Having covered the history behind the game and the art and level design behind Hollow Knight, lets now delve into the story. At the core of the story, you are an unnamed character who is tasked with uncovering the secrets of Hallownest and the plague that ravaged the subterranean kingdom. Unlike most games or entertainment, the story in this game is not forthcoming. The game won’t hold your hand and tell you what you need to do and why. There is no set path to completing the game. The whole setup is for you to explore, and through your exploration you might uncover hints at the overarching story and it’s up to you to piece it all together. It helps to lend toward the atmosphere of the game, making you truly feel alone in this world and trying to uncover the mystery of why and how it can be fixed. While for the most part you are alone, you will find a few friendly residents and companions to help along your lonely journey. They’ll help give some more context for the world and through choices you make their stories can develop in unique and interesting ways. I enjoy how the story of this game is not entirely laid out and you have to think about your actions and how the past affects your future.
The gameplay of Hollow Knight is deceptively simple, there is a simple slash attack and jump button. Yet the combat is so much more diverse. The key is timing, through your journey you will come across a variety of enemies and bosses that will challenge you. Each have different move sets and move at different speeds and it’s up to you to figure out the timing of when to attack, when to stop and heal, or when to dodge. The game is challenging, it may not seem like it in the beginning, but at a certain point a hammer will smash you in the head with how difficult this game can be. At certain points I was stuck on some bosses for hours, trying to understand their attack patterns and getting down the best strategies to defeat them. While it can be rough, and even frustrating at times, when you finally succeed that rush of accomplishment and satisfaction is very gratifying and helps push you forward on your journey.
While in the beginning you may only have a simple jump and slash attack, again through exploration and some key victories against bosses you will unlock new abilities that will drastically change the gameplay. From AoE attacks (area of effect) to a shadow dash, which allows you to dash through attacks that would have otherwise damaged you, to a double jump and super dash the abilities gained along the way are great mix-ups to the formula. At a certain point in the game you will feel like a master in this world, able to traverse the hardest of terrain, and the game will reward you for your mastery. Again, highlighting how great the overall design of the game is, you might stumble upon an area that’s too high up for you to jump or too far for your dash only to later in the game gain that ability to further traverse and unlock new areas. Inspired by the games of past, like Castlevania, the game will reward you for going back to a level you may have already “beat” and look for new areas with your newly obtained abilities.
Another mix up to the gameplay formula is the addition of charms, basically buffs that you can put on your character to change certain aspects of the game. With around thirty different charms to be found around the world, these little things are an amazing addition and can make each playthrough unique and different. There is no one combination of charms you need, with each providing unique bonuses there can be an infinite number of combinations to perform a certain task. The change to gameplay with these adds so much complexity in an already rich-with-content game.
With these charms you will inevitably run into the boss battles of the game which will truly challenge you. They are not easy, most will take dozens of tries, or even hundreds, to beat them. Each boss, along with their designs being unique, will challenge you in different ways and boil down to the heart of the gameplay for Hollow Knight. I had such trouble with the Mantis Lords, between fighting one in a small area to then being bombarded by two of them spamming attacks and left to hopelessly dodge till that perfect time of attack; many boss fights are intense and absolute sweaty-palm inducing marathons of attrition. Yet you never feel cheated by the game. It doesn’t feel unfair or impossible to beat any boss and even though you may lose a lot each loss will teach you what you did wrong. Making a wrong move or being too greedy will lead to punishment and every death in this game can be avoided. Mistakes will teach you, and from learning of past failures you will achieve victory. The satisfaction of completing a boss, one that gave you such trouble before, and being able to just dodge every attack and make it look like a breeze is fantastic. Although if you are feeling a bit too confident, you could try the absolute torture of the Godmaster dlc; which added a boss rush mode in where you can fight all 40+ bosses at once for the ultimate masochist’s to suffer through (also the video highlights every boss if you want to see what I’ve been talking about).
I love this game, everything about it was able to capture me and awe me. I truly think this game is a masterpiece and deserves to be recognized as one of the best games to come out this decade. It makes it even more amazing that it was made by such a small team, most AAA studios have hundreds of devs, and was sold for $15 instead of what a full-priced game of $60 costs. There is actually a sequel announced, coming 2020 (although with COVID-19 it may be delayed) and it’s no wonder as the first has sold around 2.5 million copies. From a game developed in 72 hours for a competition to a small Kickstarter fund, the game was never thought to have such a huge impact, yet it did. It is great to see how far independent development has come along the years and the fantastic pieces of art that were created, and I think Hollow Knight is one of the best of the best and I would highly recommend giving it a try.