Let's talk about *that* boss fight in Hades
Cheapshot or masterstroke? We explore the agony and ecstasy of one of the big fights. BEWARE: SPOILERS ABOUND!
Massive spoilers for anyone who hasn't successfully completed a run in Hades yet. Turn away now lest you incur the wrath of Olympus.
Supergiant Games' Hades has quickly risen to fame due to its brilliant roguelike action, a cast of super-attractive mythological Greek figures, and deeply intriguing narrative. Additionally, Hades' subversive final boss fight is simultaneously brilliant and infuriating.
Playing as Prince Zagreus, son of Hades, you repeatedly attempt to escape your home of the Underworld to uncover a grand conspiracy of godly proportions. Much of this conspiracy revolves around Zagreus' strained relationship with his domineering father. It wouldn't be a Greek mythological high drama without some daddy issues (thankfully nothing Oedipus-related in this case) along the way, would it?
Hades' main hook hinges on the fact that in being a god's descendant, you never truly die. Each failed attempt sees Zagreus resurrected back in the Underworld after a one-way express trip through the River Styx. In order to escape, you must overcome multiple dungeon areas guarded by swathes of enemies and epic bosses featuring familiar faces to anyone with an interest in Greek mythology.
One particular boss has attracted attention for being an utter pain in the arse to kill thanks to a classic video game sleight of hand technique.
After battling your way through the Underworld's multiple stages, you eventually glimpse the surface of Greece, only to have one final obstacle stand in your way: your father, Hades himself.
His hulking figure dwarfs the comparatively-slender Zagreus – Hades' beard alone looks capable of snapping the prince in two. Following a terse exchange of words, the father and son duo fight to the death.
Your dad is arguably the toughest boss in the game, wielding an arsenal of brutal attacks that deal significant damage in close-combat and from a distance. Old man Hades is surprisingly nimble considering his mass of muscles, meaning you need to be highly alert in order to dodge each strike while getting your own hits in.
If you manage to score bountiful boons and upgrades throughout your run, plus put in your best performance, there's every chance of toppling the Underworld's leader.
The first time defeating Hades is an absolute thrill, a culmination of many hours' hard work paying off and the chance to finally view the outside world.
Until you realise Papa Hades has a second phase.
As you beat the antagonist to within a sliver of his health, Hades kneels, seemingly accepting defeat and allowing you to pass. However, the truth is that after another dialogue exchange, his health bar completely regenerates, replete with even more powerful moves to overcome.
This moment is devastating because, for a fleeting moment, you thought you had won. For a wonderfully few seconds, you beat the game of Hades. Until you hadn't, and Hades himself swiftly destroys and sends you all the way back to the beginning.
On one hand, this page from the oldest trick in the video game boss book is rage-inducing. All this progress reduced to naught due to an enemy that broke the rules. If you're anything like me, once Hades' health was close to zero, you threw everything at him and took a few hits in the process — which didn't matter, because it would be all over. Until it wasn't all over and your paltry amount of remaining health stood no chance against the dreaded second phase. The most annoying aspect is dying to this phase brings at least half-an-hour's effort to an unceremonious end, all because you couldn't plan accordingly.
Supergiant Games knew exactly what they were doing here. As frustrating as the second phase discovery is, it's actually a genius move. Hades was not breaking any rules — he followed the exact same rules Zagreus employed the entire game.
Zagreus uses an ability called 'Death Defiance', which saves you from death once per run — or more, depending on your upgrades. It makes perfect sense that the Prince of the Underworld inherited such power from his father. Plus, it's only natural Hades would flex on his son given the chance — imagine how insufferable he would be during the family's Boxing Day backyard cricket match.
Also, Hades' party trick only surprises you once. Beyond the initial reveal, you can prepare and come back stronger and better equipped than ever before.
It makes victory over your dad all the more satisfying — sweeter than any of Dionysus' wines.
And then you get to do it all over again, and again, until you finally uncover all of Hades' secrets.