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Video Game / Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

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"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. Her story has already come to an end but now, it begins anew. This is a journey deep into darkness. There will be no more stories after this one. Look around and you will see them. The drowned, the sick, the slain. Here they lie, rotting in the field and river of Hel. But the dead don't always lie still here. This is not a place of rest. What is she thinking? I can tell you. She is afraid. Wouldn't you be? You'd think she would get used to it by now after so many years. But the darkness it just builds onto itself, growing stronger, towering over her. You might try and ignore it, turn away, but it's always there just out of sight, where you are most vulnerable. It's like it knows that just enough light is all you need to see its suffocating power..."

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is an Action-Adventure Video Game developed and — for the first time — published by Ninja Theory.

Based upon Celtic and Norse Mythology, the game tells the story of the eponymous Senua, a warrior traumatized by a Viking invasion, as she embarks on a very personal journey through a hellish underworld which are the psychosis manifestations of her own reality and mind.

The game is somewhat similar to the Soulsborne games in terms of combat, focusing on timing your strikes and dodging the enemy's blows. Be warned, as Senua can't take many hits before she goes down.

It was released on August 8, 2017 for the Playstation 4 and PC. An Xbox One release was later set for April 11, 2018, and a Nintendo Switch released on April 11, 2019. As well, a virtual reality edition was released on July 31st, available on Steam and compatible with virtually any PC-based VR headset.

Initially digital-only, a physical copy of the PS4 and Xbox One versions was released on December 4, 2018. An Xbox Series X|S version was released on August 9, 2021, a free upgrade to those who already purchased the Xbox One version.

A sequel, Senuas Saga Hellblade II was announced during the VGA Awards on December 12, 2019. A gameplay demo was released a year later, with a later game overview, released for Xbox Developer Direct 2024, setting the game's release for May 21, 2024 for Xbox Series X|S and PC.

