Multi award nominated and winner of the Artistic Achievement BAFTA Games Award, Sayonara Wild Hearts is one of those rare things that comes along that really evades an explanation of what it is. The easiest and most commonly used description is a “pop album video game” and once you reach the start menu screen, you’ll understand why…
Created by Swedish developer Simogo and published by Annapurna Interactive, Sayonara Wild Hearts follows the journey of a young woman through heartbreak in the setting of a surreal, artistic landscape. The back story is narrated to you so you can have a basic understanding of what in the world is happening, and so that you’re sure nobody has “slipped you a mickey” before you started.
The main character is a young woman who has recently experienced a great heartbreak which was so strong that it echoed across time and space and is heard in an alternate universe that is watched over by three “Divine Arcana of the Tarot”. Some time ago in this universe, Death and her allies stole and hid all of harmony in their hearts so the Divine Arcana created a heroine from the shards of a broken heart, which is where the young woman comes in.
The young woman is transported to this world and is tasked with chasing down and collecting the stolen harmony from each of the villains. This parallels and represents a metaphorical journey of recovery from heartbreak. Unless you’ve not lived, we have all at some point felt the pain of love and loss, so this story may spark the feeling in your stomach as you remember your past experiences.
But, I believe this journey of recovery can be transferred to anything the player has experienced, whether it’s heartbreak, illness or a major setback in life. This could even apply to the world as a whole with the current pandemic, I can imagine the lead character representing humanity as we recover through these hard and uncertain times.
What works well for the gameplay of Sayonara Wild Hearts is that it is easy to learn but it can be difficult to master. And you won’t be finding any complicated button combos here. It’s back to basics with directions and any action button when prompted.
I’ve played this on a PS4 but with controls this simple, anyone could play this on any system. Some levels will require a bit more focus than others when you really need to aim where you’re going in order to progress, but each level has so many checkpoints that you don’t need to worry about failing too much. And if by any chance you are struggling, the game will ask if you want to skip that part so nothing is kept from the player from enjoying this marvellous musical work of art.
The game could be confused with a rhythm game, but it is not reliant on being accurate with the beat. Even when the quick-time events crop up, if you’re off time then it doesn’t really matter; you’re able to cruise through the game enjoying the smooth experience.
Things are a little harder once you’ve finished the game for the first time and challenges (in the form of the zodiac) become available. One requires you to achieve a gold rank in all tracks, which is easier said than done, and another tasks you with collecting all square heart coins that have been placed in more difficult locations that are easily missed.
All that being said, there is no real challenge to this game and it’s aimed more at casual gamers or the more artistic minded individuals.
At the core, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a music album. And what goes hand-in-hand with music? Music videos of course. I can easily imagine each of these levels appearing on a music TV channel with its bright, vibrant colours and almost comic book art style matching the beat of the music so smoothly that it’s a pleasure to watch. So much so that I wouldn’t blame any player for forgetting they have control over the character on screen!
There are various settings throughout the game that are travelled through using vehicles and even animals. A motorbike chase through busy city roads collecting hearts as you go brings to mind such films as Tron with its bright neon lights and flashes of colour. Various Japanese anime influences can be felt in a later section when riding a stag through the forests, only to be confronted with a giant three-headed robot wolf brings to mind my childhood favourite Digimon! All these features come together to make one beautiful anthology that should be experienced as one brilliant story.
This may well be an interactive music video album, but it hasn’t forgotten that it is still a video game. Eagle-eyed gamers may spot little references to some classic gaming juggernauts throughout. In one section, if you collect a little red mushroom, your character grows in size – a nice little nod to Super Mario! During one level, you are actually transformed into a video game cartridge and inserted into a VR headset where you will face Space Invaders and even have to dodge some Tetris blocks as they descend towards you at different speeds, something I thought was a brilliant addition.
There may be sections however that can be a little trippy when you’re not used to the visuals yet as the game shifts between two dimensions and three, sending you across the screen, into and out of it too. But, after ten to fifteen minutes of game time, this stopped affecting me and I was able to concentrate on and enjoy what laid ahead.
Music & Audio
As you may have gathered, the music is where this game really shines. Simogo had award winning sound designer Daniel Olsen and composer Jonathan Eng create all new music for this project. Vocals are performed by Swedish singer-songwriter Linnea Olsson, someone I personally had never heard of, but after hearing her iridescent voice, I can honestly say I’m a fan!
Part synth-pop, part chase score and part atmospheric chill-out, Sayonara Wild Hearts’ soundtrack gives the game its vital power boost. As stated earlier, each level plays out across a different track and the designers have tuned the gameplay in with this as you play to the beat. The music will swell into a chorus as you pick up speed and are launched into a flying sequence and as you collect the little hearts across each track, if you’re paying attention then you’ll notice that they play as smaller intricate notes that deepen the gameplay/music connection.
In terms of voice acting, there really isn’t much to say here. The only voice outside of the soundtrack is the narrator, with none other than Queen Latifah which was a pleasant surprise. She does a fantastic job introducing us to our heroine and setting up/wrapping up the narrative, but this is all that is required.
Now, I’m personally not hugely interested in music. I enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but I never pay much attention to a soundtrack. This game puts the music in the forefront where most modern games focus on a cinematic experience. It’s safe to say that you can just enjoy the music on its own without ever playing the game as the album was released separately as well. I found myself playing it while I was doing some household chores!
If this game doesn’t interest you, I would still highly recommend giving the soundtrack a listen, especially if you enjoy a chilled indie synth-pop vibe.
I’ve said it before, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a rare thing that evades explanation. I really am struggling to summarise this game in any way. But if I have to, I’d say it’s a musical masterpiece. It’s an emotional rollercoaster (almost literally). It’s a journey.
I promise you that if you play this, it will stay with you for a while and make you think or reminisce about your life experiences. For a game that’s run time is just over an hour, it is rather heavy yet I would implore you to give it a go.
The music is brilliantly original, the visuals have a sense of familiarity that you will find inviting, and the gameplay is simplistic enough to keep you engaged. For those who really do need a challenge, there are plenty to take on, giving it a replay value too. Overall, this is a must play for new and old gamers.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is available for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, macOS, iOS, Microsoft Windows and Xbox One.