Escaping the House of Hades is no easy task. The ever-changing pathways through the Underworld are filled with danger—vicious specters prowl, eager for a kill, and traps are scattered everywhere. The music is a steady, pulsating rhythm to amplify that struggle. It can feel daunting. That’s why, whenever Charon’s shop appears, it’s a welcome respite.
I’ve played about eight hours of Supergiant Games’ latest game, Hades, available now in early access on PC via the Epic Games store, and headed to Steam Early Access on December 10, 2019. So far, it’s been a blast. The rogue-like dungeon crawling game is brimming with beautiful art and is a stylish romp through the world of Greek mythology. I’ve had lots of fun dying repeatedly, picking myself back up, and trying again.
In Hades, you play as Zagreus, son of Hades, and you’re trying to escape the Underworld. Some of the supporting cast are the Greek gods themselves, each with distinct personalities told through smart dialogue, as they aid Zagreus on his journey to Olympus. My time with the game has revealed a wealth of sharp writing, excellent character interactions (Zagreus, in particular, is a gem), and I’ve uncovered some hints at an intriguing story—all of these points are characteristic of Supergiant Games’ previous works, Pyre, Bastion, and Transistor. There’s still so much for me to discover, and I’m excited to see how Hades continues to grow and evolve in early access.
I’d be remiss to not mention how stellar Darren Korb’s compositions have been from what I’ve heard so far. Some of the tracks are quick-paced rock anthems that help to motivate and spur Zagreus’ fights through the dungeons of Tartarus and beyond. I made it as far as the game’s third biome, Elysium, where I was bested by two champions of Greek mythology who killed me quickly.
The first area is the one I’ve spent the most time in. There’s a song that plays right at the beginning of the journey. I love how it’s foreboding at the start—a reminder of the underlying tension, caused by the family strife between Hades and Zagreus, which fills the halls of the House of Hades—before low strumming gets interjected. It then goes into a cool beat with a bass line that carries Zagreus’ first steps into the uncertain world that lies beneath his bedroom window.
I don’t know how long I spent roaming the gorgeous yet gloomy halls of Tartarus, trying to figure out what the symbols over chamber doors meant. I also don’t know how many times I died in the first hour or so while attempting to unlock weapons and items, then testing them to see which one worked best for me. What I do know is that when I first entered the chamber with a symbol of a golden skull on a money bag, and heard the music that played, I wanted to return to that room on every subsequent run.
Charon, the Stygian boatman of Hades who transports souls of the dead, was behind the door. I didn’t know what to expect but there he was. Not a foe but an astute businessman, who communicated in gurgles. Charon’s shop carries items that fetch a fairly high price—usually health items, and a chance to get a power-up from an Olympian God. But what immediately struck me was how damned great Charon’s theme song was.
After spending a while getting beaten down in the dungeons as part of learning the flow of the game, Charon’s shop was calming. I was reeling from managing to scrape by in an exhausting battle when I first heard it—the first, short notes of the harpsichord were so pleasant, and different, from the rock-heavy, battle weary sounds that kept me on my toes moments before.
Unsurprisingly, Charon’s shop theme, “Final Expense,” also has an eerie quality to it. As it progresses, the harpsichord plays over the kind of music you may expect to find in a creepy, video game graveyard. That’s fitting, I guess, for the ferryman to souls. It’s a gorgeous song that puts me at ease—maybe I’m just weird like that. Take a listen:
Usually a song like this might make me feel like something bad is about to happen, and well, that’s not entirely untrue in the game. Sometimes, Charon’s shop is the last stop before a boss fight. In those cases, yes, there is something intense that will follow. But the bad thing doesn’t happen in Charon’s shop itself. It’s a cool way to use the Stygian boatman—this bringer of the dead—as a zombified creature who only wants to deal in shiny gold pieces.
Charon and his shop—filled with curiosities and sometimes, surrounded by the ghostly bloody hands of those committed to the torment of the Underworld—are the best. A peaceful moment in the battle-drenched depths of Hades thanks to a chill, macabre song that plays when you meet him. There are actual respite rooms, too, but Charon’s shop music that plays makes his chamber all the more inviting.
I’m always really sad when I don’t have enough coins to make a visit to Charon worthwhile. There are times I go into the shop anyway even if I can’t buy anything to aid my escape. Because sometimes, you just want to hang out with a person who doesn’t have too much to say but you can both just relax and take in the music, you know?