Review: Sayonara Wild Hearts

Developer: Simogo

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive

Genre: Rhythm, Arcade

Platforms: PS4, PC, iOS, and Switch

Rating: E 10+

Price: $12.99

When I had heard about Sayonara Wild Hearts from a fellow writer, it sounded like just the game I was looking for. In the midst of Christmas-time festivities and preparations, I needed something I could pick up and play quickly on a down beat. Sayonara Wild Hearts (hereafter abbreviated SWH), with it’s short levels and bumping beats, fit the bill nicely. But, how good of a game is it? Let’s review!

Content Guide:

Tarot Cards: Tarot cards are a pivotal object within Sayonara Wild Hearts. They are not shown to be used in fortune telling, but have heavy symbolism, and each level is based on a different card.

Violence: While mostly not graphic, the game revolves around the idea of fighting different characters throughout the game and “breaking their hearts.”

Animated Blood/Vomit: One of the final battles involves a character being struck and either vomiting or bleeding.

High Speed Movement: Several levels involve high speed chases through city streets.

***While not garnering a full warning, it should be noted that the fast-paced movement of this game may cause a sense of motion sickness to individuals sensitive to quick motion and falling segments.

I could swear I’ve seen this stance somewhere before…

Review

Love at First Sight?

Upon starting the game, I quickly became aware that this wasn’t going to be an experience I am accustomed to. The title menu bounces with a pretty beat, with alternating colors and hearts scrolling in the background. The aesthetic has a very elegant feel to it, and would make an awesome dynamic wallpaper. All of the UI follows this theme, and is gorgeous.

Except, upon starting the game, a different story ensues. While everything is believable, visually the models feel off. I am not sure if I’m looking at a cartoon or an attempt at realism, or if everything is meant to be seen as art.  Environments are kind of cool to look at, but the characters all look like Wii Fit Trainer’s long lost cousins, models that are just made to get the point across, and no more. There are a few outliers, but for the most part I found the characters to be unimpressive, and there’s only so many falling sequences or beat flashes that will keep my interest.  

Each boss has moments like this, in which the character winds up for a final blow
Give Your Heart a Break

Each level in SWH is different, according to the tarot card it’s themed after; the tower card level is a spiraling tower staircase, etc. This is a cool idea, as it gives each level a point of interest to come back to. Thankfully each level is short though, because they can begin to feel repetitive, as some of the boss battles do. Boss battles in themselves are some of the most complicated levels in the game. While fighting bosses and avoiding their attacks, the player still has to worry about roadblocks and points like a normal level. 

Similar to how each level has its own theme, most of them also have their own form of gameplay. For example, in one level called “The World We Knew”, the character is immersed into a VR headset and has to do a variety of video game-inspired feats, such as dodging Tetris blocks and shooting targets reminiscent of Space Invaders.

There are some similarities in the levels, however. Every level in this game is self-running, with the player moving the character from side to side, or up and down. Many levels feature “falling” sequences, with the character travelling through objects as if sky-diving. This is similar to the drop sequences in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. When not falling, one other main gameplay feature is riding on a skateboard, car, or other vehicle. When I first tried it, it reminded me of a mobile game called Subway Surfers. In both games, the sequence involves the main character moving away from the screen in a chase, with objects and obstacles to collect and avoid. Lastly, several of the boss battles feature button-prompts which appear to the beat while fighting, similar to the Atlantica music minigames in Kingdom Hearts 2.

To really get good at SWH’s levels, one would have to practice them. That may be an obvious statement, but it’s sincere. In SWH, controls are almost entirely up to the player, trying to collect as many hearts as possible each level. The problem is, most levels move so fast that there is only a split second to try and move close enough to grab them accurately while the game auto-scrolls them away. It’s like one of those auto-running mobile games your mom has on her phone, but with a limited amount of level length and points. Thankfully, there’s an infinite amount of unpunished re-dos if you fail to see that one at the last second. It’s common for the arcade genre to have these things, but still feels a little annoying for my personal taste.

This level was my favorite, and also had one of my favorite tracks.
Listen To Your Heart

I hadn’t even begun playing SWH before hearing overwhelming praise over its soundtrack, and for good reason. SWH’s soundtrack is excellent, and more than completely complements the gameplay. My favorite tracks are definitely “Wild Hearts Never Die”, seconded by the titular “Sayonara Wild Hearts”. Out of all tracks, the ones with vocalization are particularly wonderful.

That being said, I dearly wish there was a soundtrack mode outside of replaying the levels. Granted, in our wonderful age of the internet, all I have to do is Google it and I have the soundtrack at my fingertips, but it would be a wonderful sense of accomplishment to have them in-game and available for a quick listen. In other games I commended for their soundtracks—such as The World Ends With You and Cave Story—the soundtracks double as unlockables. I just wish it was the same case here.

The problem with a fast-paced game (with a similarly fast-paced soundtrack) with no “relaxed mode” is that there isn’t any time to appreciate the music while playing the game. While writing this review, I’m listening to the OST of SWH and loving every second of it. But I’m also noticing something: I don’t remember hearing most of it the first time. I was too busy in the gameplay trying to get the highest score or press the button to the beat. Being so focused on what I was seeing, I took no notice to what I was actually hearing. I could see a “relaxed” mode with no points and limited obstacles being a wonderful add-on to the game— just riding my bike through the city chilling to the beats.

The potential meaning behind each villain intrigues me.
You’ll Be In My Heart

At face value, SWH’s story is about a girl who must restore the balance of the universe by breaking the hearts of those who have disrupted it. If it sounds weird, that’s probably because it is—at face value. I may just think this way because I am an art student, but I definitely believe there is more to it than meets the eye, a symbolism that isn’t stated but heavily implied.

Some of the extended symbolism is obvious, such as the coincidence of the main character’s “broken heart” and the universe “losing it’s harmony”. However, there are many more subjects I felt could have been symbolic, though I don’t know what the symbols are. For example, each villain in the game wears a mask of some sort: a pair of twin bosses wear two halves of a heart, one of the later bosses wears a VR mask, etc. I wonder if these villains are symbolic for different sides/insecurities that the main character is facing internally, or externally, and what each villain represents. Fans of the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask have long theorized that each character in the game represent each of the 5 stages of grief. It would be awesome if SWH functioned in the same way indiscreetly.

Although the story is very simple, this additional aspect makes it one of the best parts about the game. The theme of self-recovery and simple positivity is what makes this game stand out and presents a wonderful moral for men and women alike who have been devastated by a heartbreak.

Conclusion

My Heart Goes Out To You

Similar to The World Ends With You, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a piece of art. There are many great themes that can be easily taken away from this game, and they all feel good. The soundtrack is a masterpiece, and I love the intrigue it gives me to think deeply. 

Sadly, the gameplay is where this game lacks. There was nothing stopping me from blazing through each level, and nothing calls me back to play them, regardless of the additional content found outside of the campaign. Ultimately, I would definitely recommend this game, especially to anyone who may be hurting from a lost loved one or similar devastation, but I would be recommending it for its message rather than its execution.

But… What if I’m tone deaf?!?

Adam Mueller

Adam Mueller loves to play video games, watch anime, and think too much. Whenever he's not doing these things, he's attending college classes.

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