This is a place to talk about Hellblade. I’m still processing it. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to say anything about it in total, but it’s maybe the best game I’ve played this console generation and maybe the last. I don’t think I’ve run into anything this arresting since Silent Hill 2 (to which I think there are a few nods). Also some nods to like museum-ass art? I was a kid with access to a fair number of art museums and we went almost every weekend and this feels very video art circa late 80s, early 90s (in a v good way).
I’m in a similar boat; I’m floored by what Ninja Theory’s put out here. The commitment to theme, and the willingness to shape every mechanic in service to that theme is pretty unprecedented from a AAA studio imo, and I would love to see more “AA” type games like it in the future. The prospect of mid-budget, more experimental titles with high production values is very exciting to me, and I’m really hoping to see more stuff like Hellblade in the scene in the future.
Since I can’t really do horror myself (why pay a game to make me anxious when I can do that on my own, lol), I’ve been watching a let’s play of the game, and everything I’ve seen so far would be really impressive for even a AAA game. The combat looks great, and the graphics are stunning. The way the camera works and the UI are really interesting, and I don’t think I’ve seen a game utilize sound design so well before. its kinda funny to me, because all the things that seem to make the game as effective as it is are also things that prevent it from being a game I actually want to play. It looks very good and spooky is what I’m trying to say here, I guess.
I also find it interesting that the first credits listed are the consultants they got; it says a lot about what they wanted to sell the game and its experience on. I’m interested in seeing other people’s feelings about how the game tackles the theme of mental illness.
I’ve seen a lot of praise for the game and honestly I’m a bit confused - from everything I’ve seen of this game, the mental illness stuff looks completely and totally wack and distasteful. Like full-on 100% classic “mental illness as horror framing because the scariest thing in the world would be going /crazy/ maaan”. Am I super off-base? Does the game do something good/new with these themes in a way that’s only apparent w/ the whole work in mind, or is it just a well-executed enough horror/action thing that the craft can support it on its own?
Edit: Admittedly have limited time w the game, don’t mean to come off on the offensive, just wondering if I’m missing important pieces
I’ve been avoiding most games media, which means I bought Hellblade without seeing the marketing, can’t speak to the marketing. It’s also super hard to talk about details because the story is really the whole thing and I don’t want to give anything away, but the game sort of hinges on never assuming that Senua is just experiencing some kind of psychosis and the horror is never really about her psychosis as such.
I have more complex ideas I want to get out. Will try to do so later today.
Disclosures: I played about thirty minutes last night and I don’t have a ton of personal experience with mental illness or a basis for truly understanding how respectful the representation is.
In what I’ve been playing though the mental illness does not seem to be used as the horror device. The horror is the setting, what has happened to Senua and the world she is entering. It balances this mix of wanting to run away and this determination of wanting to press forward.
I’ve really enjoyed the game. It’s a technical marvel from an audio and visual standpoint. My God, the audio.
Spoilers/thoughts on the game and its use of norse mythology:
A. Druth’s runes are essentially him re-telling parts of various poetic Eddas: Gylfagging (on Hel), Havamal (on Odin), the Volsunga saga (or the Gripsippa)(on Sigurd) and the Voluspa,* . Druth’s re-telling of the Voluspa ends with Ragnarok, with many of the gods dead. The Voluspa itself continues after Ragnarok and looks forward to a new, more hopeful world, which I think is a telling omission in re Druth.
B. Senua and the Voluspa.
Senua (who begins to narrate to herself after the Beast/Fafnir section) at the end of the game stands, looking at nature and thinks, “Do not mourn the waves, the leaves, the clouds… even in darkness the wonder and beauty of the world never leaves, it’s… just waiting to be seen again,” contra the hopeful turn at the end of the Volupsa:
Now do I see the earth anew
Rise all green from the waves again;
The cataracts fall, and the eagle flies,
And fish he catches beneath the cliffs.
C. Val-Ravn (Slain-Ravens)are Norse trickster vampire figures. They’re usually associated with an intelligent, malicious evil being. (Sort of. I think they’re one of those mythological characters that are an accretion of different local beliefs and weren’t ever concretized into a single thing (in the way Stoker does with vampires).
D. Surtr is already pretty well covered by Druth’s rune narration. Here’s how he’s introduced at Ragnarok in the Voluspa:
Surtr moves from the south
with the scathe of branches:
there shines from his sword
the sun of Gods of the Slain.
Note: the fire [“scathe of branches”] he brings is a sword gleaming with light from funeral pyres [the sun of Gods of the Slain]
E. The Beast/Fafnir’s story is also already covered by Druth. Fafnir (on whom Tolkein based Gollum) is a creature of greed, and is killed by Sigurd using the sword Gramr.
