Deaf / HoH Game Review – Hades

Hades is a single-player, roguelike that has a narrative-driven story and an aesthetically pleasing artstyle. But is it accessible?
A greek god with black hair and yellow, leaf crown holding a large sword and standing stoically. Behind him is a red background with a three-headed dog.

Introduction

Hades is a single-player, action role-playing video game developed and published by Supergiant Games. The game is largely inspired by the roguelike genre, as players crawl through pre-determined levels that are randomly ordered, gain both temporary and permanent level-ups, and a single run is terminated through the player’s death. After an early access release in late 2018, Hades was released on the Nintendo Switch and PC on September 17, 2020. 

Within the game, we play as Hades’ defiant son, Zagreus, who is trying to escape the Underworld and reach Mount Olympus. During his quest, players have the opportunity to gain aid from other Olympians, who grant gifts that assist in Zagreus’ fight through the Underworld. As is true for most roguelike games, Hades is tough and actively challenges players. A unique aspect of this aesthetically pleasing, roguelike game is that it incorporates a narrative, which players develop as they complete challenges and terminate runs. 

The character is looking onto a city that is swallowed in lava. He states, It's nice and warm out here, I'll give it that.

As someone who grew up on roguelike games and am a bit of a Greek mythology nerd, I was pretty stoked to give this game a try. Given the built-in difficulty, roguelike dungeon crawlers have not always been the most accessible gaming genre, so I was curious to see how Hades compares to its predecessors. 

This review will also highlight the current accessibility within the game, as to help out gamers with disabilities in deciding if this might be a title for them.

The Nintendo Switch was used for this review.

A vibrant green arena filled with ghosts in the stands and tall, red pillars with green withered plants. The main character stands at the center, looking triumphant.

Settings

We will first review what the game has to offer within its general settings. When players hit start, we see two menus pop up: (1) settings and (2) controls. Both include the ability to control distinct accessibility and other accessibility-related features. 

Settings Menu

Within the settings, players are able to utilize a slider to adjust the master volume, as well as the music, SFX, and voice volume. This is a great practice, as users who are deaf and hard of hearing can finetune the volume to meet their individual needs. Additionally, the game also provides the ability to turn off vibration, as well as disable screen shake. Both of these options are critical for those who have physical and cognitive-related disabilities, as symptomology can now be mitigated. 

Settings Menu, where users can adjust volumes, brightness, subtitles, god mode, timer display, vibration, screen shake, and damage numbers.

From here, Hades allows players to adjust the brightness. Though this setting is appreciated, the Nintendo Switch already offers console owners the option to adjust brightness at any given point. However, this game is also offered on the PC, so the brightness slider may be more beneficial for those who decide to play the game on their computers. Overall, I’m happy to see this as an option, as users with visual and/or light sensitivities can easily adjust the brightness to mitigate symptoms or gain better access to this vibrant game.

For subtitles, the game automatically has this feature turned on for all users. As a deaf gamer, this is a practice I love to see, as subtitles are not only beneficial for disabled gamers, but are an integrated part of universal design. Unfortunately, players are unable to customize subtitles to meet their individual needs. That means that individuals with reading-related or visual disabilities might have to err on the side of caution, depending on needs. I suggest that developers consider adding the ability to enlarge subtitles and change the text color. 

A lava filled room, where the user is standing in the center after an epic fight. A speech bubble is next to the user and on the bottom, subtitles show that he is saying "whew, any more heads you'd like chopped off? no?"

Most notably, Hades includes a God Mode, which gives gamers a subtle boost every time they die. The game scales on a curve, where players become stronger due to both permanent level-ups, as well as learning the general game mechanics and patterns. However, for some players, this may not be enough; it can be tough to navigate a fast-paced roguelike and defeat enemies. As a healthy compromise to the game, God Mode makes players stronger, while also maintaining the narrative of the story and overall immersive gameplay.

The decision was strategic and intended for accessible purposes, as the Hades team explained that, “We wanted to open up the thrilling experience of rogue-like games to more players… [God Mode] makes it so those of us who aren’t gods ourselves can still get through, and experience the story that unfolds.” 

The developers clarified that there are no consequences to using this mode, and that players are welcome to turn it on or off whenever they would like.

The God Mode is by far the most impressive accessibility feature Hades has to offer. Not only is God Mode a great name, but it is also revolutionary for the roguelike genre, as rather than scaling the overall game to be easier, God Mode gives a small but impactful boost for those who are struggling to get past a certain point. I hope that future developers and designers consider Supergiant Games’ new accessibility addition to the roguelike genre.