This game provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: Actual Celtic names (Findan, Drúth) and plausible corruptions of Celtic names like Dillion (derived from Dyllanw) and Senua (an erroneous spelling of Senuna) exist in the same society as the fictional "Galena" and the aggressively fictional Zynbel, which doesn't even sound Celtic.
  • Alliterative Title: The "Senua's Sacrifice" part of the title.
  • All Just a Dream: The ending is ambiguous as to how much of the game actually happened to Senua. Potentially the entire game could be a hallucination brought on by Senua's mental illness and the trauma of Dillion's death.
    • One of the "trials" (which is revealed to be a Flashback) shows Dillion talking to her during one of her episodes. She imagines she's in a dark house with monsters chasing her. In reality, she's basically sleepwalking while he follows her and talks to her. He states that she's "gone" during this time, but then she states that he "brought her back" after the episode is over. It's very likely that the majority of the game is a mixture of Flashback and Imagine Spot (with psychotic episodes taking the place of imagination).
  • Alas, Poor Yorick: Senua does this a couple times with Dillion's head.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It seems clear that Senua has paddled a small boat to an unknown shore and physically walks around an area that shows signs of having been inhabited at some point. Everything else, from the lore stones to the enemies and even Senua's injuries, could be supernatural, hallucinations caused by a psychotic break after her village was attacked her fiancé was killed, or some combination thereof.
  • Anachronic Order: Senua's backstory is revealed in anachronistic flashbacks throughout the video game.
  • And the Adventure Continues: When the story is over, Senua beckons the player to join her somewhere new, as she wanders away...
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • When hunting for runes or ravens, you don't have to align the lines perfectly - as long as you get them mostly in the right place, the game will accept the rune or mark as found. Also, when you're close to the position where you can align a rune, the rune starts appearing all over Senua's vision, sharply limiting the area you need to search for alignable objects.
    • The camera stays close to Senua even during combat, which makes it easy for enemies to get behind you if you're fighting several. To keep them from getting cheap shots in, Senua's voices yell "Behind you!" when you need to dodge an attack from offscreen. The VR Edition also provides the player the ability to keep tabs on enemies that would normally be completely off-screen otherwise.
  • A Love to Dismember: Senua keeps the head of her beloved Dillion on her hip. It's covered in cloth, so it's not as graphic as it sounds. Doubles as a Tragic Keepsake, since he died in a Viking invasion.
  • Artistic License – History: Senua is said to be a Pict from Orkney, though she looks nothing like one. Her outfit gives off more of a fantastical Native American vibe, quite far removed from the long flowing tunics, mantles and cloaks that the Picts seem to have worn.
    • Senua herself has a southern British name, her partner has a Welsh name, and her parents have fictional non-Celtic names.
    • Senua's sword's design and her society's reverence of severed heads are inspired by the continental Gauls, rather than the Picts.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: "Druth" is mispronounced, possibly for the sake of a rhyming pun with "truth". The "th" should be silent.
  • Badass Boast: Senua in the final battle against Hela. "I can see through your darkness! You're a liar and a murderer! And if you really are Hela, then I have a sword here that can kill a god!"
  • Bilingual Bonus: 'Drúth' is an Old Irish legal term for an insane person.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dillion is still dead, either because Hela will not resurrect him, or Senua was deluding in believing resurrecting him was possible. It's not particularly clear. However, Senua ends the game having confronted her personal demons and able to separate the positive influence Dillion and her mother had from the trauma and shame inflicted by her father. The ending hints that she has moved on from Dillion's death and has a brighter future ahead. In addition, if it was real, then it's strongly implied that Hela released Dillion's soul from her grip and allowed him to go to whatever other rest is due to him, which was Senua's goal in the first place.
  • Blackout Basement: One of the Warrior Trials takes place in pitch blackness, with Senua forced to rely on her senses of touch and hearing to navigate. Navigating Garmr's lair without a torch also qualifies.
  • Bloody Bowels Of Hel: The Sea of Corpses is an area of Hel built of bodies of the damned that cry in agony and grasp at Senua as she wades through Rivers of Blood.
  • Boss in Mook Clothing: Fairly literally with the Greataxe and dual wielding Northmen enemy types, who are stripped down versions of Surtr and Valravn, respectively, and are nearly as tough.
  • Burning The Bridges:
    • At the opening scene Senua lands on the shore and pushes away her boat, signifying that she has no intention to abandon her quest.
