Once again, this post contains massive spoilers and a lot of analytical rambling. Spoiler-phobes and non-academics, please stop reading now.
I have replayed Heavens Feel and collected all the remaining Tiger Stamps, and I am now absolutely convinced that Heavens Feel is the best route of the visual novel. It’s not my favourite route, which still belongs to Fate. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that HF offers the perfect climax to the entire FSN experience: a satisfying, poignant, and emotionally impactful closure that challenges everything that you believe in.
I can perfectly understand why HF is the least favourite route for many players. I was in the same boat when I first completed it 4 months ago. There are very strong themes of rape, incest, and child abuse — enough to make even the most stoic gamer’s stomach churn. Sakura essentially gets away with mass murder without punishment for the sins she commits, a complete U-turn from the heroines of the previous routes: Saber’s noble and gallant figure, and Rin’s Little-Miss-Perfect-Tsundere demeanour.
Fate introduced us to what it means to be a Hero, and all the double-sided ironies and dualities that come along with it. Saber’s life of valour and virtue which brought her betrayal and ruin. Contrast this with Gilgamesh’s gluttony of wealth and selfish pride — it made him the King of Heroes indeed, but what sort of hero plunders and destroys his own country?
Unlimited Blade Works showed us the dramatic and important concept of idealism — how our own beliefs and convictions can have a powerful effect, even if it leads to our ultimate downfall in the end.
Heavens Feel breaks every rule established in the first two routes, and challenges us with the question: can we throw away all of our ideals, everything that we ever believed in, in order to save the life of just one person?
Correction: can we throw away our very self in order to save one person?
Everything in this world has a balance. In exchange for great power or miracles, an equal compensation must be offered. I found Archer’s left arm to be the perfect metaphor for Shirou’s self-sacrifice. Shirou slowly gives up his humanity — his body, his mind, his memories — exchanging it for the (inhuman) strength he needs to overcome Black Berserker and Black Saber.
In Bad End #38, Shirou manages to defeat Black Saber in a pure, one-on-one battle of swordsmanship. It is a Pyrrhic victory, as Shirou’s mind dies before he can deal the fatal killing blow to Saber’s regenerating body. A win is still a win however. How many heroes, or a human Master in Shirou’s case, can lay claim to defeating Saber in a duel? Especially Black Saber, whose strength and skills far exceed that of vanilla Saber.
In exchange for great power or miracles, an equal compensation must be offered. What a power indeed.
Eventually, if you play through HF to its True Ending, Shirou is forced to sacrifice someone else to save Sakura. Someone very close and dear to him. In his own words: “Neither regret nor a confession will bring forgiveness…. I’ll keep sacrificing important things for the one I love”.
It sounds easy to sacrifice one’s own self… but how many of us can stand up and truly say that it is okay to sacrifice other people? This was the most critical point of HF for me, and left me in a complete daze. I could finally emphatize with Shirou and all of his actions. Eternal, in his excellent blog analysis of Heavens Feel, sums it all up nicely:
There are things in life that give us happiness, and in order to have some semblance of a human life, we must protect these things at the cost of all else.
To quote one of my favourite lines from Tsukihime: “Sadness is easy to see, happiness is difficult to understand”. Indeed, the path to one’s happiness is never a straight road, fraught with many unusual obstacles that must be overcome.
Did I mention that Bad End #38 is absolutely awesome? Being the action fanboy that I am, Black Saber vs. Shirou is easily one of the best fights in the entire visual novel, on par with Fate’s Avalon projection. I’m glad that my masochistic efforts in obtaining all the Tiger Stamps were not in vain after all.
Well it was a fun and entertaining ride while it lasted. With the visual novel finally and utterly completed, I can at last move on to other FSN pursuits such as Fate/Zero.
Yay. And yeah. People die if they are killed.