So I sat down to play… Sayonara Wild Hearts (2019)
Finished it in one sitting, mind you.
So I’m one of those weirdos that still read magazines, and one of my favorites is Edge Magazine. You wanna know why? Because every so often, I will read a preview or review of a game that I didn’t even know existed, and said review will be well-written and provide you with a thorough look of what the game is and why you’d probably like it.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is one of those games, and it goes to show how many games are out there these days when a game like this, seemingly tailor-made for me, comes out and I didn’t even know it existed. Even more interesting is the fact that the company behind this game, the Swedish developer Simogo, has already made four games prior to this one, and I didn’t know about those* either. Still, it’s good to know I can still be pleasantly surprised.
So why am I gushing about this game? For one, I love the whole retrowave sorta-80s aesthetic, as overused as it rapidly becoming, and rhythm/music games have always been one of my favorite genres. Sega’s Rez is one of my top-10 games ever, and no game has ever come close to recapturing its magic, not even its own pseudo-sequel Child of Eden. But Sayonara Wild Hearts is the closest thing to what Rez did almost twenty years ago.
But Sayonara Wild Hearts goes one step further when it comes to what it offers as a game. Rez as Jeff Minter once said is “Panzer Dragoon with its rave pants on” (hey, this was the early 2000s, rave was still relevant) and that is still true. But Sayonara Wild Hearts has no problems adding a little something to the mix. It starts as a sort of racing game, then it becomes more of a platformer, then a first-person uh, something, and there’s even a Rez-styled stage (complete with the same aiming system) there which I feel is a deliberate homage.
Another major difference between Sayonara Wild Hearts and Rez is their storytelling, and what they’re trying to say with their very existence. Rez is an abstract look at the nature of life, its meaning, and the concept of synaesthesia, which ends up raising far more questions than the very few and vague answers it presents. On the other hand, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a heartwarming story about heartbreak, about being and acting like an idiot, forgiving others and feeling good about who you are. It’s still fairly vague on its own right, but if you look at the right spots, the game’s heart will give you the answers you desire. I can’t help but feel that the whole Tarot-card theme is talking about something in specific, but I haven’t been able to figure that one yet.
All in all, however, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a very honest game, genuine in what it’s trying to say. No matter how badly your heart breaks, you’ll be fine. In a sense, it’s the High Fidelity of videogames, and I don’t think that’s too much of a coincidence given how important music is to both these two. It’s about dealing with your past in a way that paves a way for a better future. And Sayonara Wild Hearts as a whole, its gameplay, its presentation, its story is created in such a way that even in its simplicity effectively reminds you that you, even you, can be awesome. Which is a pivotal part of moving forward.
Moving forward is one thing this game does very well, too, if you are to fail in one stage. Rhythm games can get a bit frustrating if you keep losing at one specific point and having to go through repetitive music all the time, not to mention the music itself can become disjointed if you keep interrupting it with your constant failing. Not so with this game, however. Here the music is resumed seamlessly, at just the right note, and in a way that doesn’t sound more repetitive than the average pop song you’d hear on the radio. What I’m getting at here is that the sound design is fucking fantastic. The music that accompanies every stage is also suitably great.
Another thing about moving forward presented in Sayonara Wild Hearts is that this is the rare game where you chase after your demons, fight them and then eventually forgive them. So many videogames are about violence, it’s really refreshing to see a game actually do this. This is a game about a person, our protagonist the Fool, and she feels real; in reality there are no demons, just confused people who end up hurting one another without meaning to. Forgiveness is a big step in moving forward.
All that being said, this isn’t a long game, however. I started playing late at night, thinking I’d play through a level or two and ended up playing through the whole thing in under 100 minutes. But I was having so much fun that I didn’t want to stop, and this game definitely invites replaying it -especially considering that it has a score system and it actually grades you on it, assigning medals according to your performance. Remember when games still had a scoring system?
Moreover, it might feel sometimes that a level ends up just when things are getting interest, and when the music is reaching its crescendo. But the more I played, the more I realized that this works in the game’s favor, as it always leaves you wanting more, wanting to get on that next level right away. It goes very well with the game’s arcade-y feeling, which is something refreshing in today’s gaming landscape where games try to keep you playing with impossibly long lists of objectives and log-in rewards. And hey, Simogo calls this a “Pop Album Video Game”, and what is a good pop song if not two or three minutes of bliss?
While on the subject, Sayonara Wild Hearts is easy enough that most people should be able to finish it without too much hassle. There are some Quick Time Events but they are very lenient and you get a lot of visual and audio cues to get them right, but there are some driving parts that I think will give a lot people trouble. Some of the earlier stages especially are very disorienting and it’s easy to make a mistake while navigating a stage. And while the game is easy on a surface level, getting a gold medal on a stage is actually quite difficult, and requires you to make quick decision and pay a lot of attention.
But this is what great level design is all about. Easy enough to not discourage anyone, fun so that you want to replay it, and with added incentives to complete once you start replaying it. The game also presents you with several visual and audio clues in order to guide you towards making the right action at the right time, so even Rez’s synaesthesia plays a role here.
I can’t finish this post without talking about my favorite stage in quite a while. During the middle part of the game, you fight two twins -or rather, a person you split in two in a previous level (hey, this game is fairly messed up). They have a special power in which whenever one of them clicks their fingers, the stage you’re in changes. And they do this every other second, while the music and visuals of the game change accordingly to accumulate this change. It’s really quite amazing. I know that doesn’t make much sense, so here’s a video of me playing this stage fairly badly. Spoilers and all.
So, yeah. That’s Sayonara Wild Hearts. A short, warm and fuzzy game that will chip away at your bitterness, charm you with its heart and make you smile by reminding you that we call all be fools at times, and how that is a good thing. One of my favorite games of this decade.
Also, they have Queen Latifah as the narrator! How cool is that?
*Having looked into it, I did know of Year Walk but the rest of their games were released on iOS devices so it’s not surprising I didn’t know about them. I loathe playing games on mobile devices.