Silent Hill | In pursuit of the lost story we’ll never play

Silent Hill lost story

Silent Hill got a visual novel spin-off in 2001. But a creepy, digital-only chapter about a boy named Andy could well be gone forever. Iain pieces together the shards of a lost Silent Hill story we’ll never play…


With Konami announcing the resurrection of the Silent Hill franchise back in October, I’ve been taking a trip down memory lane and checking out one its more obscure rabbit holes in the form of Play Novel: Silent Hill.

A Japan-only launch title for the Game Boy Advance in 2001, the game reimagines the original Silent Hill as a visual novel. It’s an interesting curio, and these days is accessible in an unofficial English format thanks to the combined efforts of modder Giromancy of fan site Silent Hill Memories and translator Toby Normoyle.

At first, Silent Hill, a game whose atmosphere traded on the specific sounds and visuals afforded to it by the original Playstation’s tech, is an odd choice for this downgraded format. Although the developers managed to pack small FMV clips onto the cartridge, Play Novel’s visuals mostly consist of still images from the original game’s cutscenes with occasional light flourishes of superimposed animation like burning fire or falling snow.

As you’d expect from a visual novel, the gameplay experience entirely consists of progressing through text boxes, with an occasional puzzle or choice which will take you to a branching path or bad Ending. The story sees desperate father Harry Mason looking for his lost daughter in the fog-shrouded, horrifying resort of Silent Hill. Experiencing it in a pure-text form it was never designed for can at times prove dull.

Play Novel: Silent Hill

Yes, even on the Game Boy Advance, this scene is just as devastating as you remember. Credit: Konami

A novel experience?

In spite of this, there are a few reasons why the game shouldn’t be written off by fans who haven’t experienced it. First, there’s new content here for fans of the original. As well as Harry’s scenario, the game features an all-new story where you experience events as Cybil Bennett, the police officer who aids Harry in the original game, while even Harry’s story is liable to branch into completely new situations which offer fresh insight into the town’s mysteries.

Admittedly, the scenario for Play Novel wasn’t written by the game’s original director-writer Keiichiro Toyama, but rather Hideki Sakamoto (more famous these days as a composer on games such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate), so its place in Silent Hill canon is up for debate. Still, it’s fascinating to experience new permutations of the story.

The format, meanwhile, isn’t as incongruous to Silent Hill as it sounds. After all, more recent visual novels like Zero Escape, Danganronpa and Doki Doki Literature Club create incredibly disconcerting moments by combining music, text and static images. Play Novel isn’t quite on the same level, but contains a few bona fide creepypasta moments (one of Harry’s ending paths in particular is straight out of Lost Highway), and while the game obviously can’t recreate the combat from the Playstation release, when the player encounters a monster and it lurches on-screen with a simple animation, it’s eerily effective.

Even in a Silent Hill spin-off, you are never far away from a David Lynch reference. Credit: Konami.

A Boy’s Story

The main fascination with the game, however, lies elsewhere. You see, as well as Harry and Cybil’s scenarios, there was a third one called ‘A Boy’s Story’ where you played as a new character, a child called Andy. Konami took the unusual step of not putting this scenario on the Game Boy Advance cartridge, instead making it available for download via an early form of DLC. This allowed Andy’s story to be downloaded in four parts from Konami’s web service using a Mobile Game Boy Adapter – a short-lived, Japan-only peripheral which is probably most famous for allowing wireless battles and trading in Pokémon Crystal.

Play Novel: Silent Hill was released in Japan in March 2001, and the first of Andy’s chapters, appropriately named Spring, was made available for download via this service two months later. The Summer, Autumn and Winter Chapters were then released over the course of the following year.

In 2001, the mind might have boggled at the possibilities of this technology, but Konami’s decision to go down an all-digital route would prove to be disastrous. The data for Andy’s chapters could only be downloaded onto the cartridge’s temporary memory and had to be played immediately during that session; turning off the device would immediately wipe it.

Konami deactivated the download service before long (perhaps due to the unpopularity of the required peripheral) meaning there’s no way for us to access this content in 2023.

Surely though, for a series as important and beloved as Silent Hill, this extra lore would have been archived? As far as my search has yielded (including using Google Translate to scour Japanese sites for any players with memories of these missing pieces), there’s no record anywhere of what Andy’s storyline contained, or how it tied into the larger Silent Hill mythos.