F. Hel and the Dead. Hel is usually in Niflheim (land of mist, which is referenced repeatedly in the opening chapter of the game). Norse mythology portions out the dead according to the circumstances of their death. Ran gets the drowned in her watery halls, Frejya and Odin split those that die in battle between the fields of Folknavr (Frejya) and Valhall (Odin), and Gefjon takes the virgins (maybe? I think the scholarship is divided on her and this may be Frejya too). Hel gets the rest. I’m a little rough on this point, but I think that the murdered dead, innocents, etc all go to Hel. Being a slave sacrificed on a battlefield or a child killed in a raid don’t get you an in with Frejya or Odin. Thus, Druth, Dylian, Senua’s mother and really everyone in Senua’s life of which we know is in Hel, except, maybe, her father.
G. Hela. While Hela in the game resembles the Hela of the Eddas in that she is half blackened by death, half flesh, she’s otherwise pretty much invented by Ninja Theory. She acts less like a human and more like something that’s not accustomed to human mannerisms/body language. Runes, which are heavily associated with a traditional, male religious language in the game, cover half her body. She’s a symbol of Senua’s mother reduced by her father to a strange, inhuman, monstrous doll.
H. What it’s about.
The gallows tree near the end of the game, while it looks like a yew and not an ash, is likely a reference to Yggdrasil (the world tree, the tree from which Odin hangs himself in order to gain wisdom). Senua pulls Gramr from the tree, but only after confronting parts of her past from which she’d been running (mirror-like shards) and accepting them (reforging the sword). She then takes the sword into the mountain and slays the beast/fafnir that greedily hoards Dylian’s head and terrorizes her. The beast is a cipher for the worst parts of her psychoses, it’s the thing in the “darkness” that she fears the most.
I think it’s important Senua takes up Gramr because she’s sure Dylian has left it for her, but it’s really composed of parts of herself and that it’s using this new, more whole narrative of herself that she confronts the beast and takes back Dylian’s head. After she has beaten the beast she starts to provide her own narration, having claimed some sort of self out of her previously fractured sense of herself. She also begins to see herself as Dylian’s savior rather than he as hers.
The final battle with Hela is Senua rejecting her father’s narrative of herself and her psychoses. She rejects her mother-as-Hela but accepts the gift/pain she gives her (literally stabbing Senua in the gut) because that’s the only way she can save Dylian (she’s the only one who really remembers him) and that’s in line with her new narrative of herself. The game ends with Senua essentially saying that the game is her story, as she has told it and that she’s off to tell new stories. She knows she can’t really kill the beast, etc, but that the story she has of herself now will, or at least has, thus far, functioned as a means through the worst moments of her psychoses.
Anyway, I think that’s what it all means.
They take it very seriously, they have a professional mental health advisor as the first credit of the game, before a director or anything else. I think they did a good job with it, personally.
I have to disagree and say they did a good job just because I watched a stream of some of the game and was thinking “woah they tried to write her to be actual schizophrenic and not generic movie/game “mental issues” “crazy”” before I knew about the research and time they put into it. It really struck a chord with me compared to how that’s normally portrayed in video games.
I haven’t finished yet, but like OP, I am very impressed. I thought it would be next to impossible to knock Horizon from my personal GOTY, but Hellblade might be able to do it. The last time I remember being this floored by how good a game was is Oxenfree.
There are so many little things that show just how much thought the developers put into every detail. One thing I mentioned in another thread is the way Senua walks, with her shoulders pulled back and leading with her left side. She looks both aggressive and guarded at the same time.
Another is that the narrator voice switches between second person and third person, and I’ve noticed more than once that when it speaks in second person, Senua is looking directly at the camera.
There’s also more depth to the combat than is presented. There are combos, sprinting attacks, lunging attacks, etc that the game never lays out but are easy to execute with a little experimentation.
It’s also pushed me to research Celtic culture and myth. I’ve got a couple books on my Kindle lined up and ready to go. It’s the first time that’s happened since I read a couple books about the French Revolution after playing AC Unity.
Man, I’ve sworn to not buy any new games until I’ve finished what I’ve got… but this game is making it hella hard to stick to that!
I’m always a proponent of not buying new games until you need to.
I’m only maybe 30-45 minutes in, but I am just in awe every moment. Are games this pretty now? I do most of my modern gaming on my PS4, but I have this one on PC because my computer felt neglected and I don’t know whether it’s just being this close to the screen, but the facial features! The light! It’s just so gorgeous.
