Why Silent Hill Has Never Matched Resident Evil’s Success

In many ways, Silent Hill and Resident Evil are gaming's premiere survival horror franchises, but Silent Hill has never enjoyed the same level of success.

Silent Hill and Resident Evil
Photo: Konami/Capcom

Very few franchises have the staying power of Silent Hill. Many entries in that horror series are considered to be some of the scariest games ever made. Despite its legacy, though, the series’ sales have historically fallen well short of those of its main genre rival, Resident Evil.

During the PlayStation era, Konami and Capcom dominated the survival horror landscape with Silent Hill and Resident Evil. The franchises continued into the next two console generations, but while Resident Evil is still going strong, Silent Hill has fallen off the map. These days, many people only talk about the series to pine for P.T. and pass around rumors of new entries and remakes. Meanwhile, Resident Evil is in the middle of a second renaissance full of remakes, sequels, and cross-media adaptations.

So what happened to Silent Hill? Why can’t the franchise find that same success Resident Evil enjoys? That’s what we’re here to discuss.

Silent Hill Has Consistently Suffered From Terrible Publisher Support

Konami was responsible for bankrolling and publishing countless beloved retro franchises. Castlevania? Konami. Metal Gear Solid? Konami. Silent Hill? Definitely Konami. Since the company rarely publishes games anymore (and the games it does publish are usually critically panned) many gamers long for the “good old days” when Konami used to care about games. The problem is that those days were rarely what they seemed to be.

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According to reports, Konami wanted to develop Silent Hill to capitalize on the worldwide market and the popularity of Resident Evil, but Konami quickly lost faith in the project. The development team, dubbed “Team Silent,” didn’t really know what to do with their burgeoning title, which strained relationships between them and Konami’s higher-ups. Ironically, this might have been a positive development, as Team Silent was given more artistic freedom.

Given Silent Hill’s success, one might expect Konami would have eventually trusted Team Silent more, but that wasn’t the Konami way. The company wanted Team Silent to develop a sequel for financial reasons, and by the time development of Silent Hill 3 began, the size of Team Silent shrunk. After Team Silent finished Silent Hill 4: The Room, the team just vanished. According to Kenzie LaMar, who worked as an artist for Silent Hill: Homecoming, Konami had completely lost faith in Team Silent and canned the studio just so it could let foreign developers tackle future entries.

Poor publisher support didn’t stop at Konami’s treatment of Team Silent. The Silent Hill HD Collection is one of the franchise’s most infamous entries due to its litany of bugs and lack of quality when compared to the original versions. It’s easy to blame the studio responsible for porting the game, Hijinx Studios, but in this case, the fault lies with the sorry state of game preservation. According to the HD collection’s Senior Associate Producer Tomm Hulett, Konami didn’t save the source code for Silent Hill 2 or 3, so Hijinx Studio had to make do with an unfinished build. But that’s not all. Sticklers for vocal consistency were less than pleased that every character was recast for the HD port. While this is not unusual in the gaming industry, the original voice actor for Silent Hill 2’s main character, Guy Chihi, claimed that Konami owed him residuals and replaced him with voice acting veteran Troy Baker to avoid liabilities. A damning accusation if true, but Baker countered with claims that video game voice actors don’t get residuals.

Despite the popularity and glowing critical reception of Silent Hill, Konami’s actions make it feel like the company only tolerated the franchise and was more than willing to abandon it — or ship it off to less-experienced companies — at the drop of the hat. Speaking of which…

The Inconsistent Quality of Silent Hill’s Major Entries

While virtually everyone who played the first three Silent Hill games sings their praises, subsequent entries were not as well received. Unlike Resident Evil, Silent Hill didn’t always improve with time.

Silent Hill 4 was essentially the beginning of the end for the Silent Hill franchise. While the game is actually pretty good (especially when compared to subsequent entries) it doesn’t hold a candle to Silent Hill 2 or 3 in the minds of many fans. While Team Silent developed the game, it wasn’t the Team Silent gamers loved, which might explain the decline in quality. Most of the studio was busy with Silent Hill 3, so duties fell to more inexperienced members. For instance, the game’s director, Suguru Murakoshi, had previously worked as an animator for Silent Hill 2. This Team Silent B Team wasn’t quite up to the task, which might be why Silent Hill 4 doesn’t feel quite like a Silent Hill game.

