author, listening to Restless Dreams is recommended while reading.
October’s closing in with each passing day, and in preparation of my yearly ritual of seeking and playing the scariest games I can to disturb my otherwise calm mind, I found myself with one of the shiniest gems of the horror genre: Silent Hill 2.
The second entry of a very successful series that Konami published (until the not so recent cancelled P.T. of Silent Hills), this game is generally regarded as one of the cornerstones of both psychological and survivalist horror, and the game honors that title by making you shit your pants when you expect it the least, as well as leave you pondering the moral decisions you must take.
So then, what makes Silent Hill 2 so special in regards to the previous “great but not amazing” title and the sequels that could not achieve the same levels that this one? The answer is simple: Silent Hill 2 concentrated on the characters around it, even when they were a very limited cast, instead of focusing on the town and the strange pagan cults in it. Nevertheless, these still play an important role in the events of the game, as the town has the tendency of turning itself into an Eldritch location to those visiting. Perhaps the game makes it feel a tad too much lonely, as James himself feels.
The protagonist of this story is recently widowed (if three years can be considered a recent date) James Sunderland, returning for a second time to the resort town of Silent Hill, Maine. In his last visit, he was accompanied by his late wife, Mary, who fell ill and subsequently died of her chronic disease while on the visit. His reason for being in everyone’s favourite resort town gone wrong is a letter that Mary sent him. She’s telling him to meet her at their special place, but James is confused, as the whole town was their special place. Seeking answers, he drives off from wherever the hell he came from, to the titular town. And here’s where his story begins.
At first glance, you may not notice that James isn’t very normal. It’s not evident that the loss of his wife and this strange letter have caused him to find some sort of motivation to do something, but perhaps you can pick from his tone of voice at the very beginning of the game that he might suffer from depression, not only caused by the heavy loss of his loved one. Then you notice that he parked his car in a hurried manner and he just checks it again for a map of the place, not even caring to close the door. His indifference of the bizarre events around himself and perhaps of his own life, as he tells Angela, the first person he meets on his arrival to the town, only helping to reinforce that something’s very wrong with Sunderland.
His behavior has reached memetic status in the series, as characters in later entries generally question the similar things he must perform in his quest, such as the aforementioned opened door left behind, dipping his hands in a dirty toilet to retrieve a wallet and not washing himself afterwards, leaving his flashlight on while attempting to hide from a particularly hideous monster out for his blood, retrieving something from within a hole in a wall that attacked him previously, asking an armed and unstable teenager if he’s gone nuts… the list goes on.
But at first, we don’t cast judgment on him harshly. He shows himself to be sympathetic, caring, and a very gentle and polite person. Given the harms of the fog-covered city he wanders, he genuinely cares for those he encounters. But not everything is alright with James, as I’ve stated before. His caring demeanour is an affront to his suicidal tendencies and his kinda douchebag personality. He can be extremely selfish and he takes out his frustration on others with extreme prejudice. While he tries to console others he falls short, avoiding eye contact and looking down on the ground generally.
And these very same characters suffer different psychological traumas:
Angela suffered at a young age, raped by her father and brother, leaving her unable to differ the intentions of men around her, generalising them all as sexually addicted. Her mother did not support her during her hardships, instead claiming she deserved her punishment. Prior to the events of the game, she murdered her brother and father, merely repressing the memory or covering the fact from James. Coming to the town, she felt she needed to find her mother. It’s heavily implied that while her mother was indeed for a time in Silent Hill, she might have perished in the town. Unable to find any sort of consolation to stop her from committing suicide, she asks James if he would take her under his wing. As he finds himself unable to do so, ridden by guilt of knowledge of his hypocrisy and repressed fears, she walked up the flaming stairs to her death. She plays an important part of James’ journey, as certain actions regarding her and the items involved in her path can unlock a certain ending.
Eddie was simply another victim of a rising trend of the time: the discrimination for his overweight physique. Mercilessly bullied ever since he was in high school, he eventually snapped at one of his molesters, killing his dog with his father’s gun and crippling the bully by shooting him in his knee. For this kind of behaviour, he eventually fled from the police, finding himself in Silent Hill, claiming the town called to him. The more he stays in the town, scared by the visions of his personal hell, the more his sanity begins to slip and he misunderstands James’ moral guidance and advice, taking his words as taunting insults. When James is finally allowed into Eddie’s mental tortures, Eddie’s insecurity and violence make him attack James. In self-defence, James is forced to kill Eddie. He shows shock at killing a human being, and in truth, it’s sad that even when James tried his best at helping him, there is no other alternative like with Angela, but to see him die, at your hands.
And then we get to know Maria. James is dumbfounded at the similarities that she presents to Mary, in voice and appearance, but clearly not in clothing or personality. However, as time goes and they clearly don’t like each other at first, they come to care for the other in a small way. The aforementioned monster out for James’ blood comes across both and seemingly stabs Maria instead of him, but later on, he finds her, unharmed, at the other side of a “prison cell”. It’s here that it becomes more obvious what she represents to James: she’s a construct born from Silent Hill’s cleansing powers and his own mind’s repressed memories and desires from when Mary was still alive. She might as well be the antagonist in James’ story. In most endings her personality turns to be demanding of him, recriminating him for not being consistent between his desire to either be with her or to die. Knowing that he won’t choose her, she turns into an enabler for his suicidal impulses, but he ultimately overcomes that as well.
