HADES is all about getting rid of your divine father’s hold on your freedom
Introduction to the Underworld
Who hasn’t wondered, at a certain point in their lives, what would happen if we slapped Tumblr into a Juicero and made the juice into setting, characters and concept of a videogame? The answer may surprise you:
enter Zagreus, son of Hades, lord of Hades, a young god scantily clothed and as shredded as packed cheese (exactly as our ancestor would have wanted, oh look at that I’m shedding a tear). Our boy Zagreus is kind of a big deal in the underworld, but for some reason seems determined to leave his kingdom behind and get to the… land of the living?
Hades lands some heavy hits since the first minute of gameplay, sporting a delightful artstyle halfway through illustration and painting, whose quality stays constant during all game experience, and bestows an unmistakable personality on every character, although the well curated dialogues and masterful voice acting play a very relevant part in that.
The soundtracks are just… surreal. The genre *squints at screen to read better* err… Mediterranean Prog-Rock Halloween..? I kinda know what these three words mean separately… yeah, whatever, it’s amazing. If the tracks sound weird and uncommon that’s likely because of the presence of traditional turkish and greek musical instruments, like lavta, baglama and bouzouki. Yes you’re pronouncing them wrong.
I haven’t put my fingers on the keyboard yet, and I can already tell this isn’t just any game. I step forward. Enemies to defeat, mh, I expected that. Starting weapon? Sword. I expected that as well.
From this points forward NOTHING of what happens had ever even grazed my dreams.
Unexpected goodies from heaven
I find a buff on the floor, I interact with it and Athena, the goddess Athena, blesses me with a Boon, which alters the moveset of my weapon.
I accept, not yet realizing, then, I freeze. My eyes unfocus. I swallow. If Athena just gifted me her aegis, then this means… nah. No way…
I clear a couple more rooms, another boon, this time Artemis bestows her peerless fighting precision on me. Silence falls. I stop breathing as my mind is flooded by calculations. A bunch of Boons every run, times a bunch of gods, times a bunch of different Boons for each god…
Oh, my, gah…
The sheer replayability of this game…
Two seconds later I am mauled with a club the size of a Land Rover and die. The death screen contains a due reference to Dark Souls. Nice.
I come back to… err… death inside a pool of blood, and a surreal conversation follows, first with Hypnos, which, judging from his sassy lines, has already seen this scene a couple times, and with big bad dad Hades himself, which is presented to us in the guise of an imposing jungian tyrant.
By the way, the dialogues are another strength of the game. They are written to feel natural, and to smoothly give exposition about the speakers and their relationship.
Momma Nyx reveals us some lore, which I’m not relaying in the article so you can go and experience it by yourself. I go through my room and update my stats by looking in my fancy mirror. The room is a mess, though, maybe I should clean it before I go about fixing the world.
I can’t find a “clean the room” input. I shed a couple of lobster tears.
There’s some sort of open space where I can limit test my current weapon or… one of the other weapons, each with their own moveset… and a set of enchantments to change the moveset even further…
Ight, enough wide eyed staring, time to try my blade on the training dum…
With a few hours of gameplay on my back, I can safely assure that the number of well defined, compelling characters in the game is surprising to say the least. Not only that, but the sheer amount of gossip spread around the dialogues! I can’t help but mind everybody’s damn business and relationships with everyone else, which is actually very good, because I am often involved in those, meaning I’m receiving lore fragments one at a time in a way that never feels rushed, or forced.
At this point we have to address the elephant in the room.
What’s the game’s weakness? (The design of the basic enemies coff coff).
The artstyle? Amazing. The soundtrack? Fire.The gameplay? Not only it’s smooth and gratifying, but further into the game we can even customize a run based on our own ability. The setting? Fascinating. The story? Compelling. The characters? Unforgettable. What about the progression? Don’t get me started on the progression or you’ll never hear the end of it.
I have to accept that in front of me is an actual masterpiece, the kind of which rarely reaches the final user, and usually rots in a closet as an unfinished vanity project, having fallen short of either polish or funds.
Not only the Supergiant team managed to fit every single element of a specific niche aesthetics (from the obsession with ancient Greece, to the topos of generational conflict, to the artstyle looking quite a bit like the signature artstyle Tumblr before its collapse, to the many romantic relationships presented in the dialogues, to familiar struggle) in an interesting and discreet fashion, but were also able to stuff plenty of different mechanics in the game cycle (which in my opinion makes it an author game despite being marketed towards more or less casual gamers as entertainment) without ever harming the game flow, and complimenting the story they wanted to tell. Everybody in the team understood their assignment perfectly.
Definitely a must for every roguelite aficionado, although a very solid title for newbies as well, offering tens of hours of gameplay, and an experience like few others, for an affordable price.