Mechanics as Storytelling: Hades’s Persistent Story

It’s difficult to pick a mechanic from Supergiant’s Hades that isn’t already part of the game’s story. Pretty much everything that could be considered overly gamey is explained through dialogue and lore. The permanent upgrades from the Mirror of Night are a result of Zagreus becoming more attuned to the Underworld and himself. The achievements and quests on the Fated List are prophecies from the Three Fates, who reward you for fulfilling their predictions. Even your weapons naturally get stronger when given Titan Blood because they were originally used against the Titans.

Since every single mechanic in the game already seems to have a role within the story, let’s focus on exactly that – the story. It’s one of Hades’s major contributions to its genre as it manages to convey a coherent plot within the roguelike structure. In fact, the story and the roguelike mechanics are inextricable from one another as plot points and character development are one of the things that remain persistent throughout runs. Let’s examine the ways in which Hades uses its persistent story to – well, tell a story.

Roguelikes and Storylines

Historically, roguelikes haven’t featured much in the way of narratives. Sure, they have characters and lore much like many other games, but roguelikes tend to put gameplay front and center above anything else. Titles like Spelunky or Nuclear Throne each pop to mind as games with a lot of lore, but it’s generally only accessible to those willing to dig deep into the games (or their wikis).

Rogue Legacy is one game that explained its story more coherently than most. In it, you play as your descendants after you die – hence the Legacy part of the title. Even so, there’s still more of a focus on gameplay than persistent story as other characters like the Enchantress and the Architect don’t actually change over the years despite your repeated deaths.

Death is Inevitable

Hades handles its story a little differently. First of all, you begin each run in the House of Hades, which you are trying to escape. Whenever you die on your run, you go where all the newly dead go – right back to the House of Hades, to be processed and placed by the God of the Dead. It’s an elegant way of explaining how the roguelike system of repeated deaths works in this world as while death may be inevitable, it isn’t the end for Zagreus.

Each time you die, you’re treated to new opportunities to engage with characters around the House. You can talk you your disapproving father, Hades, your wise mentor, Achilles, your enigmatic stepmother, Nyx, or any number of other characters. Some will only show up under specific circumstances, such as Megaera who needs to be defeated in Tartarus before appearing, while others are present almost all the time Additionally, you can only speak to each character once on each escape attempt, meaning that you’ll need to leave and die again before unlocking new dialogue.

There is No Escape

With most roguelikes, beating the game is a reward in and of itself. You may be treated to a special cutscene or cool new upgrades depending on the game, but generally the prize to be won is just the satisfaction of mastering the game’s mechanics and overcoming the challenge. Some have secret endings and areas for those who have the time and skill to seek them out, but the goal is still largely the same – completing the game.

Hades shifts things bit. Here, there aren’t any secret endings to achieve. You’ll come to realize that the reason for this is because this game, unlike others in its genre, has a story with an endpoint. Escaping the Underworld is not the end of Zagreus’s journey and you’ll need to get him out several more times if you want to see the whole narrative unfold. The story becomes the goal in Hades, with each successful escape getting you closer to the true ending.

Persistence and Perseverance

The story of Hades is one of persistence. Zagreus manages to change to status quo of the world through his sheer determination and will to do so. It only makes sense that a story about persistence would be told in a persistent manner. The steady progress you make through the game, slowly unlocking more abilities and skills and weapons, is reflected in the story itself as Zagreus repeatedly makes efforts to get through to people, even those who don’t seem to want his help at first.

Ultimately, this story couldn’t have been told any other way. Persistence after death is the hallmark of the roguelike genre and the defining feature of Hades’s plot. Even after dying for the hundredth time, Zagreus will still strike out into the Underworld – and so will we, if only to see more of this incredible story.

Further Reading

The Art Of Hades | Kotaku

Meet the voice cast of Hades, including one of the dogs behind Cerberus | PC Gamer

One Hell of a Game: Hades Review

Death is inevitable – a fact that is especially true in Supergiant Games’s newest title, Hades. This roguelike (or roguelite if you prefer) puts you in the role of Zagreus, son of Hades as he tries repeatedly to escape from the Underworld of Ancient Greek myth. As with all games of the genre, death is something you’ll experience often, especially in the beginning as you face down the daunting challenge of escape.

