Soapbox: After Restarting My Save File, I Finally ‘Get’ Hollow Knight

Soapbox: After Restarting My Save File, I Finally ‘Get’ Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight
Image: Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, Jim is finally seeing the Hollow light…

Last year, I decided to take a break from Tears of the Kingdom and pick up a fun-looking, rarely discussed indie which was subject to a tasty little eShop discount at the time. The game was called ‘Hollow Knight‘, or something like that, and I put a decent amount of time into it before getting stuck, putting my controller down and never thinking about it again.

In truth, I had a lot of fun with what I played of this game you’ve probably never heard of. I rated the movement, the combat was fun and I was enjoying the sense of exploration. My first 20 hours in Hallownest was a good time, but it was only a ‘good time’. A life-changing experience this was not.

As it turns out, this forgotten gem is getting itself a sequel — every day’s a school day, eh? — and, as excited anticipation for it increased, conversations started to bubble up about how its predecessor is one of the best of the best, a top-tier metroidvania, something to lose sleep over. [Okay, okay, enough of this pretend forgetfulness! – Ed.]

What I had seen was perfectly neat, but it wasn’t all that. Had I missed something? Was I playing it wrong? Clearly not content to let everyone have their own opinion, I decided that the only thing I could do would be to dive back in and see if I could find this secret sauce that everyone else seemed so hooked on

I am a sucker for a map marker.

I am a sucker for a map marker, so upon being shown the locations of the three Dreamers one year ago, I made that my ultimate mission. I sped past the environmental storytelling, gave newly opened routes the cold shoulder and left anything that didn’t feel absolutely essential in the dust. Playing in such a manner, I ticked Herrah the Beast off the list and then burnt out.

This time, I dropped back into my original save and wandered around for a bit only to discover that I had no idea where I was or what I was supposed to be doing, beyond getting those two other Dreamers. Frustrated that my memory hadn’t retained every nook and cranny of a massive and detailed map after a year of not looking at it, I scrapped that old file and started from scratch.

In case you haven’t guessed already, it was here that I found the secret sauce.

Hollow Knight
Image: Nintendo Life

Now I was armed with a different attitude. Forget completion rates, I was here for a good time and a long time. I took things slowly, resisted the urge to run straight to the Dreamers and instead focused on exploring every passage open to me.

My map became a wash with pins — bought from Iselda’s shop in Dirtmouth — as I patiently marked spots that weren’t accessible to me right now, but ones I knew I wanted to check out later. I made sure that areas were thoroughly cleared (to the best of my knowledge) before moving on. Black pins marked spots where the ground shook until I unlocked Desolate Dive, red pins signposted a double jump platform before I found the Monarch Wings, and yellow pins highlighted long gaps in my pre-Crystal Heart days.

The genius of Hollow Knight isn’t in its combat or movement… but in the design of Hallownest itself

I primarily used these pins to help distract me from the three Dreamer icons, but over time they came to serve a much more important purpose: they let me properly explore. Free from the shackles of objectives, I could look deeper into Hallownest and see the beauty therein. The one thing that had completely passed me by originally (and the reason I kept coming back this time) was the worldbuilding and all that lore — so much lore.

The genius of Hollow Knight isn’t in its combat or movement (though they do both slap) but in the design of Hallownest itself. I started exploring every corner of the kingdom not to check off some self-prescribed objective, but to learn more about the infected wasteland that surrounded me — be that via a tablet, Dream Nail text or Wanderer’s Journal sales.

Mentally, I began threading together every nugget of lore that I could get my hands on. Most were nothing but some neat colouring, adding to my image of the fallen kingdom and its inhabitants. Others (*cough* The Abyss *cough*) had me sitting with my jaw open as my perception of the entire game changed. “Wow, more people really need to play this,” I thought, turning a blind eye to 3,684 video essays titled ‘Hollow Knight lore EXPLAINED’.

With this understanding of the kingdom came a deep sadness that had completely passed me by on a first playthrough. The Kingdom’s Edge music was just soothing one year ago; why does it now make me cry? And don’t even get me started on those NPCs. The lore meat that they bring to the table varies, but good lord was I emotionally invested in their arcs. It’s totally normal to mourn a fictional bug, right?

It’s totally normal to mourn a fictional bug, right?

And so, after 22 hours of learning about infections, fallen kings and sacrifices, I finished the game. At least, I finished ‘The Hollow Knight’ ending of the game. I think it will be a hot minute until I head back in for some final Dream Nail action to unlock what I understand to be a more satisfying conclusion, but I am perfectly content with where I left things (by that, I mean I am an emotional wreck).

It may have taken me two attempts, but my eyes have finally been opened to Hollow Knight’s true strength: Cornifer its depth.

Did it take you a while to ‘get’ Hollow Knight or were you sold from the start? Let us know in the comments.

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