Hades — A Gateway to Olympus

SuperGiant games have struck again. This time with a more compelling story that binds you in the grip of the Deities of Olympus and the Demons of the Underworld. Although it is a narrative about the powers of superior beings, Hades is a story of a boy who just wants to leave his home and run away to a better place. Zagreus, son of Hades, fights the demons across the underworld spawned by his father. It is relatable to anyone who has gone through their adolescence where thoughts about leaving home for freedom has definitely crossed their minds.

Environment.

The Game is based on stories from the Greek Mythologies which is further supplemented with strong reference to the Greek Culture after 600BC. This is when Gods were represented in temples for the first time. The artifacts are then imbibed with a spirit of ghastly lighting and neon halos. This gave the dungeon crawler a radiant soul with an ornate depth of grimness. I just didn’t feel like leaving the world, although the story had me working otherwise. However embellished these objects looked though, they all served a purpose in the level design of the game. They block you, protect you and even blow up when the moment arises.

Good design is when function meets aesthetic.

The Background Art is to forge the idea of a dungeon through a city in hell. A few glimpses of the city that can be seen throughout the dungeons as Zagreus progresses, gave me a chill and a thrill. I was fascinated by the artworks behind while traveling through this beautifully crafted labyrinth of demons and Charon, the Stygian Boatman 💀 who was a bit shy but sold me some useful stuff . A vignette around the frame of the game keeps a sense of depth of the chambers, but it keeps getting lighter as you rise to the top of the city, giving a sense of progression to the player. Subtle but essential.

Characters.

The true essence of the game derives from the characters and their stories. The caste of heroes and villains were extravagant and loathsome, respectfully. Zagreus is the hero, a character born in the underworld with the looks and charms to be on the brighter side of the Greek after-life. He therefore pursuits his vision to be on Olympus with the help of an amazing entourage of powers granted by the Gods of Olympus. The character design for the deities are inspired from Greek sculptures of the time, lean and athletic, presented with stunning illustrations of them. Most of the credit for them surely goes to Jen Zee, the art director at SuperGiant.

The enemies also have great character designs that are bound to be living somewhere underneath us waiting to hound on the first thing they get a glance at. With flying heads to flying crystal rocks. Some shooting and some charging. The immense pressure and the pace of the game are kept in balance by the strong desire of the enemies to kill. They are slow to notice but fast to kill.

Animation

The jolts of thunder to the trails of an arrow, the flair with which Zagreus ravages through the Underworld mutilating his foes into ashes is quite a visual treat for our eyes. The animations are swift and snappy. The agility with which the buttons seem to function was befitting the idea of playing the demi-God tearing through souls with his set of blades and blasts. The snappy feeling that comes from using the melee weapons such as the Blades of the Underworld, the Eternal Spear, the Twin Fist or even the Adamant Rail is because the animations have a maximum of 3 poses for attacks which loop in a quick sequence of strikes, blending the whole animation as quite quick. However the long ranged attack have a smoother motion but with a static pose taking up most of the animation. When the impact of all these attacks connect with a foe, a burst of blazes flashes out that, although lasts for a short period, are large enough to make the impact last more than our perceived visuals. However the only problem that I faced in Hades was that among the great cluster of fireworks, one might miss when Zagreus get hit. As my field of vision was mostly on the battleground, I have died a lot of times just because I didn’t notice the health bar going down rapidly even though I kept dodging everyone.

The animations of the enemies compliment their role in the underworld quite aptly. They arrive after a summoning by Hades, spawning enemies which gave me an archaic sight of anticipation. They float around like lost souls haunting a deserted cemetery. However, when these souls become mindful of an intrusive presence they charge like any other passionate soldier trying to remove it’s target. The most prominent aspect of these villains is the balance of speed and attack rate. While the fast and agile enemies take time to recoil from their hits to move again, the ones which are slow to attack respond fast enough to get a hit on the player before Zagreus can dodge. This creates a high intensity environment with a lot of room to strategize your position and inflict paramount damage in the least number of blows. The most satisfactory animation of the enemies comes from killing the annoying pests with the ability given by the Gods of Olympus.

Sound

The game starts with the soundtrack No Escape and progresses through a myriad of songs ranging from killer metal to contemplating folk. Back at home of Hades, the music is much subtle and soft with stringed instruments. However once you enter the battlegrounds, the percussion fade out and the stringed instrument get jacked with power. My personal favorite killing tune was The King and the Bull. As you progress, the music usually keeps getting more fierce. However to balance out the crazy humdrum of hell, there are a few moments of silence after you kill everyone or before they attack. Although there is a big team of people working on the music, the core vision was by Daren Korb who has worked with the studio previously on Bastion, Transistor and Pyre.

The sound effects created for the villains establish their personalities and also alerts the player of the their next moves. This can provide an additional cue to the already visual motion of the characters. For Zagreus, having the sound of an impact right after hitting, also creates a sense of strength that the weapons yield.

The best part of the game is the dialogue. The story may not be that exciting but the characters liven them up. With a cast of 30 characters, all voiced by real people gives the game much more gravitas than any other indie IP. It is a production cost no one tends to bear, but SuperGiant made it feel worth it. Even the occasional remarks by Zagreus after killing or before summoning the powers, kept the game feeling fresh and added much needed interventions from the murderous rampage you are just trudging through. Just to trudge through the dialogues, one should play the game.

To Conclude

Hades is one of the few indie games, which has shown that a good story and some dry humor combined with a magnificent cast of characters and a gorgeous setting of a ghastly environment design can immerse you into playing it for hours. It had me beating up enemies and progressing through the game with a sense of great power and skill that otherwise isn’t that obvious in most games.

I hope this article helped you understand the visual choices and subtle decisions used to make the game have a feel that is true to its story and concept. If you liked it, clap it up and maybe subscribe so you don’t miss a article by me. Also let me know if you have any game in mind, that you want me to dissect.

  • Thanks for reading :)

I’m a designer who explores games. I map out all the reasons why a game feels so great. So join me, through the thick to find the hidden secrets of game design.

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