TL;DR – A game where the mechanics, story, music, and design all pulls you in, so you keep trying to escape your captivity run after run after run
Hades Review –
At the start of this year, I thought I would take some time to catch up on some of the things I might have missed last year, and I also wanted a bit of an escape from the current world around. With this in mind, several people I respect had Hades on their ‘Best Video Game of 2020’ lists so I thought that might be an excellent place to dive in and I was right.
So to set the scene, you are Zagreus (Darren Korb) the son of Hades (Logan Cunningham) and Prince of the Underworld. However, a prince he may be, but in reality, he is trapped, a prisoner to his father’s wishes and demands. When he discovers that Nyx (Jamie Landrum) The God of Night is not his birth mother, Zagreus takes on himself to escape from the Underworld, even if that means fighting his way through Tartarus, Asphodel, and Elysium to get there.
From a gameplay mechanics perspective, Hades is a Rogue-Lite – Hack-and-Slash – RPG. Which is a bit of a mouthful, but I will breakdown what each of those labels means. A Rogue style game is when you have one life, and you battle your way through the game until you win, or until you die and have to start all over again. Personally, I am not a fan of pure-Rogue games, but I do enjoy Rogue-Lite (or Roguelike the definitions get a bit muddy between the two), where death is something you will come across. Still, each attempt (in this case to escape The Underworld) gains you tools that you can use to get further in your next run. The Hack-and-Slash is the mechanic you use to get through the game. In each level, you will be using your sword, bow, spear, bouncing shield, or machine gun to take out enemies to clear out each room before you can progress to the next one. The RPG is the role-playing elements of the game, which comes down to the story which brings the world of the dead to life.
My first introduction to Supergiant Games came with their truly remarkable Bastion. Still, the two games that followed I found interesting, but I just could not get into them, so there was a little hesitation when I booted up Hades. However, that hesitation fell away immediately when we are introduced to our protagonist Zagreus. He is a tortured soul, but you immediately understand his motivation and desires. Wanting to be free of the burdens of your past and find the mother you never knew you had is a clear motivation. But more than that, he is a complex character, with complex relations with the many different people of the Underworld. I love that he is always polite with the people he meets unless they are arses. Because so much of the story is focused on Zagreus, he must captivate you, which is very much the case here.
One of the core aspects of why this game is as good as it comes from its story that feels familiar yet also completely fresh all at once. The story of Hades is told in small character interactions that you enter into throughout the game but mainly in the hub world of The House of Hades. I think most people have a passing understanding of Greek Mythology giving you an easy buy-in because you kind of know what you are getting with Zeus (Peter Canavese), Poseidon (Logan Cunningham), Aphrodite (Courtney Vineys), Hermes (Andrew Marks), and Aries (Cyrus Nemati) to name a few. However, in this game, we get some deep cuts into Greek Mythology that caught me off-guard. This gives an electric blend of the familiar and the new, so if you know your mythology, you will know the subtext as to why Demeter (Laila Berzins) is so frosty. Still, you won’t expect the odd bond that forms between Zagreus and Megaera (Avalon Penrose) or the surprisingly chipper Sisyphus (Andrew Marks), or whatever is happening between Theseus (Cyrus Nemati) and Asterius (Logan Cunningham).
One example of this comes as you are traipsing your way through the lava-filled worlds of Asphodel when you come across the nymph Eurydice (Francesca Hogan/Ashley Barrett) singing in her little well of calm in all the fire. The story of Eurydice and Orpheus (Michael Ailshie/ Darren Korb) is one of the more famous tales from Greek mythology, but while most stories focus on the outcomes of Orpheus, in Hades we get to hear Eurydice’s side. Her song Good Riddance is one of the game’s emotional tent poles, and it does not lose its impact no matter how many times you hear it. What is telling about just how good the story is, that you as a player will always pick to forward these plot elements even if there would be better rewards taking a different path.
The story is one way the game hooks you into its world. The second is how it is mechanically structured. There are four main zones in this game. However, each of those zones is broken up into rooms where you fight a bunch of enemies and get a reward if you survive the encounter. Every room has generous bonuses to help you in the game. You could get darkness to upgrade your character, keys to unlock new abilities, gems to upgrade the house, boons from the Gods of Olympus that give you new powers and abilities. There are no bad options, which means working out which room to go to next can be a tough choice. I could go with the Aries boon because that might improve my attack, but if I go with Dionysus (Cyrus Nemati) I might get to cast Festive Fog everywhere, or maybe that Daedalus Hammer to upgrade my weapon.
These mechanics reinforce each other to make each run feel that little bit different from each other run, making the drive to dive back in after you died that little bit stronger. The last game that gave me such a ‘just one more go’ feel was Civilization, so this was a different feeling given this was not a turn-based game. This is reinforced by the risk/reward mechanics that the game continually introduces. Sure taking that boon from Chaos (Peter Canavese) will get you something powerful, but it will make everything harder until it comes into effect. Or I could take the ‘Trial of the Gods’ room, but when I pick one of the Gods, well that is just going to upset the other one (which is 100% on-brand for the Greek Pantheon).
All of this is assisted by the game’s presentation that takes care to be clear about every facet. In some of the late stages when you are fully kitted up, there can be a lot happening on the screen all at once. However, because great care has gone into how every attack is displayed, you can always follow what is going on. This also extends to the audio cues where you will know if there is a fishing spot on the map without having to explore the whole thing after every match, oh yes Hades has a full fishing mechanic, and it is a delight. The art design for all the characters has been described as Thirsty-A-F, which is accurate and fair. However, it is also expressive and in one moment captures the essence of who they are. This design is supported by one of Darren Korb’s best musical scores to date, using strings from lyres to electric guitars and everything in-between. All of this is creating a world that I want to go back to even while writing this review.
In the end, do we recommend Hades? Absolutely. What Hades shows is how every aspect of the game can be used to reinforce each other, making a greater whole. At this point, I have finished the game, but I have not completed the story, and I will be going back and making that run because I want to spend more time with all of these characters.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the staff of Hades
Game Design – Amir Rao & Gavin Simon
Game Design/Writing – Greg Kasavin
Game Art – Jen Zee & Joanne Tran
Music – Darren Korb
Voice Cast – Darren Korb, Logan Cunningham, Chris Saphire, Marin Miller, Cyrus Nemati, Courtney Vineys, Jamie Landrum, Peter Canavese, Laila Berzins, Andrew Marks, Francesca Meaux, Ben Prendergast, Michael Ailshie, Greg Kasavin & Kelly Moore with Solo, Higgins, Regis & Marzipan.
Developer – Supergiant Games
Publisher – Supergiant Games