Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Ending Explained - VRGyani News and Media

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Ending Explained

[Editor's note: The following contains spoilers for Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice.]

As someone with a family member who suffers from a mental disorder, I know firsthand the difficulty of trying to unravel where the person ends and the disorder begins. It is a tangled web, never offering a clear picture of the answers you’re seeking, creating a constantly-moving target that has the capability to cause tremendous damage every time you misfire. In Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice — the recipient of a shiny new Xbox update— that same conflict is on full display through the lens of Senua, a Pict warrior on a journey to save the soul of her deceased lover, Dillion.

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The Story: Lots of Trauma. No, Seriously, Lots

Despite the plot’s focus on saving Dillion’s soul, the primary conflict in Senua’s Sacrifice is that Senua suffers from psychosis. As she navigates the Norse-inspired afterlife of Helheim, she contends with a series of voices — referred to as the “Furies”— that she believes are the result of a curse placed on her. These voices plague Senua (and the player) by casting doubts, stoking fears, and hurling insults. Other times, they provide environmental hints and battle tips. But no matter their loyalties at a given moment, they are always —and I mean always— there.

Though I cannot lay claim to knowing what it is like to suffer from such things, Senua’s Sacrifice leaves players with the overwhelming sense of fatigue that surely accompanies such incessant noise within the mind. Psychosis is defined as “a symptom, not an illness,” and can have a variety of root causes, so it is appropriate that Senua would have something driving her condition. And does she ever.

As Senua sets out on her journey, carrying Dillion’s head in a small sack on her belt (now that’s love, folks), she must overcome trials set forth by the fire-being, Surt; as well as the illusionist-god, Valravn, in order to be allowed into Helheim and rescue Dillion’s soul. Once these feats are accomplished, Senua is cheap-shotted by the god, Hela, on the bridge to Helheim, triggering an additional set of trials that lead Senua to Gramr —a sword said to be capable of killing the trickster god.

During these additional trials, Senua’s tragic relationship with her father takes center stage. After it was discovered that her mother, Galena, had the same “curse” her daughter now suffers from, Senua’s father, Zynbel, had Galena burned at the stake —an event witnessed by then-five-year-old Senua, who promptly repressed it. Zynbel, after convincing his daughter that her condition was equally evil, isolated her from the village, abusing her both mentally and physically in the process. She then falls in love with Dillion, who takes her to his village. After a plague devastates that village, Senua presumes her curse is the cause, and flees. She returns to find the village raided by Norsemen, and Dillion brutally executed. You can’t blame this poor woman for believing her father’s nonsense about her being evil and cursed.

The Dark Night Rises

Believing herself to be cursed is an important aspect of this story. Senua lives her life under this smothering belief that is, ultimately, a total lie, much like Ninja Theory’s warning to the player about a supposed permadeath that exists should they die one-too-many times. This level of deception is on-par with the Psycho Mantis boss fight in Metal Gear Solid. Every time I died, especially during the sequences in total darkness that resulted in many brutal deaths, I feared this permadeath bogeyman, who I always felt was lurking just on the other side of my next misstep. In a game where the lines of reality are constantly challenged, this is particularly cruel, and particularly appropriate. Plant a lie in the brain and watch it infect everything around it.

As the story approaches its conclusion, literal darkness becomes a central metaphor. A boss fight against Garm —the mythical guard dog of Helheim— unfolds in near-total darkness, save for the glimmering of Senua’s sword, and holographic images flashing across the screen as if backed by a strobe light. Oh, and there’s a twenty-foot-tall mutant wolf on the prowl for blood hiding in the shadows. If the seizure warnings that accompany games are likened to tornado warnings, this scene shouldn’t have had a general warning, it should have had a panicked weatherman screaming that an F5 tornado was barrelling down on your house. This sequence is visually assaulting.

Though Senua realizes this darkness is a metaphor for the abuse suffered at the hands of her father, the darkness presents a wider metaphor for the fog of mental illness, where nothing is clear, and enemies (real or imagined) lurk in the dark recesses, ready to devour you whenever they feel like it. That you have no choice but to haphazardly button-mash between dodging, parrying, and striking, mirrors the helpless feeling that so often accompanies mental disorders. Sometimes you just have to flail at it and hope you get lucky, simultaneously hoping it doesn’t rip you to pieces.

The presence of that darkness, in addition to the constant vocal assault of the Furies, allows Senua’s Sacrifice to bridge the gap for those who don’t suffer from these sorts of disorders by helping them understand the feelings surrounding those disorders. Many times, especially when the action was at its most intense, I brimmed with frustration as I vocalized several “Ughhh! Just shut up already!” outbursts, while the Furies filled my head with distractions when my focus was direly needed elsewhere. Welcome to Living with Psychosis 101.

Sweet Surrender

The final battle sees Hela throw wave after wave of enemies towards Senua. You fight. And fight. And fight some more. As my advantage began to wither under the endless assault, my frustrations again bubbled: “This is so stupid! How am I supposed to kill all of these without dying!?” (Note: This quote is heavily paraphrased from its original, most-definitely-R-rated, form). The answer was easy: You’re not.

I finally fell, frustration blazing brighter than my perma-charged Gramr, only to realize that there was no end to the onslaught. You have to give in to defeat. With that realization comes the next metaphor: Sometimes you have to let go to get where you need to be. After surrendering to Hela’s wave of adversaries, the god “kills” Senua, collects Dillion’s head from her side, and throws it off the edge of the platform into the abyss below. It is here that the camera pans back, revealing Senua standing in Hela’s place at the edge of the platform. It was Senua all along.

Hope Amongst the Sad, Brutal Ambiguity

The revelations here are as vague as they are varied. We see Senua perhaps coming to terms with the inability to bring Dillion back, but we also see that there is now no possible way to decipher if anything we have seen is true, or in what percentage. We see that Senua has possibly accepted her “curse” as being an ever-present part of who she is, but we also listen as the voices disappear in the game’s final scene, only to return with Senua’s cryptic, “Wait...It’s different,” acknowledgment, potentially signaling some level of control she has gained over the Furies.

It is appropriate that we are left with ambiguity on nearly every narrative thread as the game closes, and that creates the final metaphor: Mental illness isn’t something that is erased. Sometimes acknowledgment has to be enough. Healing is gradual, even if it’s never total. It might be sad, it might be brutal, but such acknowledgment is where that healing begins. Senua ends the game in a better place than where she started. In the world of mental illness, this counts as a win.

As Senua walks away after those final words, she invites us to follow her in order to tell another story, readying us for the announced sequel, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. However, the creators have stated that the upcoming game will not be a direct sequel, which makes Senua’s closing remarks even more curious. Reality is already blurred, we may as well blur timelines while we’re at it.

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