Mental illness is a fairly sensitive subject that developers have tried to use in games with mixed results. Ninja Theory looks to take the concept on in a fantasy setting and in a realistic way. Hellblade is set in a celtic fantasy/historic setting. Both of these aspects together make for what looks to be a promising and interesting game.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice takes place in early medieval times, about 790 AD, when there was a celtic clan called the Picts. The game starts shortly before the Vikings invaded and wiped them out. Senua, our main character, is one of these Picts. Even for a Pict she is unusual. Senua has schizophrenia.
Dillon, her lover, helps her cope with the illness and for the most part she functions normally with his help. All that goes away when the Vikings invade, destroying her home and killing the one person that kept her sane. Our adventure truly begins as she takes Dillon’s head (they believed that the soul was in your head) to bring back her dead partner.
The premise is interesting enough as it is but what makes this game interesting is the addition of the mental illness. Without Dillon around to help Senua through her psychosis it quickly starts getting out of hand. That bleeds into every part of the game including gameplay. You’ll hear disembodied voices and symbols will take on a whole meaning then what you may be used to seeing in games.
Ninja Theory didn’t take it lightly when deciding to include mental illness as part of their game either. They did a ton of research on the subject and talked to both professionals and real people that deal with psychosis. Apparently it’s a very realistic rendition of a very real issue. Included with the game is a featurette that covers this very topic called Senua’s Psychosis. The teaser trailer is below.
Ninja Theory is pretty well known for their AAA development and have a handful of very well done games, a couple taking on a cult status. They are mainly known for Heavenly Sword and DMC. A slightly less known but also liked game is Enslaved.
While those games are considered AAA, Ninja Theory took a slightly different direction with Hellblade. The game isn’t really an indie game although it is a very small team. And the game does have the big game treatment with the high polish and game mechanics. So that places it somewhere in the middle which is reflected in the price. The price is only $29.99 which is quite the steal for the quality you’ll be getting.
One thing that really stood out in this trailer was Senua’s face and expressions. Which is pretty important in portraying someone that is going through what Senua is dealing with. An interesting story about the actress is that she is actually the video editor for Ninja Theory. After standing in a few times to work on some technical aspects they ended up using her permanently. I’d say that she’s done a very good job.
Hellblade looks like a promising game that will explore mental illness in an interesting and realistic way. That’s not something very many games can say. Ninja Theory has a pretty good track record and I’m hoping they have another cult hit on their hands. The game comes out August 8th.
What do you think of Hellblade? Does the concept of mental illness seem like an interesting direction to take a video game? Is it a good idea? Or a bad idea?