4 Health as a Risk/Reward mechanism
So you might be wondering «What the hell is a Devil Room, then?». Simply put, is a way to obtain some pretty powerful items, some of which are (or can become) downright broken.9
You go through a single floor without sustaining red heart damage and a mysterious door opens in the room.10 In it, you’ll find a Baphomet sculpture and a choice of two to four items11, laid out like they do in the Shop. Only, instead of regular prices, the items show you one or two hearts.12
Let’s restate this: Devil Room items cost you your life. A literal Faustian bargain: power at the cost of reduced health and (as discussed) reduced ability to make mistakes.
While this might seem like an option that careful players might want to avoid, the game makes sure you think twice. As discussed above, the power level of the enemies tends upwards and if you don’t meet or surpass their might, your run may as well be doomed. Sure, skilled players can defeat the game without intervention from Below (or Above) but this is rarely the case.
So what seems like a simple risk/reward mechanism is actually the regular gameplay loop for progression. Who said health is a simplistic game element?
3: Health as a test of skill
← Health in The Binding of Isaac
→ 5: Health as an exchange currency
in my opinion, the Devil Room items actually are the most powerful items in the game. While Angel Room items are statistically more powerful, even getting to one is more unreliable, and the chances of an Angel Room actually having, say, Godhead, are so low that they are not useful planning around. I’d rather have a less powerful but more reliable set of items.↩︎
I don’t recall right now, but there’s only a few rooms where the chance for a Devil Room is actually 100%, most notably the second floor (Basement 2). I’m overlooking the actual chances for now.↩︎
This is not guaranteed: some Devil rooms may not have items, but red chests or a surprise fight with Krampus. I’m also glossing over this detail.↩︎
Or three soul hearts, but this will be discussed later.↩︎