In this series, we have gone through the life and adventures of the erstwhile god of war, Kratos. The goal of this quest is to learn as much about the history and evolution of the grimacing Greek before diving into the 2018 soft reboot and seeing how much of the original lore and character has survived. If you’re joining me for the first time, I recommend reading through the series to get the full experience, though this text will summarise my thoughts as a whole and acts as a proverbial stop for breath before the plunge to come. So, with that said and done, how does the surly Spartan seem after our adventures thus far?
Before we consider where we are, we must first have a look at where we began. In the original God of War, Kratos is portrayed as a somewhat one-dimensional beast of rage and indignation, and that's putting it mildly. His answer to most — if not all — problems is to one, shout at it while grimacing, and two, hitting it with swords, rocks, other creatures, or even the target of his rage themselves! An attempt is made to humanise the raging renegade as he interacts with characters, but honestly, he ends the game angrier than ever with little growth, just more baggage. Regretfully, the same can be said of God of War II, as the only growth we see in our hero is in his ego.
If I were to describe the Kratos of the PlayStation 2 era, the words selfish, violent, bullheaded, and bald come to mind, though honestly, this is slightly unfair. While very true, our hulking hero has (slightly) more to him than his brute strength and efficient problem-solving. When interacting with certain characters, he does seem to show some compassion, but these moments are few and far between. The ludonarrative dissonance — i.e. cutscene says “red”, gameplay says “blue” — in the game is stunning, as Kratos will try to save some characters in cutscenes but will mow them down with gusto in-game… or was that just me? It gives health and XP. Stop judging me! To summarise, PS2-tos is a driven man, caring little about the lives he ends or the damage he does, all in the name of his vengeance. Think Rambo, but stabbier. Definitely not someone you could see raising a son.
So, the first few entries’ portrayal of the grimacing Greek is anything but flattering, but what about the next generation? Interestingly, the PlayStation 3 era consists of both the chronologically first — in terms of this series — and last entry in the saga, with God of War Ascension and God of War III, respectively. Both these games are interesting, as they attempt to diversify and deepen our angry anti-hero's personality and motivations. In Ascension, Kratos shows an unprecedented amount of compassion, camaraderie, and even concern for all things toward Orkos, trying to protect his new companion at every turn. When forced to end his new friend, our bloodletting bully even hesitates. It’s a very noticeable difference from the later, almost inhuman, acts of violence Kratos dishes out on a minute-by-minute basis. While in-universe, it may make sense, as the time between the end of Ascension and the beginning of the first game is a mood-fouling 10 years, the sudden change in temperament can be seen as the precursor to the calmer and wiser Kratos we see in the reboot.
In GoW III, I think our savage Spartan is at his most interesting, as his emotions seem to be at their most powerful. Being betrayed left and right, having his powers taken again, and having his vengeance stolen when it seemed so close are a few of the nagging issues our protagonist has to contend with in the game. Understandably, Kratos takes absolutely no messing about from the divinities in his way, being crueller, more vicious, and more violent than ever before. Some of the peak moments of this rage were when he ripped the head of a god to use as a flashlight or when he savagely sacrificed Daedalus to further his goals. However, the fascinating thing about GoW III is Pandora. As I stated in my review, she is very similar to the Boy we see in the newest title: a small, dextrous youth that Kratos has to both work with and work around. They banter, they fight, and they have very opposing views. Even before properly spending time with her, our fatherly fighter is already a hair's breadth from killing anyone speaking ill of her, as Hera saw to her detriment.
Finally, the reason I love Kratos’ depiction in the third instalment is simply the fact that he is flawed. Sure, he’s never been perfect in any of the games, but in most, if not all other titles, he is “successful”, whatever that may mean in the context. While we can argue he’s not doing the right thing, he is usually doing the correct thing. Sure, he kills the Fates and travels through time, but nothing bad seems to come of it. In GoW III, we are shown the magnitude of his actions: each killed god, adding their own spice to the pestilence and destruction of the land, giving the player — hopefully — conflicting feelings about the mission they are on, though Kratos himself couldn’t care less. No, this is not where the flaw I mentioned comes to fruition. It is in the penultimate battle against Zeus that his flawed nature shows itself.
I could probably write an article on this by itself, but near the end of the battle, our hero is holding onto a dangling Persephone, being the only thing between her and being engulfed by the Fire of the gods. Zeus, being the reasonable father he is, mocks Kratos and everything he has done in order to goad him into giving the girl to him. This backfires in the worst way, however, when Zeus’ words actually land, enraging Kratos to the point where he lets go. That is just fantastic and very fitting to the Greek tragedy vibe! If this was a modern movie, our hero would save the girl, beat the god, and be home for gyros’, but here, Kratos’ rage, his biggest flaw, makes him do the one thing he was trying to prevent! Brilliant!
So, after looking at angrier-than-thou PS2-tos and slightly more complex PS3-tos, how unbelievable does the bearded, stern father from the reboot seem? Even with the improvements and depth added in the later games, I personally feel the change from the current Kratos to what is to come seems hard to swallow. Granted, by the end of the third game, our regretful rager has forgiven himself for his transgressions and found a modicum of peace, but this doesn't change the fact that, if he somehow survived the events, I believe wholeheartedly that Kratos would have a fiery hate burning in his sole toward Athena for her last-minute betrayal if nothing else! Previous experience has shown that the man can hold a grudge harder and longer than most. I am beyond excited to see how the new and improved(?) Kratos acts and if these points are touched upon. As a last resort, if all else fails, maybe I can pretend it’s actually his more level-headed twin brother Funtos.
Thank you for joining me in this small summary and introspection on the current situation. I hope you will join me when I dive into God of War (2018) and see where this all has led. For the mythology buffs among you, keep an eye out for the From the Top bonus episode, where I explore the differences between Greek myth and Santa Monica’s interpretation!