Spoilers Abound Ahead!
Hades is a roguelike action RPG produced and released by Supergiant Games in September of 2020. I love Hades, and could easily rank it as one of the best games I’ve ever played. The characters are wonderful, the combat is fun, and even dying is rewarding, in it’s own way. This isn’t about Hades the game. This is about the character Hades, the God of the Underworld, and father of Zagreus, the protagonist of Hades.
So, let me start out by making something very clear: I don’t like Hades. He’s a bad father, and an all around asshole, as far as I’m concerned. That said, and getting right into the point of this little essay, I do understand Hades(‘s reasoning), and think he’s an excellent character.
Hades constantly berates his only child, in public, and refuses even to say his name until well into the game. Also he tries to kill Zagreus, regularly. Hades is also grieving the loss of his wife, overwhelmed by his work load, and doing his best to prevent a war between the Olympic and Chthonic pantheons. By killing his son, either indirectly via his employees, or directly with his very big spear. (I hate that damn spear.) And it can be argued that the way Hades and Zagreus communicate is at least partly in jest, and Zagreus dying doesn’t really matter, in the context of the game.
OK, that was a lot, so let me break it into smaller chunks for you.
1) Hades is grieving the loss of his wife: At the beginning of the game, Persephone, Hades’s wife and Queen of the Underworld, has run away, overwhelmed by the apparent loss of her first child, and the persistent sense of alienation she felt living in the Underworld. Hades never expects to see her again, and for all that he’s an asshole, he does love his wife. This fact does not excuse his treatment of his son. It is understandable, however, that he may, in his grief, be hurt by the constant reminder of his wife and the reasons she left that Zagreus provides simply by existing, and even blame him, to a degree. Grief is not logical. How we react to grief is not logical.
2) Hades is overworked and desperately in need of both assistance and a gods damned break. Every time Zagreus returns to the House, Hades, if he is there at all, is working. His workload never seems to decrease. This fact alone can make anyone cranky and exhausted. However, we see very few beings, God or Shade, assisting in this work. It’s eventually revealed that Zagreus used to work for his father as well, in the administration department, but he was fired because he didn’t know what he was doing, and caused even more work trying to figure it out on his own. While this is, technically, Hades’s own fault for not teaching his son in a way his son could understand – his main method of instruction seems to be monologueing, which is hard enough to learn from if you aren’t as obviously ADHD as Zagreus is (you can take this head canon from me over my rotting corpse), it is understandable that he’s frustrated over being even more shorthanded following Zagreus’s dismissal. Add to that the doubtless flood of paperwork to deal with following Zagreus’s escape attempts, and, well…
3) Hades is trying to prevent a war. It’s revealed in late game that Zeus abducted Persephone and ‘gifted’ her to his brother, in an ill-advised attempt to provide his brother with companionship. The fact that Persephone wanted to go, as she was unhappy with her life on Olympus at that point, doesn’t change the fact that this was a dick move on Zeus’s part, having essentially framed his brother for his niece’s kidnapping. If the Olympians were to discover that not only was Persephone alive (most assume she’s dead or otherwise lost forever, including her mother), but in the Underworld, they could use it as grounds to attack said Underworld. Zagreus’s persistent attempts to escape risk the Olympians discovering what Hades has worked so very hard to cover up for the sake of keeping the peace between his family, especially when Zagreus is getting help in his attempts from the Olympians themselves. Therefore, it’s understandable that Hades would use any means at his disposal to stop his son, including killing him.
4) Hades killing Zagreus doesn’t mean the same thing as it would if he were mortal. Zagreus never stays dead; killing him simply returns him to the House, making it more akin to sending a child to their room when they misbehave. Hades constant disparaging comments can be interpreted as teasing between two people who are still learning each other’s boundaries. There’s this tone in his voice, especially early on, when his attempts to chide his son take on an almost silly tone, as if he’s trying to engage in the kind of playful ribbing more common among close siblings. Compared to the other gods, Zagreus is very much a teenager, or newly minted Adult. It makes sense, then, that Hades still, in many ways, thinks of him as a child, and must be reminded that he’s not anymore. As with any parent and child, they’re starting to find a new way to communicate, and set new boundaries, which is not easy, especially for beings who are, essentially, immortal. The fact that Hades obviously has no idea how to handle children, especially children who are related to him, doesn’t help. It follows, then, that Hades may be uncomfortable interacting with his son, and for a being as powerful as him, this discomfort could easily lead to further frustration.
All of this could easily explain why he is so brusque and occasionally borderline emotionally abusive with his son. He alternates between treating his son the same as any shade that enters his realm, or a younger version of himself. When Zagreus fails to behave like either, being his own person, Hades lashes out, often unintentionally. It must be said, however, that his continued attempts to try building a relationship with his son, despite his repeated failures, are commendable, and his patience when dealing with the weight of everything he is currently attempting to juggle are worthy of respect.
He’s still an asshole, though.
In conclusion, play Hades, and come to your own conclusions. (Any conclusion that is not Hades is amazing are invalid, though.)
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