Imagine playing Hades, working to escape the underworld, fighting, and succumbing to swarms of relentless enemies. Every time your character perishes, you hear the low, sinister chuckle of the King of the Dead in your ear, mocking you for your weakness. Until finally, after countless attempts, you stand before Hades, preparing for the final confrontation, and you hear your character say, “To all our fans, we dedicate this fight to you!” Because in this version of Hades, you’re playing as Theseus.
Thankfully, this did not happen. But according to a report in the Verge, we narrowly avoided a Bad Timeline in which the platinum-blonde blowhard was the star of Supergiant Games’ 2020 roguelite hit instead of the suave and sweet Prince Zagreus.
Early concepts of the game featured Theseus as he explored the labyrinth of Crete, Supergiant co-founder Amir Rao said in a talk on the invitation- and audio-only social app Clubhouse. Though Theseus is a popular heroic figure in Greek myth, the team was unsatisfied with his development as Hades’ hero.
“When we were trying to bring him to life as a protagonist, he has this risk of being kind of very generic,” Hades creative director Greg Kasavin said to Verge. “But as soon as we start adding specific detail[s] to him, he just doesn’t really feel like Theseus anymore.”
Going back to the mythological drawing board, Kasavin found the neglected story of the son of Hades and decided Zagreus would make for a better protagonist.
“We just found a better sort of angle on the protagonist, on the overall theme and on the storytelling technique as well in that one swoop,” Kasavin said.
Theseus as Hades’ protagonist made logical sense. After all, he is the celebrated, minotaur-slaying hero of Greek myth. But Hades’ story worked because it subverted expectations. Gods were still capricious and petty creatures, but they’re your family, and you love them, damnit. It still featured a discontented son killing his overbearing father, but the game’s main story was about reconciliation, not revenge. Even the design of the gods themselves as people of color was revolutionary. Though I think Hades would have been enjoyable no matter who I piloted through those twisting dungeons, I feel the game’s success is because Supergiant took the well-worn source material and got funky with it. In Hades, Theseus is still a hero—an obnoxious, self-absorbed, overly groomed hero whom everyone loves to hate.