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SPOILER ALERT: I will be talking about a few of the endings from Heavy Rain so if you don't want to be spoiled, you probably shouldn't read this.
I just played through Heavy Rain again after not having touched it since its release in 2010. Since then, I have become a bit more critical when playing games, in hopes of being a better writer. I found something I wasn’t expecting to find. Some of the things I saw during my second playthrough actually made me regard one of those characters in an entirely different light.
Norman Jayden is the FBI agent you control during the game, an agent sent to help investigate the crimes of the Origami Killer. Players get to control him investigating leads and putting together the case in the police way. Being part of the FBI means he has a neat little way-too-futuristic tool called ARI (Augmented Reality Interface) made up of a pair of shades and a special glove. Think Minority Report’s hand-waving interface mixed with a very sophisticated forensic tracker and full database on everyone in the world and you’ll know exactly what it is. Oh, it can also simulate virtual reality environments and has some little games.
Norman also has a little problem, an addiction to the drug Triptocaine, a little blue vial of some liquid future drug. Over the course of the game, the player is given the option to have Norman take the drug to calm his shakes or simply wait it out. But is he really addicted to the Triptocaine? Or is he, as I came to believe during my second playthrough of Heavy Rain, actually addicted to ARI?
No one in the game ever says exactly what the blue drug is for. All we know is that when Norman takes it, his shakes and blurry vision goes away. Couldn’t it be a drug that counteracts the negative effects of too much ARI use? Maybe he doesn’t want to take it because he thinks he can beat it on his own. He is worried about people noticing his little events but he probably doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. The ARI technology also seems very high-end at this point and it’s possible no one else would understand what was going on. Seeing the vial might make people think he is a drug addict, even if Triptocaine was a prescription drug for ARI use.
Heavy Rain has a variety of endings for each of its four characters based on what you did in the game. Two of Norman’s endings are of particular interest to me in this argument. One of them occurs if you solve the case and save Shaun Mars, the last victim of the Origami Killer. Norman is shown throwing away his vial of Triptocaine and returning to his office at the FBI. He takes off the ARI glasses for a break and notices digital tanks, fragments of one of ARI’s game modes, invade his reality. This is a very clear tell that what Norman was actually addicted to was ARI and it is still affecting him.
The other ending of interest is what happens if Norman gives up on the case and Shaun Mars dies. Norman is shown in one of ARI’s virtual reality environments but without his glasses. He is talking to someone we can’t originally see but are eventually shown is another Norman. Norman then goes on to kill himself with a Triptocaine overdose out of guilt for messing up the case. Norman again sees ARI elements in his reality, an effect of overusing ARI to a point where it starts to affect his mind. Both of these endings make a point of using ARI assets to show his frayed mind and that can’t just be a coincidence.
There are a few points where I can see someone going “But wait, what about…?” One of these is the constant nosebleeds that Norman gets when not taking Triptocaine. That has to be a drug-related symptom, right? Not necessarily. Nosebleeds can be triggered by intense stress and an addiction to ARI could certainly cause that to happen. Another point of contention may be the overdose scene in that “bad” ending. Just because he overdoses on Tripto doesn’t mean it was a bad drug. It’s extremely easy to overdose on prescription drugs as well and it makes sense that Norman took more than the normal amount to try and get the ARI fever dreams to stop.
This clever little trick never occurred to me on my first playthrough of Heavy Rain. Seeing it now, it all seems so clear. We are never told what the drug actually does because that would make it extremely obvious. All the symptoms that Norman shows happened not because he was having Tripto withdrawals but because he wasn’t taking it to cope with the side-effects of ARI usage. Two of Norman’s four endings show him having an ARI-related hallucination.