We play games for different reasons: for the incredible stories that take us deep into the world’s depths, for the pride of completion, for the relaxing monotony, for socializing, and for everything in between. It’s this question of “Why am I playing this game?” that I seemed to ask myself almost every time I booted up Hollow Knight. Before exploring my thoughts on the game, and eventually answering the burning question of “Why play?” I’ll explain a little about Hollow Knight.

Hollow Knight is a platformer where you play a bug thrust into a crumbling world unsure of the purpose of your existence as you travel through the outlying towns of a fallen kingdom. It’s all a shroud of mystery solved only by exploring new areas and defeating any that stand in your way. As you defeat boss after boss and fight your way through every area on your map, you grow stronger. Health is marked as masks, your weapon is a sword called a “nail”, and you collect soul as you attack enemies which enable you to regain masks lost or perform other powerful magic. Collectable charms enable you to use different abilities such as, gaining extra masks for a short period of time; a compass; little bugs that help in your fight. Charms must be strategically used as you only have room to equip a certain number of charms at any given time. As you progress you can upgrade your nail, movement abilities, the amount of soul you can hold at a given time, and the number of masks your character has. To save your progress and ensure your respawn points, you rest at benches.

The biggest, and eventually one of the most infuriating, aspects of the game is that when you die you leave behind your shade …who has all of your coins. Only upon killing your shade will you regain your lost coin. The problem isn’t killing your shade – for the most part that’s fairly simple – it’s navigating the enemies between you and the bench where you respawned. There will be times that you lose your coins. There will most definitely be a time where that ‘easy’ enemy gets a lucky shot rendering you once again dead, with any chance of regaining that 2k coin shade gone.

For me, there was screaming, there was head holding and disbelief, there were long periods of silent anger. Getting to your shade and killing it in order to regain your coins is one of the two most stressful parts of the game. It’s something that had me dread exploring areas I had not yet bought the map for, because what’s worse that traveling through enemy territory? Doing it without having a clue as to where you’re going. Many times I prayed for a bench around the corner to sit at, if just to ensure a closer respawn point. Losing coins wasn’t the best feeling but as the game progressed the need for coins held less priority as it seemed easier to get the coins you needed to buy things.

The focus of the game is the bosses. There was not a single boss through my playthrough that I beat on the first try. It’s all about learning the mechanics of a fight and timing your dodges, attacks and jumps accordingly. There were fights that I found myself enjoying even after the numerous attempts at beating them began to add up, but more often than not the frustration got the better of me. The amount of time and energy put into some of these fights becomes a test of will. For example, on two bosses I spent over 7 hours trying to beat them. Those 7 hours were not fun and on multiple occasions I cried, beyond frustrated at myself for my inability to learn from mistakes or execute a certain combination of moves. The satisfaction of finally beating a boss almost made up for all that self inflicted pain and suffering. It became very clear as the game progressed that the prideful feeling accompanying a win over a tough boss would be very short lived as another boss was soon around the corner.

What made all that pain really worth it in the end? The story.
Hollow Knight begins as embers and ends in an inferno. The crescendo is slow to build but quickly grips you until you just have to explore the next area and just need to beat this next boss. There are twists you never imagined and mysteries about the past that hide around every corner. Each character you meet seems to have a deeper backstory that unfolds to drag you into the history of a corrupted kingdom. The sheer amount of story offered is deceiving as interactions brushed off as inconsequential are actually whispers to secrets easily missed. Hollow Knight doesn’t take you by the hand and lead you through the story, it leaves much up to interpretation and requires players to find answers for themselves.

Hollow Knight gave me a main character I become emotionally invested in to the point where I wouldn’t allow myself to stop. The game had high skill tiers and boss fights at the forefront, two things I hated. So, at my own question of “Why am I playing this game?” the answer, although contradictory to my previous feelings, was undeniably clear: I was having fun.

Overall Experience:10/10
Hours to Complete:52
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