An eternal cycle of battle, death, and resurrection — this may seem like a terrible punishment for us mortals, but it is only a mere challenge to a god! Hades, the new game from Supergiant Games, is another unique project that promises to present, with intelligence and originality, this and a series of themes that surround the ancient Greek gods.
Since 2009 the studio has been producing increasingly original and unique works, such as Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. And that could not be any different in this action RPG with roguelikes mechanics, released, for PC and Nintendo Switch in September 2020.
But what are roguelikes?
This is a somewhat complicated game genre to define, but it can be said that these are games focused on exploration and repetition. In which the player will venture through a series of environments, facing enemies and bosses, collecting items and powers, always at the risk of dying permanently, thus having to start all over again.
Speaking of which, it makes it sound like this is a boring style of play, but that is where the fun is. roguelikes are also heavily marked by randomness and each attempt (also called as run’s) brings new surprises and new combinations of powers, factors that only further instigate the player to try “just one more time”.
Since 2011, with the release of the addictive The Binding of Isaac, roguelikes have been gaining more and more space within the industry, especially among independent developers. Dead Cells, Faster Than Light, Rogue Legacy, Spelunky and Enter the Gungeon are just some of the big hits that have contributed to the popularity of the genre.
A Family business
The plot of the game is based on Greek mythology, more specifically on a mythological novel involving two gods of Olympus. The result of this relationship is our protagonist Zagreus, son of the god of the underworld, a beautiful, selfless, and quite troubled young man.
Zagreus grew up without his father’s attention and love, which caused him to become a young boy with various traumas. This whole revolt has its climax when Zagreus, tired of living under Hades’ tutelage, decides to escape all the chaos of the underworld. But of course, this will not be an easy task and for this, he will have to face various challenges and enemies.
On his journey, he will encounter several gods and personalities of this ancient mythology, such as Zeus, Demeter, Hercules, Nyx, Hypnos, Achilles, and Orpheus. Also, Zagreus will make a series of discoveries about his past, the secrets kept by his father, and especially about his mother.
The game has very simple gameplay, which bets on fast and precise movement. Zagreus can perform two types of attacks, a sequence of quick strikes and a slower and more powerful, magic, and a dodge. Besides, the demigod has a varied arsenal, the SWORD “Stygius”, the spear “Varatha”, the SHIELD “Aegis”, the ARCH “Corononacht”, the GLOVES “Malphon” and the RIFLE “Exagryph”. All of them with up to three variations that can be unlocked throughout the gameplay.
However, all these abilities and weapons gain greater depth when we modify them with blessings. The boons are powers provided by the 12 main gods of Greek Olympus. For example, his bow can be blessed by Dionysus, the god of wine and feasts, causing each arrow to inflate extra poison damage. If you find Poseidon, the god of the seas, and choose to bless your dodge, each of your dash’s will make a water splash that can push enemies away.
Other than that, the game follows a very linear model. The adventure consists of three main areas and one secret, they are Tartarus, the lowest level of the underworld, full of traps and stray souls; Asphodel, a desolate set of islands surrounded by thousands of bones and lava; and Elysium a beautiful paradise reserved for Greece’s greatest heroes.
Each of these locations consists of a series of random rooms, which can range from 10 to 15, with various enemies such as rats, spirits, warriors, gorgons, skeletons, insects, and a variety of creatures based on Hellenic mythology. At the end of each of them we come to a boss; there are five in all, the number may seem small, but all have aesthetic variations and attacks, which brings a greater variety to confrontations.
At the end of each room, we receive an item or power that was previously indicated at your entrance. In addition to the divine blessings, which were explained earlier, the game’s phases also offer GEMS, which can be exchanged for improvements in hades’ palace; KEYS that release new weapons and unlock new parts of Nyx mirror (personification of the night); DARKNESS, black gems used to buy improvements “sold” in the mirror; POMEGRANATES, fruits that improve our attributes; COINS, used to buy items and, best of them, the DAEDALUS HAMMER (famous Greek architect responsible for the Labyrinth of Crete, used to trap the Minotaur), an item capable of unlocking new moves for Zagreus weapons.
