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Hades II’s musical flourishes are a hellish delight

hades ii melinoeImage: Supergiant Games

The sequel to Supergiant’s phenomenal Hades entered early access on Monday, and because I struggle with impulse control, I couldn’t stop myself from playing it even in an incomplete state. The original was my favorite game of 2020 by far, and I’m not alone in that opinion. Hades II, even months away from completion (at best), is stepping up its game in every way.

I haven’t even beaten the game’s final boss once (it’ll take far more than that to actually get to the end, if the first game is any indication), but one of the other bosses completely blew me away. And here’s where I warn you that reading any further will absolutely spoil parts of Hades II. Abandon hope (of being pleasantly surprised by a really cool bit in the game), all ye who enter here.

Spoilers for Hades II below! I warned you, dagnabbit!

So in Hades II, you’re Melinoë, little-known Greek goddess, sister of Zagreus from the first game, and long-lost daughter of Persephone and the titular Hades. Your Titanic grandpa Chronos has busted into the underworld, kidnapped your family, and started a war with the Olympian gods. It’s your job to break into the house of Hades (a nice inversion of breaking out of said house in the original), rescue your father, mother, brother, and triple-headed pooch, and lay the smackdown on the Titan of time itself.

The game is already shaping up to be a fantastic sequel, with more to fight, explore, and just generally do. Supergiant’s amazing art direction is on full display even if some of the alluring character art is missing. Melinoë’s combat technique is slower and chunkier than Zagreus most of the time, leaning into the new Omega attacks that eat up a limited pool of magic and require precision positioning. But just like the first game, you can strategically build up buffs and blessings from the gods to tailor each run to your style. I’m a fan of the hard-hitting techniques of hunky, chunky Hephaestus myself.

Supergiant Games

My favorite part of the game so far is Oceanus, the second area on your way back into the house of Hades. As soon as you dip under the sea you hear someone singing softly, their dulcet tones echoing through Mario-style warp pipes. With each area you clear, the singing gets louder and clearer, until you fight your way into the game’s second major boss, Scylla.

If you remember your middle school literature classes, you’ll recognize Scylla as the sea monster from Homer’s Odyssey, sitting opposite the whirlpool Charybdis and forcing Odysseus to thread a needle between them. In Hades II she’s reimagined as a pop star diva, backed up by a pair of sirens playing guitar and drums.

Supergiant Games

Scylla’s visual design is a treat. She springs up out of clam shell in a nod to Botticelli’s Venus, tentacles forming both hair and a big rock star coat around her. But it’s the music, and the way it integrates with the fight itself, that’s truly impressive. The bass-heavy metal riffs of the original Hades were good, but never more than background music. In Hades II and in Oceanus in particular, the music becomes a far more interactive part of the experience.

Once you start fighting, the trio goes into a punk rock ballad, singing about how they’re going to beat the crap out of you. Baldur’s Gate III pulled a similar trick, and it was delightful there, but this fight is far more mechanically interesting. Scylla gets center stage, chasing you around as the focus of the fight, but you also need to take down the stationary drummer and the mobile guitarist while avoiding attacks from all three. A “featured artist” in phase two will put one of them in the spotlight, and empower her with boosted offense.

Here’s where things get really interesting. As you defeat one of the three musicians, her track in the song will disappear, as she’s literally silenced from the fight. When Scylla retreats into her shell and becomes temporarily impervious, her singing is muffled and muted. It’s brilliant. And in case you’re wondering, the voice actor for Scylla (Erin Yvette) is also doing the singing. The whole fight reminds me of the music battle in Scott Pilgrim, which was of course filled with video game inspiration.

With the “die, die again” roguelike setup of Hades, you’ll be fighting this girl band dozens of times before you finish the game. But Scylla and the Sirens are no one-hit wonder. Not only will the sea monsters pull out new tricks to use against you, but they also have multiple original songs for both the lead-up through Oceanus and the big fight itself. Some of the lyrics get personally cutting for Melinoë, adding a little extra spite to the fight.

The rest of Hades II has plenty of other fun surprises, but I have to say that the Scylla boss fight is far and away my favorite part of the game so far. You can play it now for $30 on Steam, but I wouldn’t blame you for waiting until the game is formally finished, probably early next year. Cheers to Supergiant for putting the entire game’s soundtrack up on YouTube for free.

Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

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