**MAY CONTAIN SPOLIERS**
Released on August 8th 2017, Ninja Theory released its independent AAA title, HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice. First revealed at E3 in 2015, Ninja Theory presented this game in a real-time trailer with the actress of Senua present to make her come to life. Now, Senua’s story truly begins and as a player you follow her on her journey to Hel, to confront Hela to save the soul of her lover, Dillion.
Senua is rowing into the lands of the Northmen but not alone. Playing with headphones is highly recommended throughout the game to listen to the friends and enemies that are constantly whisper in your ears about survival, safety, and death. A harrowing experience as the journey begins, with a constant mixture of encouragement and mocking, you question each step you make in your journey towards Hel. Another aspect of Senua you work with on her journey is what her eyes are seeing. Is what she seeing trustworthy or not keeps you moving forward and looking for answers. Senua’s life is unique, she is an outcast and shamed by her people for her choice in speaking to the ‘Underworld’ until she meets the person who accepts her for who she is and encourages her to see past the idea of being ‘cursed’. As you progress, you begin to realize the one of the major reasons Senua’s journey is important is because it is her coming to terms with reality as it is and not as she perceives it.
Run on the Unreal 4 engine, your journey takes place in one of the most beautiful places that a game has ever presented, the land where the Northmen came from. The land is filled with many puzzles. Looking for Runes to unlock doors is interesting because you take into perspective what Senua is seeing and how she finds these runes, and as the game progresses they become trickier to find. There are lorestones that are across the land that help give you clues as to why what you are doing is important. Each lorestone gives you a piece of a story that is related to the area you are in, which is interesting in itself. The combat is pretty basic, but fun because you have to time things correctly to hit your enemies. The twist with combat is when you die. Senua will contract Dark Rot, which spreads towards her head each time you are vanquished. The rumor that follows with this: if you die to many times and the Dark Rot reaches Senuas head, she will die permanently and your journey begins again. I can’t confirm or deny whether it is something that actually happens, but it does keep you on your toes throughout the game.
Ninja Theory has done multiple things to create this AAA title. The first is building Senua herself, a Pict (from what is now Scotland) that are Celtic in practice. The Northmen, aka the Vikings, have landed on the continent her and her people inhabit and begin their slaughter and sacrifices to the Norse gods. Her character is built upon the mental health illness known as psychosis (which is its own diagnosis, and is highly associated with schizophrenia because of the symptoms), something that her mother had and presumably passed down to Senua. Growing up, Senua was stigmatized because she was believed to be talking to the ‘Underworld’ and her father made many attempts to convince her out of hearing and seeing things. One day, Senua leaves her home and comes across Dillion, which she leaves her home with to the Warrior Trials. One day, she returns after being away from Dillion to find him dead which in turn leads to a psychotic break. Senua leaves to Hel to save Dillions soul, and along the way she is experiencing active hallucinations and delusions that challenge her on what her journey means and what message she is trying to tell herself. Ninja Theory worked with their 20 developers, a team of mental health clinicians, and individuals who are in recovery and living life with psychosis (and other psychotic disorders). The development of this game was important to the developers to create authenticity for the players and with the help of the recovery team, Hellblade received the green light for release. It is recommended to visit www.hellblade.com and watch the developer diaries, or if you have bought the game to watch the Featurette that is included for more information and understanding on what it took to make this game what it is.
As gamers, we have been offered something unique. As a mental health counselor, I engaged in an experienced that I will not fully understand in my life time but will work to help others who experience the symptoms that are presented. It is important to me to talk about this because Ninja Theory has created a bridge between mental health illness and gaming that hasn’t been presented yet. It has been a challenge and a pleasure to work with the adolescents and adults that I do, psychosis is not easy to understand, but I feel like I was provided an opportunity to get a glimpse through the window that is this mental health illness.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is available on the PS4, Steam, and GOG.com for $29.99.
Meghan Rodriguez-Twitter @collins_m81