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Then again, the game’s problems run a little deeper than its developers. Silent Hill 4’s Chief Designer, Masashi Tsuboyama, once told Eurogamer that the game began life as an unrelated game called Room 302 and was eventually reimagined as a Silent Hill title. Sometimes a game can be reskinned to fit with another franchise’s continuity, but Silent Hill 4 demonstrates that isn’t always true.

After Silent Hill 4, mainline entry quality just got worse and worse. Silent Hill Origins, Homecoming, and Downpour received lower and lower review scores, with critics citing problems with the story, combat, and a general lack of creativity. Many of these problems can be tied to the development studios, which were all Western companies with zero experience in the Silent Hill franchise or survival/psychological horror. Origins’ developer, Climax Studios, had primarily developed licensed video games and only produced one original game, Sudeki. Meanwhile, Homecoming was the first project of its studio, Double Helix. During this period of Western-developed Silent Hill titles, the arguable best of the bunch was Silent Hill Shattered Memories: a semi-spinoff for the Nintendo Wii that replaced combat with chase sequences. The game was developed once again by Climax Studios (and greatly benefited from the considerable talents of designer and writer Sam Barlow), which demonstrates that when handling a franchise like Silent Hill, experience is often everything. 

Had Konami hadn’t played musical chairs with developers for the Silent Hill franchise, maybe the series’ quality wouldn’t have suffered so much during its last years.

The P.T. Situation

In 2012, Konami released the final two entries in the Silent Hill franchise: the main entry Downpour, and the dungeon crawler spinoff, Book of Memories. Given the poor reviews, Silent Hill seemed like it would end on a disappointing note. What happened next would make many gamers wish it had stayed that way.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Sony announced and revealed P.T., short for “playable teaser,” which was supposed to be a free demo for an unnamed horror game. Sony didn’t reveal any details and instead let gamers play through the demo and unmask its secrets. The experience terrified many players and brought the gaming community together, especially after audiences learned that it was a teaser for a new Silent Hill game, simply titled Silent Hills. The game was to be directed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro and star Norman Reedus. Had things gone according to plan, not only would Konami potentially publish a title that made up for the lackluster Western-developed Silent Hill entries, but the legendary manga artist Junji Ito would have worked on the game, probably as a monster designer. What should have been a dream project for its creative team and Silent Hill fans everywhere soon turned into a nightmare.

One year after Konami had unleashed P.T. and by extension announced Silent Hills, rumors started spreading that Kojima would leave Konami after Metal Gear Solid 5 finished development. This rumor turned out to be true, which raised the question of what would happen to Silent Hills. Kojima couldn’t exactly lead the game’s development if he didn’t work at Konami, but the publisher could always find a new director. Instead, the company axed the game in its entirety. Then Konami decided to salt the earth by pulling P.T. from digital storefronts (which turned consoles with an installed copy of the demo into a hot commodity) and removing Kojima’s name from Metal Gear Solid 5 box covers. Konami even banned Kojima from attending the 2015 Game Awards.

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After Konami’s messy breakup with Kojima, many gamers lost faith in the company because of how it treated Kojima and tried to pretend that he wasn’t responsible for his successes. That included preventing gamers from playing P.T. ever again. Even if Konami publishes a new Silent Hill game, the knowledge of this incident will always be a stain among those who remember it. Others will simply consider any future Silent Hill games that aren’t P.T. to be inferior products.

The Silent Hill Games May Actually Be Too Scary To Be Blockbusters

Horror games and movies rely on their scares to keep audiences invested. The thrill of being scared has long helped many horror projects exceed their modest budgets. However, there is a limit on how scary something can be before its own design gets in the way.

Most horror games feature creatures that fall into reliable tropes like zombies, ghosts, and other creatures that twist normally-recognizable humans into monstrous forms. And, many scares in these titles revolve around these creatures popping out of a closet to say “boo.” After all, one of Resident Evil’s most memorable scares involves a zombie dog jumping through a window. However, Silent Hill’s scares are way more out there.