    • The first time the player has Senua jump down from a ledge too tall for her to climb back up, one of the voices comments, "She can't go back now."
  • Central Theme: Overcoming grief, though it doesn't become apparent until near the end. While the game leaves it somewhat ambiguous as to how much of it is real and how much is in Senua's head, it is strongly implied that much of what she hallucinates are manifestations of her grief and trauma after being abused by her father, shamed by her tribe because of her illness, and witnessing the deaths of Dillion and her mother—the only two people who ever showed her love and understanding. Her repressed memories of her mother's death and quest to revive Dillion are rooted in her inability to cope with that trauma; the combat—Senua mowing down countless enemies through a labyrinth of nightmarish environments—is a metaphorical representation of her denial. By the end of the game, she finally gives up fighting (literally and metaphorically) and lets go of Dillion's skull; accepting that she will never get him back. Only by coming to terms with her grief and accepting her condition is she able to confront her inner demons and move on. As the saying goes: "the greatest battles are fought in the mind."
  • Cool Gate: Valravn's portals don't move you into a completely different realm, but some details change as you walk through the portal. The huge masks in one of Odin's quests work similarly: walking through them switches between the two different versions of the same area.
  • The Corruption: The black "rot" that slowly spreads up Senua's arm.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Dillion's corpse is framed this way.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Dark Souls players wrestle with blocking being the right bumper instead of the left. Instead of blocking, they accidentally charge into their opponents.
  • Darker and Edgier: Absolutely. In contrast to Heavenly Sword's fantasy setting, Enslaved's colorful post-apocalypse, or DmC: Devil May Cry's odd urban fantasy world, it's the most mature game from Ninja Theory, discussing themes such as abuse, mental illness, and outright human sacrifice, all set through the point of view of an extremely troubled young woman.
  • Darkest Hour: Senua falls into several deep, dark, mental valleys throughout the game, but two moments stand out in particular: about a third of the way through the game, having bested two gods and earned access to the bridge leading to Helheim, The Darkness manifests as Hela herself and destroys the bridge, swats her into a void and breaks her sword. The second point comes near the end when she loses Dillion's head and is distraught that her quest is over, as she won't be able to rescue his soul without it. In both cases she eventually finds cause to overcome herself, first replacing her sword with a magical blade by passing Trials of Odin and in the second case by finding the resolve to continue, defeating The Beast and retrieving the skull.
  • Dark Fantasy: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is an interesting case, often blurring the line between Dark Fantasy and Psychological Horror. Based upon Celtic and Norse Mythology, the titular Senua journeys into the the depths of Helheim to bargain for her dead lover's life back. In the argument for Maybe Magic, The Corruption is a very real presence in the story, having plenty of nightmarish takes on existent (and non-existent) Norse gods and demons, and featuring a descent into the darkness while on The Quest to save her loved one. In the argument of Maybe Mundane, however, it's basically confirmed that Senua is a schizophrenic who was deeply traumatized by a Viking raid on her home settlement, killing her lover and most of her family, so it's ambiguous how much of it is in her head or not.
  • Dark Is Evil: Darkness is never a good thing in the game as it stands for Senua's illness and environments suddenly becoming darker often herald a change for the worse. There are, however, some parts where she must run from light source to light source while hallucinations assail her, as staying in the darkness any longer than necessary will kill her. Garmr can actually spit darkness in his boss fight. Have fun fighting him while your screen mostly shows Senua's hallucinations in the darkness rather than the actual enemy who's still trying to eviscerate you. It is also implied in the ending that Senua grows to accept her mental disorder and stops thinking of it as a curse.
  • Dark World: One area contains large masks that lets you switch between a light and a dark version of the area. In the light world, the sun is shining and Senua's voices fondly recall Dillion. In the dark world, it's raining and the voices lambast Senua for supposedly causing Dillion's death.
  • Deal with the Devil: The goal of the game is to make one of these with Hela, who's said to be the only goddess capable of bringing people back from the dead, in exchange for Dillion, Senua's dead beloved.
  • Diegetic Interface: The game has a very minimalist UI, with things like an inventory or health bars forsaken entirely. Senua's reserve of Focus is tracked by a mirror on her hip, with a symbol for it appearing in the air when a point of Focus is earned. In lieu of a compass or objective marker, runes will appear in the air when Senua is near them. Lastly, rather than an enemy tracker a la Halo, Senua's voices will warn her if an enemy outside of the camera frame is attacking.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The cutscene immediately preceding Senua's fight with Valravn. Senua lies on the ground helplessly and bearing a thousand-yard stare while Valravn writhes on top of her, heavily resembling a rape scene.
  • Driven to Suicide: Senua looks like she's on the edge several times, while Senua's mother is past it, having ended her life to escape her "darkness" and be with the gods. Or so her father claims. In reality, he burned her, quite probably for defying him.
  • Exact Words: The Permadeath warning at the beginning of the game. The rot will grow when Senua dies, but it will never reach her head until she gets to the end of the game. Once it does reach her head, her quest is actually over by her own choice because she has let go of Dillion.
  • Fission Mailed: Happens twice in the game with fights where Failure Is the Only Option. In the first combat sequence Senua is struck down and dies before it is revealed to be a hallucination. The second incident is the ending where the waves of enemies are endless and will continue until you eventually die. Then the ending cutscene plays where Senua offers her soul in exchange for Dillion and Hela appears to agree, killing Senua before Hela morphs into Senua (with Hela's corpse visible in the background) and the player is left to question what really happened.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Senua goes through these in the final cutscene, first denying that she can't save Dillion, raging at Hela for killing him, desperately offering herself in his place, sadly saying she has nothing left...and then, with Dillion's help, accepting that he's gone and she can't bring him back.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Senua hears voices, and one of them seems to be the narrator herself. The narrator thus whispers — to the player — to not disturb Senua too much, and at least one time Senua glowers at the camera for treading on her thoughts.
  • Gainax Ending: Not surprising, considering the nature of the game's plot. However, the game ends in an uplifting note, implying that Senua has moved on from Dillion's death.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: Jim Stephanie Sterling's initial 1/10 score was because of one. It's triggered by not lighting your torch in an area that kills you in the dark, and the game autosaving after you've long passed the light source you needed), and triggering it renders the game unwinnable. It was fixed in a patch shortly after Sterling's review made the rounds.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: The puzzle segments that have you seek certain runes by looking at compositions of unconnected objects seem random at first, but they fit in quite nicely with Senua's unusual way of thinking, and the rest of the game is designed to keep you paranoid, fearful and in a permanent state of dread. Up until the second-to-last combat sequence, where Senua's improving confidence and rage allow you to tear through enemies in the way of a more traditional power fantasy.
    • In keeping with the themes of questioning reality and what's apparently obvious, Senua's death animation isn't a death animation at all. Button Mashing before an enemy gets to you while Senua is struggling on the ground will cause Senua to get a Heroic Second Wind and dodge out of the way to get back into the fight.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a narrative-driven and cutscene-heavy adventure game with relatively sparse Hack and Slash combat, puzzles consisting of finding the right way to look at things, long, borderline Walking Simulator segments and lots of symbolic environmental puzzles set in what the protagonist sees as the Norse underworld and horror elements straight out of Silent Hill. Suffice to say, don't go in expecting God of War with Norse Mythology.
    • Though, ironically, the God of War game released a year after Hellblade—with its grim presentation of a mourner fulfilling a promise to a dead lover on a backdrop of Norse mythology, shot through a single fixed camera with photorealistic visuals—bears more than a passing resemblance.
  • Grim Up North: The Norsemen are depicted as cruel warriors who brutally murder Dillion while raiding his home village. Their sagas are not very nice either.
  • Head Butt Of Love: Senua performs one with Dillion's skull at one point, and it turns into an Imagine Spot of the two of them doing it back when he was alive.
  • Heal It With Fire: After her first encounter with Hela on the bridge, Senua is thrown to the rocks below. Afterwards, she uses the remains of her shattered sword and a torch to cauterize the wound on her face.
  • Helpful Hallucination: Some of Senua's voices aid her in combat, telling her when an enemy is attacking from behind, pointing out their weaknesses, and so forth. Outside of combat, they occasionally provide moral support.
  • Hesitant Sacrifice: When Senua is approaching Hela's location, her voices question what will happen to them if she should die and begin to beg her not to keep going, because of this reason. She apologizes, but says that if they don't want to die, they can leave her alone.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: The final fight against Hela's goons is this. You are swarmed with infinite amount of enemies until you finally die, then the ending cinematics are triggered.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: A variation. Near the end of the game, Senua confronts The Shadow and tells him that he is the one with darkness inside, not her or her mother. In the end, it wasn't Senua's condition that made her life miserable, but the way her father and fellow villagers reacted to that condition. As proof, she and Dillion were happy even though the disorder did not go away. Her condition was schizophrenia, but her disease was Zynbel.
  • Interface Screw: Garmr has the ability to cover the screen with an onslaught of visions during his boss fight. The visions can only be dispelled by focusing or striking the boss with a heavy attack.
    • One of the Odin Trials reduces Senua's vision to barely a foot in front of her, and what she can see is blurred. The player must rely on sounds in the darkness and controller vibration (representing a breeze) to find their way. Also, there are things in the darkness that must be avoided.
  • Legendary Weapon: Gramr, the legendary sword of Sigmund from the Völsunga saga, is claimed by Senua before finally entering Hela's domain. True to the original myth, she pulls it from the trunk of a massive tree.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Is it real? Is it in her head? We may never know for sure. The point is: it's real for her.
  • Medium Blending: Done subtly. Actual camerawork is sometimes imposed over cutscenes to materialize the people Senua knew in her life, such as Druth, Dillion, her mother, and her father.
  • Mental Story: The story is entirely experienced from the perspective of Senua's psychotic mind. Whether her journey to Hel is happening in reality is unclear, but it's all real to Senua.
  • Mental Monster: Senua is a Pict warrior traumatized by a Viking raid who is Hearing Voices. Her journey into the underworld to rescue her deceased lover Dillion is seen Through the Eyes of Madness, and the hazards and monsters she faces may simply be manifestations of her traumas. The Big Bad goddess of Hel, Hela speaks with the voice Senua hears in her mind, identified as The Shadow, and The Shadow is the voice of Senua's abusive father Zynbel.
  • Narrative Backpedaling: When Senua is first exposed to the Rot, she crawls in agony as her body shrivels into a black wound before dying with the camera in a close zoom on her open eyes. The camera then pulls back slightly to reveal Senua standing witness to this beside her corpse and The Narrator calling the event a vision of things to come.
  • Neck Lift: After losing in the final battle, Hela picks up Senua by the neck and fatally stabs her with her own sword. Or so it seems.
  • Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: Zig-Zagged all over the place: Senua's magic could be derived from her psychosis, entirely independent of it, or all in her head. Senua's father and Druth both see Senua's illness as supernatural, however both of their approaches are shown to be flawed at best. The most sympathetic character, Dillion, just accepts her and doesn't really look into her metaphysical implications.
  • Never Suicide: A flashback near the end reveals that Senua's mother didn't kill herself - her husband burned her at the stake, with five-year-old Senua watching. He claims he did it because she defied the gods. Senua is pretty sure it's because she defied him.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Druth. While he clearly means well, the rather disturbing Norse myths he tells Senua become the basis of some of her darkest hallucinations.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A lot of the game is spent just wandering around sunlit forests and empty houses. Those parts are arguably more creepy than the overtly supernatural horror scenes. The Narrator claiming in the intro that "they" are watching you and asking if you can see them (you can't) doesn't exactly help.
  • "Oh, Crap!" Fakeout: Subverted. During the finale Senua claims to give up on restoring Dillian, before breaking into laughter and saying "Is that what you want me to say?". However, as it slowly becomes clear that she actually can't bring him back, she goes into a very real mental breakdown.
  • One-Steve Limit: Senua uses the sword Gramr against Hela's guardian Garmr. For obvious reasons, the latter only identified as Garmr, but usually called "the Beast".
  • Permadeath: The rot that Senua gains after her first death, which will crawl up her body with every death, wiping all save data if it reaches her head. Except not really. You can die as many times as you want and your save data won't be touched. The warning about deleted save files turns out to be less about gameplay mechanics and more about the fear and paranoia Senua feels.
  • Perspective Magic: The rune puzzles work this way. From the correct angle, some background objects align so to form certain runes, which you have to focus on to open the door. The Valravn puzzles are similar, but instead of background objects, there are shining fragments hanging in the air, and you have to find the right perspective for them to form Valravn's sigil.
  • Photo Mode: Comes with custom camera pans and filters.
  • Psychological Torment Zone: Senua is already troubled by her mental illness before the story begins, but the landscape of Helheim does everything it can do to aid her madness.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The first two bosses, the brutish, fiery Surtr and the crafty, agile Valravn.
  • Rescued from the Underworld: Senua's goal is to get into Helheim and recover Dillion's soul from Hela.
  • Rivers of Blood: The Sea of Corpses. It's all in Senua's mind, but it's still disturbing as hell.
  • Scenery Gorn: Many areas of the game have sections littered with dead bodies, killed in several different and gruesome ways. However, the Sea of Corpses takes the cake when it comes to gorn.
  • Scenery Porn: Lots of it. The game is full of impressive vistas and one of the prettiest games ever made with Unreal Engine 4.
  • Sequel Hook: After dropping Dillion's skull into an abyss, Senua beckons the player into following her, as there is "another story to tell". The narrator agrees. This is more likely a call-back to the beginning of the game where the narrator says that there will be no more stories after this one. It's meant to show that she is moving on.
  • Shout-Out: The photo mode's Deliberately Monochrome black and white filter is named Schindler.
  • Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness: During introduction, the Narrator, one of the two most prominent voices in Senua's head, acknowledges the player as a new voice and narrates her story to you throughout the game. Senua looks directly into the camera at several key moments, although whether she is addressing the player is uncertain.
    • The VR Edition makes this much less uncertain, considering Senua actually makes eye-contact with the player.
  • Shown Their Work:
  • Solve The Soupcans: Justified example. Many of the riddles seem nonsensical - why does opening gates depend on aligning random objects in your line of sight so they form a pattern? Why does repairing bridges require viewing floating fragments in a way that creates an optical illusion? Because either the Viking underworld and its god of illusions Valravn work that way or Senua's mind does.
  • Souls-like RPG: The emphasis on dodge mechanics, as well as the boss fights, are clearly in this mould.
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: After her original sword is broken, Senua completes trials to reforge the magical blade Gramr which will enable her to combat Hela. In gameplay, acquiring the sword unlocks a new Charged Attack (that can also allows her to hold the charge and dodge, enabling an immediate counterattack).
  • Talking to Themself: Senua speaks into the mirror she carries at one point, hearing The Shadow speak from her reflection.
  • To Hell and Back: The entire plot of the game is either Senua doing this, or the events that lead up to it being Senua's only choice.
  • Trauma Button: Pitch darkness, and to a lesser extent fire, serve as these to Senua.
  • Two-Faced: Hela's body is split between pale flesh covered in runes and charred black scars with embers burning.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The game indicates that there are a set amount of deaths the player can have before their save game is wiped and they are forced to start over. Player experimentation indicates that this is not true, but rather intended to impart some of Senua's fear onto the player.
    • The game itself still does this to a degree. Senua's voices directly communicate with the player at certain points of the game, and the entire adventure blurs the line between the real world and Senua's mind quite frequently.
  • Unwinnable Training Simulation: Senua's first fight scene turns out to be a vision where the player had to fail in order for a cutscene to take over.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Hela speaks with the voice of The Shadow, a menacing male voice from within Senua's mind. The Shadow is the voice of Senua's father Zynbel, but altered and warped to be even more intense and intimidating than his human voice.
  • Villain Has a Point: In the final showdown with Hela, Senua comes to realise that Zynbel referring to her mental state as a "darkness" was an ignorant, fearful lie. Zynbel/Hela (it's hard to tell) counters by pointing out that if there is no supernatural darkness and no Hel, then Senua's quest to restore Dillion's soul is impossible. Senua ignores him and fights on, but it's only when she's defeated and lets go of Dillion's memory that she is able to find peace.
  • Wake-Up Call Boss: Valravn. While Surtr is more powerful, he is slow and easy to predict. Valravn on the other hand flies across the stage, makes himself invulnerable multiple times, summons mooks and can attack from a distance. Any player who hasn't fully gotten familiar with the controls yet will probably struggle against him.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Hellblade


Senua in Hela's realm

At the final stage of the game, Senua is being assaulted by increasingly many enemies as she approaches Hela.

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