Sayonara Wild Hearts
Wild Hearts Never Die
In 2019, Sayonara Wild Hearts was released on PC and consoles, quickly becoming an indie darling known for its simplistic yet expressive gameplay. It has been the topic of many thought pieces, dissecting its plot and content and revealing hidden messages about the title itself. This will be less of a review of the game itself but rather my own interpretations of Sayonara Wild Hearts, especially how it has affected me in the short time it had me in its grasp.
The story is told through its opening cutscene and ending cutscenes. The three divine arcana who have protected the universe is threatened by a rogue arcanum, Death, alongside their accomplices The Devil, The Moon, The Lovers, and The Hermit. The protagonist is a young woman who is currently going through a rough heartbreak and transforms into The Fool, using the last remaining bit of strength from the divine arcana, to take back the hearts of the evil arcana and restore balance to the universe.
All Hail The Queen
I'll just come out and say it, yes, it is very much giving Persona vibes with emphasis on 22 of the major arcana complete with blessing the protagonist with their powers in the form of a butterfly. You could even argue that the masquerade mask is similar to Joker's mask from Persona 5, but I feel the masquerade mask means something else which I'll get to eventually. The player is introduced to one of the major arcana the moment they start a new game, courtesy of the game's narrator, Queen Latifah, who voices The Magician.
The first bounty in Sayonara Wild Hearts is the Dancing Devils, a street gang represented by The Devil arcana. Each bounty is prefaced with a prequel stage known as a "Heartbreak." As the opening sequence introduces the player to The Fool, she uses one of her equipped tarot cards, the Wheel of Fortune, to give herself a set of Wheels. This is part of Sayonara Wild Hearts's charm. It subtly introduces the player to each of the important arcana as the player progresses through the game.
Dancing With The Arcana In The Pale Moonlight
In its purest form, Sayonara Wild Hearts is an on-rails "auto runner" where the objective is to get to the finish line by scoring as many points as possible. Collecting hearts, avoiding obstacles in the knick of time, and pressing button prompts to the rhythm of the beat. The soundtrack is a mix of original songs and remixes to classics including Clair De Lune. The Debussy piece serves as the game's intro which again rewards players who know about the piece's origins.
Clair De Lune is also the name of a poem by the French poet Paul Verlaine, which when roughly translated into English, tells a story about a person's soul searching amongst various masquerades and dancing with others who share a similar burden. This correlates to the "masquerade mask" prominent to The Fool and the rest of the arcana she fights. Combat in Sayonara Wild Hearts is less visceral and more of a dance, with each person waiting for the other to make their move. Everyone's movements are similar to that of a waltz, in which defeat leads The Fool to take their heart. The relationships between each of the arcana are more like friendly rivalries.
Take Your Heart
The best early example of this is the fight with The Lovers, who tosses The Fool their sword to engage in a sword fight. Another example is The Hermit turning The Fool into a game cartridge and inserting the cartridge into their visor, in a way to have her see what "The Hermit" sees. With the exception of Death, each fight is intimate and playful, putting The Fool through various trials she must overcome. Aside from the Wheel of Fortune used as a motorcycle, she rides a white stag based on The Emperor, drives a Corvette-like car which is The Chariot and uses a bow that represents Temperance.
One comparison I've seen a lot when describing Sayonara Wild Hearts is games like Rez and Panzer Dragoon which isn't too far off. However, I personally compared it to NiGHTS Into Dreams as similarly, the protagonist defeats their enemies afflicting others' dreams with poise and grace (and collecting everything in a level of course). There isn't any form of traditional combat as even the Temperance sections merely require the player to highlight as many targets as possible before the next music cue.
Music is an integral part of Sayonara Wild Hearts as the lyrics alone explains the plot as well as the inner thoughts of the various arcana, which extends to the protagonist themselves. We as the player do not know the details of the protagonist's heartbreak and the music helps provide context to the situation. However, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a game with a message purposefully left shrouded in ambiguity. By the end of the game, I felt like the protagonist needed to experience self-love rather than the love of others.
Mild spoilers for the end of the game, but at the end of Death's defeat, The Fool realizes that the one thing each arcana needed wasn't violence, but love. She discovers this as The Fool takes an image of their own, wanting to defeat the protagonist to claim her powers for themselves. How the protagonist vanquishes The Fool is by kissing them on the cheek, which is then repeated towards every arcana she had defeated.
Healing Is Universal, Especially Over Heart Break
During the final cinematic, the player sees the young woman again with the message "She has fallen so much she fell right back into her groove." It led me to think that the plot for Sayonara Wild Hearts was deeper than "punishing the rogue arcana and restoring balance to the universe." It was a reflection of the protagonist herself. Generally speaking, it's difficult to forgive yourself for going through heartbreak. Heartbreak doesn't necessarily mean "a relationship break-up" as anything can be considered powerful enough to break "one's heart." Self-reflection is often needed and difficult to do, which was why the ending hit me the hardest.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a very short game and if you're not concerned with getting all golds, you can easily breeze through it in an hour. Its replayability coupled with its amazing art, aesthetic, and soundtrack is a work of art I recommend anyone to play. Perhaps it will offer the same self-reflection as the game has done for me. Regardless, don't let the simple gameplay deter you from what was 2019's indie darling, proving time again that video games are a work of art.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.