Last, but not least, we have Laura, the little girl who somehow knew Mary during her illness and became good friends with her. Since she is still an innocent and pure girl, the town has no reason to torture or subject her to the many horrors that the adults she encounters generally do; that being said, she’s still very much a brat to Eddie (who surprisingly doesn’t attempt to even harm her when she tells him he’s a gutless fatso) and James, who he has never seen, or as with many of his memories, he represses it. As such, even when James shows concern for her, she literally has nothing to worry about, as there is no virtual danger in the town for her. Though one has to wonder why a little girl really is alone in a desolated city like that… not that when being a child you care too much for that. If anything of the intro is to go by, at least she knew Eddie before coming to Silent Hill. Given Eddie’s outcome… there are two options to go by about her fate after the events of the game: either she is adopted by James, as was Mary’s wish for her, or… we have no idea of the last option.
They only serve one purpose during James’ road: they drive his hardships over to him as much as the town itself does with each monster. Every abomination he meets in his travels is a reflection of his mental dilemmas leading up to this very moment. The game heavily implies that he did not return because of a letter Mary wrote since it was a hallucination his addled mind made for him. The real reason he returned to Silent Hill was to commit suicide. The memories he might have forgotten resurface just as soon as he sees the tape he left accidentally on the hotel, and the terrible truth is revealed to us all: Mary did not die because of her illness, but rather because of James. While attempting to be caring of his wife, she lost hope and began to become aggressive. Conflicting between his duty as a husband and her denial (or rather, impossibility) for sexual relationships with him, he became to turn sour and angry as well. Eventually, unable to cope with the idea of her suffering, and in a fit of hatred and wishing to have his life back, he smothered her with a pillow during her sleep. With her death, his own will to live started to fade. Laura was not happy when James confessed the truth to her, and how could we blame her?
James only has one thing left to do: find out where Mary is if she is still alive. Finding Maria alive again but chained, the Pyramid Heads execute her. Understanding that they were there to punish him as he himself asked for punishment, he fights them, no longer desiring his own suffering. Finally, he rejoins “Mary”, only to find out the woman there isn’t his deceased wife. Once the demon shows it’s true form, casting aside the image of Mary, James fights it and once again, watches himself end its life while it is in suffering.
Based on factors such as keeping James’ health low or high, healing constantly, checking items like Mary’s photo and letter or Angela’s knife, the game decides on a first playthrough 3 different endings. On later endings, other 3 endings (although 2 are considered joke endings) are unlocked, but I’m here to talk about the serious ones.
“Leave” is my favourite. It’s the only one I can get because I never bother to beat my instincts. In it, James finds Maria on the rooftop, but he denies her, knowing that she was created by his desire to see Mary again, even if it was a fake copy of her that would make him happy as he wished. While they are allowed a final time to talk with each other, James confesses his crimes to her, receiving the forgiveness she could give him as well as accept his own. As Mary’s final words appear to us as a real letter, we’re shown Laura walking ahead of James, as they are on the way to his car. It shows that James was finally able to move past his own sufferings and made his peace with what he did to Mary, though it’s inconsistent since Laura told James she hated him for killing Mary. Perhaps she could see the truth in his words… but we shall never know.
“In Water” is the fan favourite. Given James’ condition, after realising he can’t go on without Mary, he decides he will take his own life instead, as was his original plan. He drives his car off the tracks and drowns himself with it on the lake, all the while Mary’s note for him is read aloud. It gives him a certain closure, but at the same time, it makes the whole road he’s taken, and ours by extension, worthless. Not only is an ending hard to get since you need to constantly watch Angela’s knife, you also have to keep James’ health on very low levels, and with stronger enemies, later on, it becomes too painful. I suppose it is the preferred ending because it seems “fitting” to how James feels overall in the game, ranging from the isolation and loneliness of his life and the town itself to seeing what becomes of Angela, Eddie and Maria, knowing that Laura hates him.
“Maria” is pretty straightforward. James meets her again after killing the demon upstairs, once again in the same place where he met her for the first time, overlooking the Toluca Lake. Acknowledging that she has become real and that she exists for herself, James leaves Silent Hill with her… but Maria starts to cough in the same way Mary did in the hotel. And so the story repeats itself.
“Rebirth” requires you to play the game a second time and find the references to Silent Hill’s occult club. In this time, after taking Mary’s body across the lake, James implies that with the help of the entities that reside in the town, he’ll bring her back to life, since he’s unable to live without her. One has to wonder if he paid attention to what he was reading, given that the previous title and the two posterior ones emphasised that aspect of how dangerous was Silent Hill in the first place. Perhaps it’s what he’s looking for: she might come back to life in the wrong way and repay his kindness to her in the same way he did the first time.
In the end, Silent Hill 2 is a game that reflects your style of gameplay and rewards you with an ending appropriate for it. If you’re a scaredy cat like me and you’d rather keep health high and remember Mary, you will find a sort of closure to his travel. Otherwise, well, you just need to keep on trying.
For the meantime, I guess I can keep on playing Cry of Fear: the best free horror game I’ve found on Steam. Takes heavy influences from Silent Hill as well, so that’s a plus. But I’ll never forget that once, I was in the shoes of a man who lived his love for his wife, and in regretting his actions for her, embarked on his own mind.
Originally published on Valiant Ghost