Video(games) killed the storyteller: ‘Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice’
Voice acting: 9/10
Digestibility of story: 8/10
For balance’s sake, I have decided that independent “indie” games are important to include in this column. Not only for their status of being produced by “smaller” (often unknown) developers, but for their ability to rise to the top of game charts. A good indie game is one that is unique, rather than old hat. As is the purpose of this regular column, I will be focusing on the unique storytelling with these games.
“Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice,” released by developer Ninja Theory, is identified as an “independent AAA game”—a term they coined referring to their status as an independent company with a larger budget. This allows for big budget quality without letting go of creativity—a factor that sometimes becomes lost in bigger production games. Let’s analyze the game, specifically its plot.
“Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” opens with a warning before the title sequence: “This game contains representations of psychosis. People with experience of psychosis as well as professionals in psychiatry have assisted in these depictions.”
The warning piqued my interest immediately. Then the opening credits begin by shattering the fourth wall completely with a calm voice only listed as “Narrator.”
“Hello. Who are you? It doesn’t matter. Welcome. You are safe with me. I’ll be right here, nice and close so I can speak without alerting the others. Let me tell you about Senua…”
This form of storytelling is riveting for me. Not only is the fourth wall broken abruptly, it is broken and then reconstructed. You are now a voice inside of Senua’s head, and that is fascinating. For this narrator alone, and the intensity of her voice, I rate the voice acting a 9/10. The voices inside Senua’s head never stop, and the developers actually recommend that players use headphones to get the full experience of the game. It’s immensely effective; you become irritated with the voices quickly, but you also need to listen to them in order to gain hints for puzzles (of which there are many). It’s original and engaging, and because of that, it deserves 9/10.
The story is soaked in Norse and Celtic mythology, and it’s as accurate as it can be for mythologies that were originally passed on through oral tradition and seldom documented otherwise. From Surt, the fire giant, to Hela, goddess of death, this game touches on interesting aspects of the lore from that region. I became adamant about touching every “lore stone” and listening to the mythology be reiterated, even as my character was running away from fire and solving aggravating puzzles. It is a nice touch to an already strong game. For its evocative, interactive playfulness, I give the overall story a 10/10.
Finally, I think the digestibility of the game is pretty heavy. I was able to understand many concepts of the storyline, but it was hard to follow in some parts. This is perfectly fine, but it does detract a bit from gameplay. I enjoy taking my time with a game, but I felt rushed in certain parts. Ninja Theory claims the game should take roughly around 9 hours to complete. I believe this is true if you are not as supremely concerned about story and are mostly interested in trying to beat the game rather quickly. I give the digestibility an 8/10 not because it’s hard to swallow, but because it takes a longer amount of time to settle in one’s stomach.
I will also note that this game has a “perma-death” warning after Senua dies the first time. The game warns and threatens that your whole save file will be erased. This has been rumored to not really ever happen, but I am noting it because it made me play more urgently. I wanted Senua to survive. I became infuriated whenever she died, and I became more determined to fight harder and better. This is an interesting idea from the developer, even if the threat is empty.
Has “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” killed the storyteller? Not at all. If anything it pumps you full of caffeine and splashes water on your face. You are very much awake, aware, and amped while playing. I cared a great deal about the story, and the ending was very satisfying indeed. I highly recommend it for those players seeking an entirely different, fully narrative experience from a game.