Well, with a few exceptions. Play Novel: Silent Hill, rather bafflingly for a simple visual novel with simple mechanics, received an Official Guidebook, which containing something of a plug for the downloadable content, providing some screenshots and synopsis from Andy’s first chapter, Spring.

Andy fights with Cheryl in one of Cybil’s story paths. This is Andy’s only fully preserved appearance in the Silent Hill series. Credit: Konami.

Hello neighbour

We know from this that Andy is a little boy who lives next-door to the Masons, that he wants to befriend Cheryl, and that at one point he has an encounter with Alessa, the game’s quasi-villain. Later, when Harry and Cheryl leave for Silent Hill, Andy hides somewhere in the car and joins the ride. The chapter would end with Andy searching for Cheryl in Silent Hill, and depending on the player’s choice, saw him either falling from a ledge or being frozen in place as he’s approached by footsteps behind him.

We can also glean a few hints from the game’s ‘Digital Trading Cards’, which were awarded to the player every time they unlocked a new ending (luckily, the data for Andy’s cards is natively on the cartridge and can be hacked in). The card for Andy’s Summer ending is called ESCAPE and features a picture of him and Cheryl running away, holding hands, while the one for Autumn is called LOVE and shows him speaking to Alessa. Tantalisingly, there’s no card for his final chapter, Winter.

The guidebook also mentions that Andy’s scenario “touches on elements that weren’t fully explored… but were clearly foreshadowed” in Harry and Cybil’s stories, and turning to the rest of the game for clues does indeed offer a few more puzzle pieces. During Harry’s scenario, one scene not present in the original game sees us discovering Alessa’s diary. In it, she makes oblique mention of an unknown male character who she wants to be reunited with, which given the evidence from the guidebook I think we can be fairly confident is Andy.

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In Cybil’s scenario, Andy makes his only appearance, being discovered by Cybil and Cheryl having fallen into an embankment. On being rescued by Cybil, he accuses Cheryl of pushing him into the water and the pair begin to have a physical fight.

Attempting to assemble answers from these puzzle pieces only breeds more confusion. Andy’s clearly closely connected to both Alessa and Cheryl, two halves of the same soul who must be reunited for the demonic plans of the town’s cult to come to fruition. But if Andy is besotted by Cheryl, why is he suddenly attacking her? What is his relationship with Alessa? And what makes him go to Silent Hill in the first place?

If I had to guess, Andy’s being manipulated by the spirit of Alessa to bring Cheryl to her. We know that Harry’s trip to Silent Hill was made at Cheryl’s insistence, but perhaps she in fact received the suggestion from Andy, as Alessa’s proxy? The guidebook, introducing Andy’s story, also ominously states “This town demands another sacrifice”, suggesting the town of Silent Hill had dark intentions for the boy that these scraps leave us unable to decipher.

While ostensibly a simple affair, the combat in Play Novel: Silent Hill is more frightening than it has any right to be. Credit: Konami.

Lost Highway

The sad truth is that it’s extremely unlikely we will ever find out what these missing story chapters contained. Perhaps we’d be in a better position today if Japanese players at the time had thought to archive the contents of Andy’s scenario, but the circumstances surrounding its delivery means that even the small number of players capable of documenting it had a narrow opportunity to do so.

It’s also unlikely that Konami, despite their recent new commissions for the series, will ever rescue the situation. After all, if the company has no interest in making Silent Hill 2 accessible on Steam, or in delivering competent remasters of the most lauded games in the series, what are the chances that it’ll ever excavate information from a largely forgotten spin-off? It’s a stark warning that even the most celebrated of franchises aren’t immune to the perils of digital obsolescence.

Partway through researching this topic, though, I came to a surprising realisation. A part of me wasn’t sad that my search threw up no answers, only more questions. Silent Hill, I realised, has always been about the unspoken, the unnamed, the unsolvable.

The lore, world building and theory-crafting is part of the experience. What made those early games so special was that they could never quite be mastered; the sense of mystery which fuelled the player’s imagination could never be dispelled. As tragic as it is that Andy’s story is forever lost, it’s strangely satisfying to know there’s at least one secret in Silent Hill we’ll never find.

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