And the sound is just…I was warned for the effects with the microphone but that did not prepare me for how unsettling it truly is. Also, I really enjoyed that they were primarily female voices; that added a layer that I think would have been different the other way. Also, for awhile the voices went quiet and I was a little unsettling at first, but then I got used to it and oh WOW did that scare the shit out of me.
I’m so glad the developers added difficulty levels. I would not have bought the game otherwise and I’d be so sad to miss out on this experience.
I finished this up last night and achieved a sort of personal catharsis that I didn’t realize I needed.
Some people will tell you the game leans a bit too heavily on the combat at the end (I think the Rock Paper Shotgun review mentioned something to that effect, and I’ve seen other folk say similar) but I think that’s missing the point of those sequences. Senua is fighting against overwhelming, exhausting odds - both in the sense that she’s fighting against her own darkness and also that she’s fighting against the reality of the situation, i.e. that Dyllian is dead and she cannot bring him back.
She’s also fighting the feelings of guilt - her father would insist the village’s destruction is entirely her fault (which is bullshit and she knows it by the end), but there’s also the sort of thinking that comes when tragedy strikes at home and you aren’t there - “I could have done something.” That sort of magical thinking where you assume “if I had been there, I would have somehow prevented this,” which is about as bullshit as her father’s analysis. It is no doubt that if Senua had been present she would’ve been slaughtered along with the rest - that’s another part of what the final combat sequence is meant to show, I think.
In that sense it is completely appropriate that combat feel like a slog at times - though that doesn’t excuse the few times I died because the camera decided to fill the screen with Senua’s back rather than what was going on at the time. I’m also willing to excuse it entirely as I loved the feeling of desperation that the longer combats elicited.
Anyway it’s a very good game and it took on psychosis and its portrayal in a way that was surprisingly thoughtful. Learning that some of the visual and audio effects were added by the consultants Team Ninja brought in (which included a number of sufferers of voice hearing and visual hallucinations) was very interesting - the documentary included with the game is well worth watching as it explains some of the decisions they made.
Also let’s not forget the game is fucking gorgeous.
I just wrapped up the game, and wow. It was a stressful, harrowing experience throughout and I basically had to play it in 30-60 minute chunks as it got way too intense otherwise. Ninja Theory has truly broken new ground with how this medium can tell stories.
I’ve read criticisms elsewhere that the game’s puzzles and combat are too simple, or boring, to sustain the game. To that I say that this game was not necessarily designed to be “fun”. It was meant to be a way to gain insight into minds that work differently than most, and like for many sufferers of severe mental illness, it is rarely pleasant. Hellblade’s mechanics help to create a holistic experience that compliments the narrative of Senua coming to terms with who she is and the trauma she has experienced. I’d ask anyone who was turned off early by the game to check out the included mini-documentary to understand the designers’ intent.
EDIT: Also, if you aren’t playing the game with headphones or a good surround sound setup, then you’re missing out on a huge portion of the experience. The binaural audio goes a long way in getting you inside Senua’s head.
A lot of people here have said what I want to say about this game just way better, but here are some thoughts anyways.
First of all @Navster is one hundred percent correct about the headphones. It’s not recommended it’s necessary in my opinion. The sound design is one of the best if not THE best I have every heard in video games.
Second I think @PW_Shea spells it out pretty well. This game has a few intertwining narratives that are meant to reflect one another. Overall the way the story is laid out and narrated feels like an epic poem more than a traditional story. It’s fanciful and not necessarily realistic or straight forward.
One thing I do know… That was incredible.
I don’t have the direct quote in front of me, but in a Game Informer interview the lead developer said something along the lines of “the game isn’t supposed to be fun. If someone comes away from it saying ‘that was a blast!’ then they’ve missed the point.”
Yeah, but I do think the “this is fun/this wasn’t fun” critique is missing the fundamental point. At certain moments (for me, anyway) the long-ass fight sequence in Hel the combat just dragged and didn’t feel exciting (like, it’s not difficult? or at least, the part I’m thinking of wasn’t unpleasant because it was grueling or harrowing, but just felt kind of boring) and then the rune hunt stuff was mostly just not very interesting and felt like an early 90s 3d pixel hunt version of bad adventure game puzzles. I mean, in large part the latter is covered by the fact that there’s a lorestone usually right nearby and as you move around the environment you’re often listening to someone talk, but the underlying puzzle is just not clever after the first couple of go-rounds (to me, anyway).
Like, it’s not whether or not it was fun, it was more like, “I get it, I already got it, this is a waste of my time.”
But like, yeah, that’s my only criticism I can really think of.