Hades’ story is arguably even more revolutionary than anything else in the game. And in ways I’ve never truly seen before. Especially not in so many different points.
To understand why the developers even felt this was necessary, we need to first take a look at how the story in Hades is told. Because the idea behind a game like Hades- and by extension it’s entire genre of games- is to be played endlessly, the story needed to be moulded around that.
Usually, this is done by A. including as little of actual story as possible and supplementing the rest through lore. Or B. sticking to one central narrative but leaving it open-ended as to not interfere too much with the gameplay. Both of these examples are based around the idea of not being a nuisance to the player while they focus on what they are playing the game for: the gameplay loop itself. They are also sorely necessary, because no matter how you tackle your budget in regards t your storytelling, you’ll never be able to tell a story that literally has no end. And often stretching something in videogames comes with a drastic decline in quality. So, how do you tackle this issue as a studio famous for rich storytelling that interlocks perfectly with gameplay? Well. You make it so the player will virtually never run out of story to play through.
Wait. WHAT? As someone who is fascinating by the finances behind games, and the way budgeting works in this industry, I was baffled by this idea. It seemed like way too big of a risk to take. And you wanna know the craziest part about it? It paid off. Seriously. Most Hades players will not ever run out of story content, long after they might be done with the gameplay itself.
Now, while this is an incredible feat, it is helped by a few clever tricks. Firstly, story interactions in Hades mostly come through very short dialogues, often just a few lines long, that nonetheless feed into larger tales. Characters may react to the way you died, the weapon you’re wielding, who you’ve met and befriended, the heat level you’re on in the punishment contracts and much much more! We may never find out about the true scope of these. Some of these interactions may repeat themselves, but the game is programmed in such a way that a line can only be repeated if you truly haven’t heard it in a very long while. Meaning very different from other games there’s no constantly repeated one-liners that become funny, then exaggerated, and lastly annoying, ultimately turning you away from the game. Instead, repeated lines in Hades feel more akin to a distant memory that you can’t really categorize. What these small lines also achieve is added freedom to the player. I won’t lie, I often skipped dialogues when I just wanted to quickly move on or didn’t particularly care about what a certain character had to say to me in a given moment. But even here the devs were incredibly smart. Characters will often remind you of things you have discussed in the past, and Zagreus, the main character will do the same to them. Therefore, catching up with the latest happenings is always easily done. However, there is also a main plotline that is relatively quickly resolved, but which has much more budget and oomph behind it. Namely, Zagreus trying to escape from hell to finally reconnect with his mother Persephone on the surface, while gaining the favour of the Olympian Gods. This storyline will have cutscenes as well, but the other small dialogues will smoothly support what is told in here. In fact, there’s so many of these just about Zagreus’ struggle on his first escape, that it sort of feels wasteful to progress naturally through the game.
As you might have guessed, things aren’t quite as they seem, and Zagreus’ first escape from his father is just that. The first of many. While he succeeds in finding his mother mere minutes after defeating the lord of the underworld, he finds her in hiding. Not from the underworld, but from Olympus. And new intrigue is immediately spun.
From this point on, you’ll have to defeat Hades another 10 times before this plotline is resolved, and the queen of the underworld returns to reclaim her throne. Which represents the “true” ending of the game. Here already we can see the way the story splits off depending on what kind of player it’s told to. It can end after beating Hades once, or ten times. However, at the same time, this is a part in the story where it is considerably weakened by the explaining dialogues between Zagreus and his mother being stretched to a total of ten encounters. Making her often seem unintentionally cruel as she expects her son to seek her again and again until she finally decides to come with him. Fortunately, an issue as extreme as this one never comes up again, but characters being a bit meandering with their interpersonal issues seems to somehow be a running theme, and bleed into other plotlines as well. Which might be the only major weakness of the storytelling in this game. At best, it feels natural. At worst it feels like it’s trying to waste your time when it really doesn’t have to. As the writing is interesting enough on it’s own, without needing to be stretched unnecessarily. That said, the style of melodrama this creates is undoubtedly befitting of old Greek theatre. I know it may sound like blasphemy but much of what was written back then is akin to modern soap operas. No. Seriously.
As mentioned, this can be seen as a true ending because it again recontextualizes what Zagreus and by extend the player are trying to do in the world. Now, Zagreus is no longer trying to escape, but actively helps in the tightening of the underworld security by testing it’s limits through his escape attempts. But his relationships continue to bloom and there still are an uncountable amount of questions left unanswered. All of these are up to the player to find this time. Which even more than before creates a unique cocktail of storytelling fit solely to the beholder itself. Depending on what you do in your escape attempts, which playstyles and weapons you adopt and most importantly which characters you bond with, you’ll advance differently in countless small storylines. To give you an example: After reuniting Nyx with their parent Chaos, I thought she was done for, and wouldn’t contribute much else to the story in terms of personal agency. Only to discover that she later requests to be brought into contact with Ares himself. It’s honestly incredibly fascinating to see what these characters will request of both you and others, and where their individual paths will branch of next.
