It’s a little bit hard for me to write about Hades: there’s been so much talking / writing about the game that I have a hard time writing without feeling that I’m constantly reacting to what other people think? I mean, it’s not like I’m ever in a vacuum, but here that feels a bit much.

Like, I enjoyed the game at the start, but I was also disappointed with it: people were talking about how much they loved it, how much they loved the characters and the plot development, and so forth, and I just didn’t see that. I’d spend an hour fighting through a dungeon, then I’d get back to the hall and see a few lines of dialogue that I hadn’t seen before, and then I’d be off to fight again. Which is fine, I appreciated having a bit of a pause between runs, that’s not something Roguelikes normally do (yay Boundaries? Or Alternating Repetition?), but I wouldn’t describe it as a particular triumph of narrative.

Eventually, though, the game’s narrative grew on me. In particular, I really liked how Hades’ behavior towards Zagreus changed, and how that was reflected in Zagreus: Hades acknowledging that he’d messed up and was too harsh, but Zagreus also realizing that there are deeper currents underneath Hades’ behavior that explained some of what’s going on there. And, of course, Persephone’s take on the situation as well. Very interesting on multiple layers: parents relating to children, parents relating to children becoming adults, children becoming adults getting a more nuanced understanding of parents’ behaviors, and parents’ relationship to each other as something independent of the child.


Then there’s the whole Roguelike thing. I don’t know that taxonomy is important, but one key virtue that I’m used to seeing in Roguelikes is the way in which they give a fixed set of rules, playing out in randomized ways, that give the player a ground to develop their understanding against. In Hades, though, the rules aren’t fixed: you get permanent powerups at the end of each run, and there’s also an optional God Mode that gives you a significant and increasing buff. It’s one thing to be playing around with a varying rule set (as the Pact of Punishment in Hades or the Ascension levels in Slay the Spire allow), but the sort of leveling up that Hades gives you feels more like a Role Playing Game mechanic than a Roguelike mechanic.

At one level, of course, it doesn’t matter: life is more interesting if games don’t stay neatly within genre boxes! But I’ve actually come around to the conclusion that Hades does in fact fit fairly neatly within the Roguelike box: setting God Mode aside as a sort of Easy mode that is very welcome to let more people experience the game and get further in the narrative, there is actually a fixed tapestry that you’re playing against, it’s just not your initial experience with Hades : instead, it’s Hades once you’ve filled out the mirror and acquired/leveled up all the keepsakes. (Which is maybe interesting from a narrative point of view, showing Zagreus growing up, coming into his adult powers, and starting to act like an adult and being treated more as such?)


Anyways, cool game. Nice playing around with the boons; nice having a feeling of balance in the boons, where I didn’t get the feeling that I had to have certain magic boons and combos of boons to succeed, or where, when a boon didn’t speak to me, as often as not that was a sign that I should broaden my playstyle. Though, don’t get me wrong, the runs where I do hit upon some sort of ridiculous combo are fun too! They’re just not at all necessary to succeed.

And, from a thematic point of view, I do love the idea of modeling the repeated runs in a Roguelike as a constant returning to the palace of Death. I mean, I’m totally fine with Roguelikes that don’t have a framing story as well, but if you’re going to have one, the one in Hades is quite good.

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