Greenpath

Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania-style adventure game set in the forgotten underground kingdom of Hallownest. The kingdom fell to ruin after a viral blight infected its citizens, transforming them into mindless husks. As a knight in the form of a small beetle wielding a nail, you venture below the surface through a secret entrance in an old well to challenge the mysteries of Hallownest.

The old underground roads are long abandoned, and there are no helpful signs to guide the player through the maze of passages. The necessity of careful exploration as you find your own path forward is one of the primary appeals of Hollow Knight, but it’s easy to lose your way and fall victim to the undead husks or become trapped in the dilapidated infrastructure.

The tiny protagonist’s journey through Hallownest is lonely, but the ruins of the old kingdom are far from empty. Where there were once cities and markets and train stations, dense vegetation now breaks through the paving stones and covers crumbling structures in blankets of flowering plants. Nowhere is this postapocalyptic explosion of nature more apparent than an area called Greenpath, where small birdlike creatures flutter through the underbrush while giant dragonflies glide in lazy circles above bubbling pools of acid water.

Hollow Knight’s soundtrack, written and digitally performed by the Australian composer Christopher Larkin, captures both the loneliness and wonder of the kingdom of Hallownest. I find the background music for Greenpath especially atmospheric and evocative. It begins with bright and gentle strings that suggest the twinkling of fresh dew and the whisper of wind over moss. Soft and airy notes from a flute and xylophone join the song to create a melody reminiscent of the rustling of leaves as you scuttle through the bushes. 

The environmental music in Hollow Knight is adaptive, meaning that it changes according to gameplay. Some of the more challenging sections of Greenpath necessitate precisely timed jumps over deadly beds of tangled thorns, and the song crescendos into string chords as staccato as your character’s footsteps as you rush through the beautiful yet menacing jungle. You feel as though you’re truly exploring overgrown ruins, brushing aside vines as you navigate the twisting stone corridors.

The quietly elegiac environmental songs of the Hollow Knight soundtrack are oddly relaxing and make excellent ambient background music. If you’re in the mood for something more upbeat, the boss fight battle songs are fantastic as well. You can listen to the complete album on Spotify and YouTube, and (this link) will take you directly to the song “Greenpath” on Bandcamp. 

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This essay was published in the “Playlist” issue of the West Philly Dog Bowl Zine, which debuted at the Philly Comics Expo this past weekend. You can download a free digital version of the zine via their Linktree site (here).

Hollow Knight

I’m a big fan of the aesthetic of Hollow Knight, and I got the collector’s edition from Fangamer when the game came out on the Nintendo Switch. I absolutely loved the first hour or two of gameplay. The world is gorgeous, the gameplay is a lot of fun, and the writing is lovely.

When I got to the first boss, however, I died. And then I died again, and then I died again. And then I died again. It’s not that this boss is particularly difficult; it’s just that it has a ton of health while you have relatively little. The fight is therefore an endurance test in which you can’t make any mistakes. This is particularly unpleasant because, once the boss starts breaking out new attacks and movement patterns, you’ve already been in the fight for a relatively long time and have probably already lost some health.

When I took to the internet to figure out what was going on, I found a lot of posts saying that Hollow Knight is a brutally punishing game, and that sometimes people can take hours to make it through a boss fight.

I then tried to search for “Hollow Knight easy mode,” and that was a mistake. Oh my, the “real gamer” discourse these children engage in.

I remember really loving Super Metroid as a kid. It was much too difficult for me and my small brain and tiny hands, so I used a Game Genie as something like a set of training wheels until I got good enough to play it on my own. I ended up spending more than a hundred hours playing the game instead of just one or two, and this hurt no one. I had a game, and I played it, and it was fun. I liked exploring the world and discovering its secrets while listening to the soundtrack; and, if this isn’t “how the developers intended the game to be played,” it didn’t matter, because my parents paid money for the game and I owned it.

This is more or less the same thing I’m interested in when it comes to Hollow Knight – exploring the world and discovering its secrets while listening to the soundtrack. Because of one boss fight at the beginning of the game, however, there’s no way I can do this. I now own a very pretty $70 game that I could only play for a little more than two hours, and it’s frustrating.

I wonder, would it really hurt the developers to include an easy mode?