How the Most Stressful Game I’ve Ever Played Became My Comfort Game
Hades, the roguelike game where you play as the immortal Prince Zagreus on a mission to escape the underworld, is incredibly stressful. To escape, you have to battle your way through four regions, each with its own boss, before facing off against Hades himself on the surface of the Earth. If you die at any point, you’re sent back to the House of Hades and have to begin all over again.
Despite how many times Hades has made me pull at my own hair in frustration, it’s also become the game I play when I need to unwind or relax. Looking back, it’s not too surprising that the most stressful game I’ve ever played became my comfort game.
Message From the Gods
Zagreus isn’t entirely alone in the underworld: the Greek gods bestow blessings on you that give you new abilities, increase your damage or raise your health. Each region is comprised of several chambers, and after clearing out a chamber you’re rewarded with a boon from either Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Aphrodite, Ares, Dionysus, Hermes, Artemis or Demeter. Each god has its own unique playstyle, and as you learn more about them and their abilities you can start to game the system to get the ones you want.
The moment this starts to click is one of the most satisfying moments in Hades. When you start, your approach to collecting boons is haphazard — whatever will make you stronger as quickly as possible. Over time, you learn that sometimes it’s worthwhile to choose a less powerful boon because it can pair with others later in a run for spectacular results.
For someone like me, who’s detail-oriented to a fault and medicated for OCD, collecting the perfect combination of boons makes the stress of Hades secondary to the satisfaction.
Nectar of the Gods
In Hades, winning feels like the greatest victory of all time. But losing comes with its own rewards. When you’re sent back to the House, you can build your relationship with other gods and Greek legends like Achilles.
Some of the other characters in the underworld have their own storylines Zagreus can help with, and every time you start over, you have another chance to advance their story. Achilles is separated from his lover Patroclus and you can help them reunite; Orpheus refuses to sing without his muse Eurydice, who you can also meet; Sisyphus is doomed to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity unless you can release him from his contract. These stories unfold slowly, over the course of dozens of runs, and make it feel like you achieved something when you fail an escape attempt.
You can also pat Cerberus every time you return to the house, which lessens the sting of losing. He’s a very good boy.
The story in Hades is simple: break out of hell. But there are so many things that affect that story and add to it over time.
Zagreus and Hades’ banter during the final fight becomes increasingly playful as they heal their relationship. They still snark about defeating each other but it’s clear they’re having fun together. Fighting Hades is the most intense part of the entire game, something you dread when you first start. But over time, as their relationship grows and as you get better at the game, it becomes something you look forward to. It’s the ultimate test of your skills and one of the most entertaining interactions in the game.
Defeating Hades isn’t the end of the game, though: after you escape you race to meet your mother Persephone. I won’t give away anything that happens next, because piecing together her story is another thing that makes returning to Hades so compelling. It’s a sweet story about love and family, and it’s so well done that it makes all the stress worthwhile.
The frantic combat might be the main part of Hades, but it’s balanced perfectly with fun and emotional dialogue, great voice acting and a gorgeous art style. The game is great at making you feel smart and rewards all of your efforts, successful or not. You won’t be successful often when you start playing, and the game doesn’t hold your hand as you learn, but that makes mastering it all the more satisfying.
You also learn to see failing as an opportunity to start all over again, this time with better boons and a deeper relationship with the characters. All of these things combine to make Hades a surprisingly comforting game. The combat requires your full attention, so you can’t worry about work or the pandemic when you play, and the parts in between make you feel warm and fuzzy in the game and real life.