I finally played Hellblade a lot later than I anticipated considering as soon as I saw the trailer I was very much into it. Norse mythology, female protagonist, mental health representation AND puzzles, what more could I want?
Well, as it turns out, I wanted a lot less.
By that I mean it was overwhelming. Hellblade is creepy from the beginning. I don’t know why my brain decided to forget it was also a horror game, but from the opening sequence our protagonist Senua on a little wooden boat floating past bodies on sticks, with different voices swimming around her head. I was ready to quit. I streamed this game, and I had many viewers who had played it before encouraging me to continue, and others wanting to experience it second-hand through me. Unlike me, they remembered it was a horror game.
Despite knowing that the permadeath thing was just a bluff, I was incredibly worried about dying. Was that just so I would look like a Pro Gamer™ to my loyal viewers? No, not really. I grew attached to Senua and I empathised with her a lot. I can’t honestly say I would have continued playing if it weren’t for my viewers. The company definitely helped with my unease, but that only made the isolation Senua was experiencing more obvious.
The representation of psychosis was well-received by many, and as I was streaming I was joined by a viewer who does have psychosis, and said that the representation was pretty spot on. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to live with such pain and torment, and I was grateful to be able to pause or quit the game when it all got a bit too much. It doesn’t cast her condition as completely negative, sometimes the voices are encouraging, and some of the challenges she faces really only help improve her strength, but often the voices are harsh and Senua is frequently put through her paces, both mentally and physically. It’s clear that care and thought went into this, and it’s important that a game hasn’t used mental health as a cheap scare, as is often done in horror games, but has actually formulated a deep, meaningful story, about a woman battling her past and pushing forward to give herself some closure.
I really enjoyed my playthrough of Hellblade, as tough as it got to deal with (let’s not talk about how I put the difficulty down for combat) it had an incredible story, was well-voiced, and the puzzles were fun, even if they were relatively samey. They were a respite from all the horrible things I’d just come from, and all the things waiting for me. It’s a game that has often crept into my mind since I completed it, something I’ll remember for a very long time.