Why The Binding of Issac: Rebirth is more than just a bullet hell: Part one
I have been playing Binding of Isaac for a couple of years now. I’ve sunken hundreds of hours into it, and despite that, I’m still nowhere near completing the game. Maybe that’s just because I’m bad at it, but who knows. When you initially play Binding of Isaac, or even watch a video of gameplay, or look at pictures, you will automatically just assume it’s just a rogue-like bullet hell with perma deaths. But I assure you, it is so much more than that.
If you watch the beginning animation, that lays out the story pretty solidly. Isaac and his mother, live alone in a house. His mother, is very religious, and one day hears voices of God telling her that her son is a sinner, and he must be punished for his actions. To guarantee “God’s love”, she agrees that Isaac is an abomination, and strips away his toys, his clothes, and eventually it all leads up to her trying to kill him, where he jumps down a trap door into the basement.
There are a series of cutscenes that you unlock by playing the game, unlocking new characters, mobs and floors. It takes a while to get into the nitty gritty of it all, but when you do, it’s so worth it.
First, let’s examine the ‘final’ bosses.
To start with, we have It Lives. This boss is the first final boss that you will come across, and one of the easier ones to handle. You will have to beat this boss a significant amount of times to be able to unlock other floors, so it’s not too hard to get used to. For reference, this is what it looks like.
This boss has been said to resemble Isaac as a fetus, and shows him in the womb, which, by completing the boss fight, you are technically killing Isaac. When you fight this boss, you can hear the mom’s heartbeat, and on top of that, she says his name throughout the fight, rather sternly. At the end of the fight, she fires out brimstone attacks. If Isaac is hit by these attacks, you can hear her laughing at him. The music that plays during this fight is called Ventricide. Although not a real word, it’s a play on the word ventricle (one of the two large chambers of the heart) and the suffix -cide, which indicates an act of killing. The suffix is used in other music tracks from the game, like Infanticide, Matricide and Hericide.
If you have The Bible equipped in game, you can also kill It Lives instantly. If we deconstruct this, this could mean that because It Lives is representative of Isaac, that by using the Bible, it is able to kill him instantly because he is an abomination, a sin, he is the root of all evil, as Isaac’s mother believed.
Have I blown your mind yet? Are you interested in the game? Well, hold onto your horses as we move onto the next boss in the game!
After this, you have two pathways: Sheol, or the Cathedral. Since It Lives is not sugar, not spice and certainly not all things nice, let’s talk about Sheol, and the boss fight that takes place there:
(I hope you imagined that coming out of a booming microphone, right into your ear. I know I did.)
In Hebrew, Sheol is translated to “the place of the dead.” Sheol is the 9th floor in the game, which in Dante’s Inferno, one of the first books to describe hell in detail, describes the 9th layer of Hell as frozen. Because of this, when Isaac dies in Sheol, on his last will, in the corner it says that he died in some cold place. Additionally, Dante’s Inferno says that the 9th layer is where Satan himself is imprisoned, hence why the boss fight takes place on the ninth floor (if you don’t have Curse of the Labyrinth.) The music that plays in Sheol is named ‘Duress’ which is defined as intimidation or coercion, and usually signifies an act of violence, too.
When the fight starts, Satan says Isaac’s name, but reversed and with heavy distortion. Could this be suggesting that Isaac’s mum is the sinner, the devil? The music that plays during this boss fight is called Hericide. Hericide is defined as the act of killing one’s master, lord or teacher, which says a lot about the relationship Isaac and Satan have. From the point of view of the mother, it signifies that Isaac truly is a follower of Satan, and that he is his master. However, what does that make Isaac after he’s killed Satan?
Moving over to the more angelic side of things, let’s examine the Cathedral, and the boss fight that resides there.
The boss you fight there is Isaac. You may be wondering, ‘oh my god, I have to kill… me?’ and to be honest, that’s not the craziest thing here at all. When you are in the boss fight, the music that plays is called Infanticide, which is the act of killing a child or newborn. Isaac himself is only a young child, if not just a toddler, therefore the name of the song is very telling. There are only two instances in the whole game where the boss doesn’t explode into a pile of gore, and this is one of them. Instead, when ‘killed’ he becomes an angel, and has a smile on his face. This could suggest several things. Especially since throughout the boss fight, he starts by crying during phase one, curled up in a ball on the floor. By phase two, he looks scared, with tears down his face. By phase three, he wears a smile on his face. This could be a suggestion that, at first, he feared death, but the closer he gets to that moment, it provides clarity and peace to him, and he realises that by dying, he is helping himself, which is something that is seen throughout a vast majority of the cutscenes that play.
I’m going to wrap it up here for part one of this series. There will probably be two parts, for the bosses, just so you don’t get bored of me just yet! I hope I’ve enlightened you, and you’ve found it interesting! Take care, see you in the next one.