Controls Menu

Within the controls menu, players are able to remap all the basic controls to alternative inputs. Additionally, the controls menu offers a slider option for dead zone, which alters the sensitivity of the joystick. On the Nintendo Switch, physical hardware is more limited. However, if a gamer plans to use their PC, they have the ability to remap options to alternative hardware, as needed.

Controls Menu, where users can turn on aim assist, remap buttons, and adjust the joystick sensitivity.

Players are also able to toggle aim assist, which will make all attacks automatically lock onto foes in range. This is a great addition because as the game progresses, there are more enemies on the screen, and it becomes difficult to physically and mentally navigate attacks. Aim assist can alleviate frustrations, while also not taking away from the core gameplay and mechanics (aka, it’s still fun and challenging!).

Gameplay

So far, we’ve considered the settings and controls menus. However, Hades offers accessible features that are integrated into the core gameplay. This section will explore aspects of the game that promote accessibility, as well as discuss other areas that may need some improvement.

The subtitles within the game, which are automatically turned on, include an opaque background, which adds for great contrast. Therefore, the subtitles never clash with Hades’ vibrant color scheme and are considered to be much more legible. Additionally, characters were assigned a specific color within the subtitles, which makes it easier to distinguish between speakers. Still, I would imagine this may present a barrier for those who require text in a specific color (i.e. certain forms of dyslexia).

As mentioned, font size still seems to be an issue for this game. During combat, allies and enemies will say voicelines, which affect the combat and add to the overall narrative. Unfortunately, it is hard to engage in active combat while also keeping up with the subtitles, as this game is very fast-paced, and the subtitles’ display time is short—largely due to the quick dialogue. This meant that as a deaf gamer, I missed a majority of the combat dialogue.

The main character is in a room with his father and mother figure. The two of them are angry, and the character is saying "I hate it when they fight"

Not only did I have a hard time keeping up with the subtitles, but sometimes they would go unnoticed. I did like how there was a speech bubble next to a character, which let me know that they were speaking. Still, I did not notice the subtitles almost half the time since they were so small, or the timings were too short for my visual processing. This hurt the overall immersion of the game, which was disappointing to me, as Hades is one of the few roguelikes to offer a full storyline.

Additionally, players must constantly navigate through menus to select level-ups. In a similar nature to the subtitles, the text is surprisingly small within the menus. Perhaps if a gamer was playing the PC or using the Switch’s handheld mode, it would be less of a problem. However, I found myself struggling to read all the menu options from my couch. This made navigating menus and following the narrative frustrating at times. The text size may also present barriers for those with visual-related sensitivities and disabilities. I would suggest that the developers add the option to enlarge text for not only the subtitles—as previously mentioned in the above section—but also the ability to enlarge the HUD and UI/UX text. 

Menu titled Well of Charon. The user is able to purchase three items. The text is very small.
Zagreus, prince of the underworld, stating: Erm... look, I've done some things that maybe aren't great, but I am very, very sure i haven't murdered anyone.

In terms of working memory, the game provides many opportunities to remind users of mechanics and abilities. For example, the game will display a reminder to press R2 when the player is ready to go through a door. Additionally, players have the ability to use the tutorial area at any point before their run. Here, players will always be provided the list of controls for specific weapons, as well as a dummy character to practice on. This was really helpful for me, as whenever I came back to the game, I would receive a friendly reminder of my characters’ core mechanics and the general combat system. I hope that other roguelike games will adopt this practice, as it highly benefits those with disabilities who may need assistance with cognitive processes.

The user is inside a tutorial armory, where weapons are displayed that the user can select. The user is attacking a dummy with a spear, and the dummy is stating "all right I'm back!"

Lastly, Hades does a great job at pacing itself. In between levels, players have the ability to take a break, whether it be to rest their hands or read over level-ups. This is great, as players are not pressured to continue the game if a physical or mental break is needed. For example, sometimes my hands would get tired from button mashing, so every few levels, I would take a quick break to rest my hands before moving on to the next boss.

Final Thoughts

Of all the roguelike games I have played, Hades is by far the most accessible. Between the settings and core gameplay, the game provides a multitude of accessibility features. Most impressively, Hades introduces God Mode, which is a revolutionary accessibility feature that helps people who may need a quick boost. As always, though, there is room for improvement, such as the ability to customize subtitles and enlarge the menus’ font. Still, it is clear that Supergiant Games highly values and listens to communities with disabilities. I look forward to seeing what other games they have in-store for us.

Deaf / HoH Game Review – Hades

Overall Score - 7.4

7.4