Since its original release as a subversive flash game way back in 2011, The Binding of Isaac has ascended from a cult classic to a mainstream success. In the time since that release, all of the elements which made it subversive, from its dark themes to its biblical allusions, have been covered and analyzed by critics from numerous angles.
Theories about the meaning of the game’s obscure, sparse narrative have ranged from wild ad hoc hypotheses about Isaac’s family history to carefully built cases tracing themes across several earlier games made by designer Edmund McMillen. Regardless, it has seemingly all been said (until the upcoming Rebirth expansion brings new evidence, at least).
I see that sort of analysis as highly valuable, and I find myself largely in agreement with commenters who interpret The Binding of Isaac as a portrait of a particular type of upbringing, with all of the entailed positive (i.e. creative and skeptical) and negative (i.e. repressed and threatened) effects. Acknowledging that as trodden ground, however, I would like to discuss an aspect of the game which is often gestured toward, but seldom discussed at length: how the roguelike gameplay lends itself to the game’s homage and spiritual succession of the earliest Legend of Zelda games.
Bound and Determined: