Hellblade was announced to be in development this week during Sony’s Gamescom presser. All we had to go on was a brief trailer (see bottom of article) with no signs of gameplay. But the short reveal was enough to get gamers thinking that the new Ninja Theory game was the long-awaited Heavenly Sword sequel. Join us for a deeper look at what we know so far and we’ll examine the connections between the two games.
The game will release digitally, but Ninja Theory has said that Hellblade will be an “independent AAA” title. The studio’s Product Development Ninja (manager?) Don Matthews posted: “We’re calling Hellblade an ‘Independent AAA’ game, by which we mean that it will be developed and published independently but with all the quality and production values of any AAA game on the market.
Why have we chosen to self-publish this game? Certain types of game are very difficult to make for AAA retail without being watered down or otherwise compromised for a mass audience. This is especially true of sword-based combat games or games of a distinctive style or unusual subject matter. We want to make a smaller, more focused game experience that is uncompromising in its combat, art and story, and deliver this digitally at a lower price.” [PS blog]
The talk of avoiding ‘watered down’ elements indicates that this could be a very bloody game, which makes sense with a game filled with swords. Heavenly Sword was a 15, despite the game being very light on blood, so we’re expecting a few lopped off limbs for this one.
She looks familiar
There’s no denying that the female warrior in the Hellblade trailer bares a remarkable resemblance to Kai, the sidekick character fromHeavenly Sword, providing the main fuel to the argument that this is indeed a sequel. Since the reveal though, Ninja Theory has named the character Senua. They also briefly mention the inspiration behind the game:
“The announcement trailer that we’ve just released is intended to give you a taste of the AAA quality that we’re planning on delivering, and to also introduce you to the Hellblade world, which is based on Celtic myth. The trailer is focused on Senua, Hellblade’s protagonist as she embarks on a very personal journey through a hellish underworld.” PS Blog
A quick web search on ‘Senua’ tells of a Celtic goddess called Senuna, who has also been referred to as Senua in some texts. Senuna was possibly a river goddess, who would later be assimilated by the Romans to become Minerva, giving her more of a warrior aesthetic.
So if this is indeed a new character, we still have to examine the similarities to Kai that can’t be mere coincidence. The tribal makeup around the eyes looks very similar, leading us to the possibility that maybe this version of Senua is a part of same clan as Kai. Baring in mind Kai was the sole survivor of her clan after Flying Fox led King Bohan’s army to wipe them out, it would make more sense thatHellblade is a prequel to Heavenly Sword. Given the feel of the concept art shown so far, it could even be placed quite some time before, maybe even a few hundred years earlier. The stone circle shown in the trailer has déjà vu written all over it if you remember the six swords in a circle that made up the underworld section between chapters in Heavenly Sword, perhaps indicting this is what was on the other side where Nariko waited in ‘limbo’ on the chapter select screen.
The Kai connection
As much as it makes sense that this is more of a prequel, with a new character, it’s hard to dismiss the notion that Senua is Kai and the events are taking place a few years after Heavenly Sword. Let’s take a look at the evidence.
The face, head-dress and eye makeup are the first signs that the two are the same person. But what about the fact that Kai favoured a crossbow and despite her age seemed to have the mental age of a five-year old? This new girl has a sword and doesn’t look like she dances in an ‘aeroplane’ motion when wandering up to enemy forts much.
Kai’s state of mind could easily be attributed to witnessing the massacre of her people at an early age. She had to fend for herself until Nariko found her alone in the wilds. During Heavenly Sword(spoiler) she avenges the death of her clan by killing Flying Fox. Afterwards there are slight signs of her mental recovery with the potential for her to have a normal life without the need for her mind to hide in the child-like trance she’s created since the massacre.
At the end of the game (again, spoilers) Nariko entrusts the titular Heavenly Sword to Kai for safekeeping and given the powerful nature of the blade, it wouldn’t be surprising that she’ll one day have to protect it from more power-hungry despots.
Clearly, the sword in the Hellblade trailer is very different looking than the one in Heavenly Sword. But the name suggests a relation. Rather than the new one being some sort of polar opposite, perhaps they are both rooted in evil. In Heavenly Sword the tribe desperate to protect the blade believed it was a gift from the heavens, but by the end of the game, Nariko had realised it really wasn’t: “I’m not sent from heaven father. And neither is the sword.” To be fair, (final spoiler, honest) it eventually kills those that dare to wield it. That seems like quite a Hellblade if ever there was one.
Why the mystery then?
Perhaps subtle similarities are as close as we’ll get to the game being set in the same universe because of a different reason – copyright. Despite Ninja Theory cosying up to Sony during the Gamescom presser, they will be self-publishing Hellblade. Initially on PS4, but the option to extend the game to other platforms is there. The Heavenly Sword IP and presumably the characters within are owned by Sony. Or they were at least when the game launched in 2007. But what are the chances they’d relinquish any rights to Ninja Theory or that the copyright expired after a number of years?
The copyright issue is arguably the most damning evidence that Hellblade isn’t a Heavenly Swordgame, but the similarities between Kai and Senua are just too big to ignore at this stage. Ninja Theory’s concept of ‘independent AAA’ sounds like a big challenge, especially when we’re so used to their games being some of the best-looking games around. We don’t even know if the game will play out in a similar 3D environment or be transferred to a 2D plane, which would make more sense given the smaller team working on the game compared to their other titles. Either way, we’re keeping our fingers crossed for that Heavenly Sword connection when we learn more about the game going forwards.