Crucially for this, the world Zagreus finds himself in feels incredibly alive. You’ll catch characters being lost deep into conversation with each other, at which point you can’t interrupt or disturb them. They’ll fight, discuss, befriend each other. Sometimes you’ll be let into the nature of their relationship, sometimes they’ll prefer to keep up their privacy.
It's all organic and creates a true sense of the existence of this game world.
throughout the many tales Hades spins, there seem to be two running themes: Identity and connection.
In fact, I’d say any major story told by the characters to Zagreus is a reflection of that. With maybe the exception of the Olympians. Well. Mostly. They will have their fair share of action regarding those two terms if you want to reach the true ending. No. What I’m referring to is the numerous side stories that are just as unmissable. You’ll be helping two couples of star-crossed lovers on your journeys: Orpheus and Eurydice and Achilles and Patroclus. What I love about the way the relationship of these pairs is written is that they are very mature. They aren’t involved in childish fights or antics between each other. And while they’ve gotten used to living without one-another, you can clearly hear the longing in their words. Once reunited, they bloom naturally into relationships which make sense in context. They are written as absolutely capable of making in on their own but shown to truly grow through their supportive, although sometimes messy relationships. Additionally, there’s characters like Nyx and Chaos, a broken up family, that finally dares re-establishing contact thanks to him. Much of this helping of others is done by Zagreus’ breaking thew contract they had to sign with Hades or paying their debt. Which the lord of the underworld does seem to sort of predict, knowing that they could’ve never done it on their own. The theme of identity pops up many times over in regard to the others Zagreus encounters. Many characters, like Thanatos for example question their own identity and purpose in the world, or outright lie about it to Zagreus, like Sisyphus and Skelly. This seems to find resonance with Zagreus because he too is on a quest to understand his own identity and purpose. Not only are the lovers a parallel to Zagreus’ struggle with family and relationships, but the characters questioning themselves or hiding the truth reflect Zagreus’ confusion as well. He doesn’t even know if he is to be considered a God, and if so, the God of what. Spoilers: He’s the god of blood. Isn’t that FUCKNIG SICK?
But yeah no. It’s a world where everyone is ultimately struggling with the same things. Which, unlike your goth friend you met on discord named Jared will have you believe, is just like our world. In fact, just like Jared, let me get personal for a bit while we slip into the next section if you’ll allow me.
There’s two characters in the game that you can romance. Megaera and Thanatos. Megaera is a former lover of Zagreus who over time grew disillusioned by him and is clearly disappointed by his lazy attitude and disregard for underworld customs. We never learn what Zagreus did to ruin their relationship, but we don’t really need to. Both are characterized well enough to not get dissolved into needless accusations. Thanatos is an extremely stressed out, busy to the brim death god that sneaks out unbeknownst to everyone to sometimes help Zagreus in his escape attempts. So, a couple notes here: As someone who has had a big question mark in place of his sexuality this year, I hugely appreciate that Zagreus’ sexuality remains unestablished and is never truly mentioned. It’s simply not important or something people care about in the game. Which is probably the most realistic portrayal of how the ancient Greeks handled this topic ever to be put in a videogame. Also, the game never shames you for showing an interest in both Than and Meg. The three of them are open and communicative about their feelings, wants and needs towards each other and avoid needless drama through that. I truly think this portrayal is a step forward for videogames as a whole. No labels, no punishing the player when they didn’t do anything bad. It’s actually quite beautiful to see a relationship so normal being translated into a game like this. Real people don’t work around hard rules, real relationships are messy. But as long as we are honest and open with one another something amazing can grow out of it.
Medusa is a special case. The game starts off with her head over heels for Zagreus. Spraying hearts everywhere as soon as he gets in her vicinity and getting extremely flustered when he talks to her. While it at first looks like she might be a third alternative, albeit comedic romancing option, her story takes a very different path. After Zagreus makes clear advances towards her she realizes that she wants them to stay friends. He is the son of her boss after all. And while her feelings towards him are undeniably strong, having a crush on him didn’t actually allow her to create as deep of a bond towards him as she would want them to have. So the two decide to remain great friends for all time. This is also in the wake of her great relationship with Megaera, which never devolves into jealousy, even as she gets closer to Zagreus again. This too struck great resonance with me. Let’s just say I’ve been in a situation very similar to Dusa’s. And funnily enough, realized it’s solution basically parallel to how she did in the game.
This all to say that the stories Hades tells are incredibly human, and the way the change and evolve over time naturally as you play are unbelievably lifelike. In a way I’ve never seen in videogames before. This is truly something else story-telling wise. And I can’t wait to see what the developers do next.
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