Gameplay: 5/5

In short, Hades is a blast to play. The combat is fast-paced, fun, and full of exciting moments. The various enemies, worlds, and bosses you encounter are each unique and require different strategies to handle. Each run presents you with an assortment of boons from Zagreus’s relatives on Olympus, ensuring that no escape attempt is quite like any other.

That’s not even delving into the various meta-level decisions to be made before you even begin your journey through the Underworld. Each run starts in the House of Hades where you can talk to various characters (more on that later), purchase permanent upgrades with the various currencies earned on your previous run, and select which of the six different weapons you want to use – once you’ve unlocked them, of course.

While Hades is built around the experience of grinding your way through a dungeon, it’s also simply fun enough to make the experience worth coming back to time and again. The game encourages varied styles of play by granting players more resources if they select different weapons rather than sticking with just one, and all of this doesn’t even touch on the Pact of Punishment, which lets you set your own difficulty through the game. All told, Hades is an incredible game that will have you coming back to it even after you see the credits roll.

Originality: 4/5

Hades main claim to fame is the way it tells its story. The narrative is woven around the roguelike nature of the game, with characters remarking on your deaths and defeats each time you perish. You can’t actually see the whole story without dying multiple times as certain dialogue only activates after repeated conversations and on specific events.

Aside from this, Hades will be very familiar to anyone who’s played previous Supergiant titles such as Transistor and Bastion. It has its own mechanics and systems, of course, but it shares the isometric view and the satisfying combat of those games. You can see the echoes of previous titles in Hades, but in a good way as the game captures their best qualities and adds its own unique flair.

Accessibility: 4/5

There are two perspectives to consider regarding accessibility – how well does the game teach players its systems, and how much of an effort does it make to be playable by everyone? Hades shines in each category, with only a few minor oversights. The game is very straightforward from the beginning as you initially only have access to one weapon and no permanent upgrades. From that point on, the game slowly builds in complexity as you unlock more challenging weapons, invest in skills that unlock new mechanics, and even discover new skills to obtain. Once you unlock the Pact of Punishment, the game can be as easy or as difficult as you want, making it beginner-friendly while also presenting a challenge for more experienced players.

There are also some nice features to accommodate anyone who can’t for whatever reason, play the game as intended. A generous God Mode grants increased damage resistance each time you die, a number of options let you toggle subtitles and screen shake, and the controls can be remapped however you like. The notable absentees from the options menu are subtitle font customization and colorblind modes, which could serve to make Hades that much more accessible if they’re ever added in a future patch.

Look: 5/5

Look isn’t just about how detailed the graphics of a game are, but also the art design and animation. Hades excels in this area as beautiful character portraits accompany every snippet of dialogue and each zone is visually striking. There’s no confusing the dungeons of Tartarus with the lava-flooded fields of Asphodel or the verdant land of Elysium. Each power up you acquire changes the appearance of your moves as well, and the weapons themselves have aesthetic changes that reflect their upgrades.

On a smaller note, the House of Hades where you begin can also be customized to your taste. Everything from rugs to flowers to paintings can be changed. You can buy new furniture for various characters, renovate the lounge area, and furnish your bedroom however you wish. It’s a small addition that nevertheless allows everyone to bring their own style into the game.

Story: 5/5

Without getting into spoiler territory, Hades has an excellent story. It’s interwoven into the roguelike mechanics, inseparable from the experience of dying repeatedly as Zagreus tries to make his way out of the Underworld. Even apart from this unique twist on video game storytelling, the actual plot is very compelling, granting you more than enough motivation to reach the surface even after dying for the umpteenth time.

Any discussion of a Supergiant title would be incomplete without talking about the voice acting. Whether it’s the narrator in Bastion or the transistor in, well, Transistor, Supergiant Games has a history of exemplary voice work. Hades goes all out in this department as every character is fully voiced with thousands of lines of dialogue packed into the game. All of the gods, furies, shades, and floating severed gorgon heads come to life with their own distinct personalities. Hades is a masterpiece of both voice work and storytelling, each of which complement each other perfectly.

In Conclusion

Hades is an incredible game, full stop. It has a few minor (very minor) stumbles here and there, but nothing that should put anyone off of buying it. Even if roguelikes are usually your cup of tea, there’s a very good chance that you’ll wind up loving Hades.

Final Tally: 23/25