It’s no secret that survival horror games struggle to reach a wide audience even at the best of times. Those horror games that do achieve more success usually rely on the kinds of “comfortable” scares that Silent Hill avoids. Not only are most of the franchise’s enemies abstract, contorted abominations that rarely prescribe to recognizable body plans, but setpiece scares terrify audiences by defying rational thought.

For instance, in the first Silent Hill, players can find a small rattling locker that, when opened, is empty save for a smattering of blood. Conventional horror game design would dictate that the scene should be scary because something pops out at the main character, but Silent Hill defies that logic to create a scene that is scary for a completely different reason. Silent Hill 3, meanwhile, includes a mannequin room that seems harmless at first. But, once players round a corner, they hear a scream, which invites investigation, and doing so reveals that a lone standing mannequin was decapitated and is now bleeding. What decapitated it? Why did it cry out? Why is it bleeding? The game never answers these questions, which makes scenes like those so scary.

Other prolonged Silent Hill sequences (like wandering through the first game’s iconic fog) are designed to surround you with an almost inescapable form of terror that other horror games typically avoid. Quite a few gamers have never finished Silent Hill titles because they found the whole thing disturbing to the point of being unenjoyable. Between its most intense psychological scares and its often pure forms of survival horror design, some have always been too intimidated by the Silent Hill series to even try to play the games in the first place.

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Resident Evil relies on more “comfortable” styles of scares that, while often effective, are closer to the scares found in mainstream horror movies. Silent Hill often relies on scares that affect players on a more psychological level. Given that slasher films and zombie movies tend to be more successful than psychological horror movies, it’s no wonder why a zombie game ended up more successful than a psychological horror title.

Resident Evil Has Reached Wider Audiences Through a Wider Array of Multimedia Projects and Merchandise

Whenever a studio produces a successful product, tie-ins and licensed products are a foregone conclusion. However, no matter how successful a property’s cross-media marketing is, there’s always a bigger fish in the ocean.

Silent Hill might have started life as a video game, but it eventually found its way into platforms. The arguable most famous non-digital iteration is the Silent Hill movie, which grossed $100.6 million (according to Box Office Mojo), although that’s not the praise you think it is. Its sequel, Silent Hill Revelations 3D, drew in half the profits and was shredded by critics and audiences alike. And the comics…oh boy the comics. A total of nine comics were produced by IDW Publishing, and three more were published by Konami. Three stories — Sinner’s Reward, Past Life, and Anne’s Story — were somewhat well-received, but the rest were critically panned and condemned as fan-fiction. The only Silent Hill products that are truly considered good are official hats, shirts, skateboard decks, and several lines of toys that revolve around Pyramid Head, the Bubble Head Nurse, and Robbie the Rabbit. Dead by Daylight and Dark Deception: Morals & Monsters sport Silent Hill-themed DLC, but that’s about it in terms of notable Silent Hill multimedia projects, crossovers, and merchandise.

Resident Evil’s cross-media iterations hit all the same beats as Silent Hill, but there’s just more of them. For instance, while Silent Hill received two movies, Resident Evil received six films directed by Paul W.S. Anderson that totaled over $1 billion in revenue, a reboot film, an upcoming live-action Netflix series, four CGI films, one CGI show, and four Japanese stage plays — one of which was a musical. Various companies have also published Resident Evil comic books and novels. Plus, the amount of Resident Evil merchandise out there is overwhelming. You’ve got plenty of action figures and statues, but there’s also officially licensed Resident Evil coffee mugs, sunglasses, hats, shirts, and more. Resident Evil has entered mainstream culture in ways that no other horror game franchise has come close to doing.

The sad fact is that Silent Hill just doesn’t seem to be as marketable as Resident Evil. Resident Evil has more movies, shows, and merchandise than Silent Hill, as well as more variety in said products. While we cannot overstate the creative successes of Silent Hill, we also cannot deny that it just doesn’t stack up to Resident Evil from a commercial perspective. From a comparative lack of merchandise to a company that doesn’t support the game as well as its competitors, Silent Hill just simply cannot match Resident Evil‘s success. At this point, it’s hard to imagine the forces that control the Silent Hill license giving the franchise the resources it needs to really reach that next level.

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