The game also features small mechanics of Date Sim, the famous romance simulators. Throughout the phases, we will find bottles of Nectar or Ambrosia, which can be delivered, as gifts, to certain characters. Thus, Zagreus can improve his relationship with everyone, a relationship that is represented by a bar with ten small hearts, which in a few cases, as with Megaera, one of the three Erinyes (personifications of revenge), and Thanatos, the personification of death, can culminate in some kind of romance.
This mechanic is quite interesting because it gives a greater depth to the characters, releasing new lines of dialogue and interactions between them. Also, the drinks have another role within the game. The first time we presented a character with them, we received small items in return that, when equipped, provide Zagreus with some benefit during the run.
“Keepsakes”, as they are called, have different effects ranging from increasing the protagonist’s maximum health to adding attack damage. There are 25 in total and all can be improved as we use them.
Supergiant Games has always been a studio that stood out for its artistic job, especially in character design, voice acting, and soundtrack, and this could not be different In Hades. So, it is almost impossible to describe the game without undermining its impeccable art direction.
During all the dialogues of the game, we are graced with the vision of a beautiful art showing, in detail, each of the characters, where it is possible to see every little trace that gives life to these mythological beings. The scenarios also deserve an shining place, with strong and vibrant colors, each of them contributes to the creation of a unique style for the game.
The soundtrack, in turn, tries to interpret, in a more modern way, the ancient Greek instruments, such as the sitar and lyra. In quiet situations the melody and more serene and, in moments of battle, we are surprised with a more aggressive sound, very similar to a rock.
Another element that shines in this game is the dubbing. Great voice actors were chosen to give voice to each of the characters, they are powerful and imposing voices that perfectly match each dialogue. One highlight goes to Logan Cunningham, the actor who gives voice to the god of the underworld.
Another point worth highlighting is the way the studio decided to portray the main gods of the Greek pantheon. Because it is a very old conception, dating from the 12th to the 9th centuries BC, the pantheon has been represented in countless ways in the most diverse media, such as manga, films, books, series, and especially games. But what differs from this approach is, in my opinion, diversity.
For example, I imagine that the vast majority of people have a rather feminine view of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, but in this game, she has more masculine traits; Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is represented by a beautiful and imposing black woman.
I believe that this is one of the supergiant’s greatest successes, given that Greece was close to the Mediterranean Sea and that, through wars and maritime trades, the ancient Greeks came across the most diverse types of ethnicities and peoples.
Hades is a wonderful game that portrays, in an innovative and quite entertaining way, one of the oldest stories of humanity. Its mechanics were developed with mastery and comply very well with the proposals established by the studio. A highlight here goes to death, which is both an important factor for gameplay and a strong narrative element.
However, I still think the game fails in some respects. Repetition can be a big problem for multiple players, as not everyone likes to keep repeating the same situations over and over. But even in defeat, the player is still rewarded with more information about the characters and the world around them, which helps to lessen this sense of recurrence.
Besides, not everyone will have the patience to reach the end of the game, as ten successful attempts are required for the epilogue to be released. Not that the game is too difficult, but as roguelikes are based too much on randomness, you will depend more on luck than on your skills.
Other than that, it can be said that Hades is a great success. What corroborates this statement is that, in September 2020, the game surpassed the mark of one million copies sold. Perhaps it’s for his distinctive approach to Greek mythology or his precise and extremely addictive gameplay, but the fact is: Hades easily joins the list of best roguelikes ever made, I dare say even for the best indies of all time. The little mistakes of the game do not take away in any way the brilliance of its mechanics and characters.
This is a great recommendation for players who like a good challenge and do not care about repetitive mechanics. In addition, the game is also for a good price on most PC distribution platforms, only $24.99. But be warned, Hades is VERY addictive!!
[Some images used in this article were taken from Google or the game community profiles on Steam]