The Backlog: If at first, you don’t succeed; die, die again in “Hades”

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Remember back when, in your rebellious teenage years, you tried to run away from home to spite your controlling parents? Well, this game is like that, except you are the prince of Hell and your father is Hades, God of the Underworld. Every time you run away from home you have to fight the souls of the dead first through the depths of Tartarus, then through the meadows of Asphodel and finally through the plains of Elysium, before you have a chance to reach the surface. Along the way, you’ll fight bosses straight out of Greek mythology and should you die, you end up back home in the House of Hades and must attempt your escape again.  

Responsible for games such as “Bastion,” “Transistor” and “Pyre,” Supergiant Games does it again with “Hades,” an action RPG roguelike, and boy is this game a masterpiece. 

Beginning with some brief exposition, the game thrusts players into the shoes of Zagreus, the son of Hades, as he tries to escape from the Underworld. After your first death, and you will die, you are introduced to a whole cast of characters from Greek mythology: Achilles, Hypnos, Nix, and more. Players can collect materials in the dungeon that allow them to permanently upgrade Zagreus and his abilities or unlock new weapons, making each consecutive run a little bit easier.  

The replayability of this game is nearly unparalleled. Players can unlock a total of six different weapons for Zagreus to use and, once used enough, each can be further upgraded to have different enchantments and abilities. Zagreus can also collect keepsakes from each story character which will give him an edge in battle, or improve his odds of surviving in the Underworld. Aside from these, the Olympian gods help Zagreus in his quest to escape the Underworld, granting him powerful boons along the way that may increase his health and damage or completely change the effects of his abilities. It’s safe to say that no single escape attempt can be the same. 

Gameplay is fast, fluid and fun. Controls are very responsive and the combat is addicting. The gameplay, at face level, is simple with its hack and slash mechanics but changes with each weapon and playstyle you have. Core gameplay mechanics stay pretty consistent throughout, but it’s the different weapons and boons that make up your build that changes how you approach each fight. Regardless, combat is challenging and intense.  

What really surprised me is the amount of content in this game. Certain items you collect in the dungeon, like gems, can be used to renovate parts of the house or your room for cosmetic purposes. You can also use them to build fountain rooms in the Underworld, which can restore some much needed health points and provide a moment of respite from cleaving through enemies. 

The art direction of “Hades” is fantastic. Everything in this game is visually appealing, from the House the Hades and the cosmetic additions you can get, to the many different chambers of the Underworld, to the depictions of Greek heroes and gods. It’s absolutely beautiful, and for someone who studied Greek mythology in high school, playing this game often feels like a dream —  watching these mythological characters brought to life on screen is remarkable. 

Where “Hades” really shines is that every single aspect of the game is interwoven together and enhances the experience. The entire cast of characters is fully voice-acted, giving characters from Greek mythology notable personalities and bringing them to life. A completely voice-acted cast is something that is rarely seen in roguelike indie games, who normally rely on text-only dialogue. The voice acting is brilliant and helps illustrate relationships between characters. Zagreus’ determined, yet sarcastic, personality and Hypnos’ aloof and silly character are both reinforced through their respective voice acting, something that text-only dialogue couldn’t illustrate. Meanwhile, the spiteful and tense relationship between Zagreus and Megaera, one of the Furies, can only be illustrated through their interactions. 

Aside from this, the story is well-written and dynamic. It unfolds after each consecutive escape attempt, and the closer you get to the surface, more of the story is unraveled before you. Characters will comment on how far you made it into the Underworld and certain Olympian gods will comment on who you have already received boons from. Every single character is well-written, and you can tell that the team at Supergiant Games did their research into Greek mythology. 

One of my favorite things about “Hades” is its soundtrack. The booming bass guitar and shredding electric guitar have no right going as hard as they do. It matches the action and pumps you up before the boss fights against one of the Furies, the Lernean Bone Hydra or Theseus and the Minotaur. The heavy metal music is exactly the type of music you need when fighting your way out of the Underworld.  

Overall, Supergiant Games has created quite an impressive game with “Hades.” It’s reminiscent of “Binding of Isaac,” and everything about “Hades” is cohesive; from the amazing cast to the story and gameplay, this game has so many hours of content that it’s well worth a lot more than its $25 retail price. You can tell that this game was a true labor of love. I have never played any of Supergiant’s previous games, despite hearing many good things about them, but I do hope that I get to play them in the future. 

Oh, and the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell, Cerberus? You can pet him. 

Rating: 5/5 

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