Hades is a brutal game. That’s not just commentary on the Switch and PC roguelike’s difficulty factor. Zagreus, the main character, dies ad infinitum in some truly gruesome ways. But once you sink some time into Hades, those many, many deaths can start to lose their edge. Late into the endgame, in fact, Zagreus will meet his end in some pretty funny ways.
In any given attempt at escaping from hell, Zagreus can get melted by lava, chomped to bits by a skeletal hydra, stabbed in the chest by a former lover (double ouch), stabbed in the chest by a hot-headed rival (triple ouch), blown up by otherworldly grenadiers, impaled by gigantic magical arrows, swarmed by butterflies, poisoned by twelve-foot-tall rodents, and betrayed by one of nine Olympians who rear their olive-wreathed heads in Hades’ realm. And that’s just a sampling.
Spoilers follow for Hades.
After you beat the game — and I mean beat the game by sitting through the credits and everything, not just putting Hades into the ground that first time — you no longer have to go through the end-run charade. You don’t have to walk along the Peloponnesian cliffs. Persephone, Zagreus’ mum, comes back home at the House of Hades. Visiting her humble garden becomes a thing of the past, at least on-screen. At this point, defeating Hades becomes less a matter of progressing the story and more a test of how good you’ve become at the game.
In this laissez-faire endgame state, instead of trudging through that final sequence an eleventh time, the narrator regales you with a short tale of what befalls the underworld prince. Some of these vignettes are narrative-driven, mostly to do with the fact that, absent a motivation to see his long-estranged mother, Zagreus can’t survive for long periods while topside. But after you clear the game a lot — somewhere in the double digits, by my count — these screens are completely untethered from the narrative. Instead, some detail downright silly ways in which the prince of darkness gets himself killed outside of Hades’ domain of deathtraps. It’s a nice way to inject some levity into the game. Here are a few of my favourites.
“As he explores the wonders of the world, Prince Zagreus discovers a quaint farm, in which he carelessly trespasses, stepping on a farming tool, which swoops up and strikes him in the forehead, fatally.”
Yes, Zagreus is a Looney-Toon.
“So it is with delight that he approaches one upon the surface, greeting it as a familiar friend. It greets him venomously back, using its fangs.”
Well, that’s clearly no Dusa.
“Having gained the surface once again, Prince Zagreus breathes deeply of the wildflowers, and the roses, and the like, among which one of them contains an allergen so intolerably potent, that it causes this.”
“Just then, the carefree-running Underworld Prince runs headlong into a thick and deadly wall of stone, painted to look like the way out.”
As if you needed more proof of the Looney-Toons thing.
“Mere moments from his final victory, the Prince, in his great haste, ignored surveying each side of a rather busy crossing, where a swiftly-passing chariot collided with him, very forcefully.”
At its core, Hades is about some dark subject matter: the incessant tug-of-war between life and death, love and hate, family and pride. Throw in the fact that it’s based on Greek mythology — a pile of fiction that’s not exactly light in tone — and you have a recipe for a game that could take itself way too seriously. Hades certainly doesn’t; these screens are proof of that. One moment, you witness the prince trying to reunite two lovers condemned to spend eternity apart. The next, he smacks himself in the face with a rake so hard he dies! Few games can manage that tonal balance as well as Hades does.
Have you been running Hades endlessly over the past five weeks? (Guilty as charged.) Have you hit the point where these patently ridiculous Zagreus deaths show up? What are your favourites? Share in comments below, so we can all have a chuckle at the prince’s semi-fatal carelessness.
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