(Editor’s note: In this feature series, our staff gets the chance to let off some steam -Bennett- and talk about some of the more infuriating aspects of the games and systems we love. After all, not everything can be rainbows and sunshine. Also, SPOILERS!)
Greek mythology and videogames are two things I am very fond of. Naturally, one would think I am a fan of the God of War series, right? Well, it’s complicated. My relationship with the series is a love/hate one, and as each subsequent entry in the series gets released it has started shifting more towards the latter.
In an effort to come to terms with a series that is so exasperatingly enjoyable I have decided to create my own trilogy of articles detailing why I both love and hate God of War and how it could and should be better.
So why does the series make me so angry you ask? The three biggest problems in my eyes are the story, the ease of its boss fights, and the lack of fealty to the original myths. So let’s start with the biggest offense, the story.
The creation of a modern myth
When the first God of War came out it was a new take on Greek myth that cobbled together bits of the greatest legendary heroes’ tales, including the slaying of Medusa and navigating a labyrinth complete with a Minotaur. It was all done with a new hero named Kratos who was trying to gain absolution for murdering his own family by finding a way to kill Ares, the god of war.
Kratos wasn’t your traditional videogame hero. He was both a badass and a sympathetic character, which is a very difficult feat to pull off. Without David Jaffe’s direction, I don’t think it would have been nearly as successful.
Kratos genuinely laments what he has become (a monstrous killing machine) throughout the game, and though he can’t change who he is, he is willing to try and make things right by the only way he knows how: fighting. The ensuing fights with creatures, navigating Pandora’s temple, and finally confronting Ares were great because it all meant something. Kratos was moving towards a goal that was identifiable and made him human. He was trying to overcome his past sins by going through the most grueling ordeal the gods could put him through. He wasn’t fighting out of anger, or just for the hell of it; he was trying to keep good on a promise he made and it just so happened to coincide with taking down the one person who cause him the most pain: Ares.
In the end, Kratos still can’t overcome his past but he is rewarded with the position as the new God of War for his deeds. It’s actually a very powerful concept but the power of the first game is completely negated by everything after it. Despite what God of War did right, it had one glaring problem: it was successful.
Success breeding mediocrity
In the wake of the first game’s success, Sony needed a sequel to cash in on their new franchise. And that’s where the problems started. They had a different director, Cory Barlog, who was given the task of extending Kratos’ tale in order to create a grand trilogy culminating in the final battle with Zeus.
In the first few minutes of the game Gaia (the narrator) explains Kratos’ motivations in one sentence, ”He turned his nightmares into hatred for the Gods.” Really? He goes through everything in the first God of War, has that whole 10 years of indentured servitude for the gods of Mt. Olympus, is rewarded with immortality and godhood, and just gets all cranky about it? And this is not just cranky; this is cranky enough to murder just about anything with (or even without) a pulse.
I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. From the second game on, Kratos is in the wrong and is the villain of the series.
Another problem with the second game is that it invalidates and takes away the meaning of the first one. Kratos dies at the beginning of the game only to come back from Hades (with guidance from the Titans via telepathy or some such vision quest malarkey) for the second time, which makes it seem like less of an ordeal. Later on, he fights the barbarian from his flashbacks who also escapes from Hades. With everyone just waltzing in and out of Hell, why even fear death, Hades, or anything? It dilutes the whole notion of why anyone does anything in the series.
But by far the biggest problem with God of War II is an element introduced in the series that just doesn’t belong–time travel.
Kratos is rendered mortal, kills the Sisters of Fate (who are immortal like Ares, so that makes no sense) then uses their magical strings and mirrors to go to different periods of time and cause all sorts of paradoxes, but ultimately the main goal is just to undo his death at the beginning. Why? He already escaped Hades. I know he needs Zeus’ blade but when he saves himself he creates two Kratos’. This is something that is never addressed and irks me.
If Kratos never died would he have seen the Titans? Would he even go on the quest that the whole game was about? Also, he took the Titans from the past to the future. If they weren’t there in the past how could they aid him throughout the game? The use of time travel made no logical sense because the ramifications were just brushed aside. The whole purpose of God of War II was to set up the fight against Mt. Olympus and I understand that, but it doesn’t save it from being the Matrix Reloaded, or Dead Man’s Chest of the series.
The finale… Kinda
Then God of War III happened. GoWII set the stage for the showdown with the Olympians so you’d assume GoWIII would be the most epic, awesome, and at least hardest in terms of whom you had to fight right? Not entirely.
Right off the bat, the game starts with a voiceover stating that Kratos would have his revenge. The entire game is a foregone conclusion. We know Zeus is the final boss, we know Kratos will win; it’s just a matter of how and in what quick time event he utilizes to do it.
The story follows suit from GoWII, with Kratos angry and destroying things. Poseidon, one of the most powerful gods in the Greek myth canon, is the first boss dispatched. Kratos goes to Hades, kills Hades, another of the three most powerful, and once again navigates hell back to the surface. At the beginning of GoWIII we kill two gods that are just below Zeus in power and escape Hades yet again! What fear should Kratos possibly have for anything else he encounters?
Then there’s the whole Pandora’s Box plot device. Kratos apparently needs it to “kill a god” but he kills Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hermes, Hephaestus, Cronus, and the Fates in order to reach it. Why even get it? And don’t forget about Pandora herself, the key to opening the box. She reminds Kratos of his daughter so he all of a sudden reverts to a caring father figure for about an hour. It doesn’t make sense character-wise.
Let me get this straight – he destroys everyone and everything in his way and in doing so plunges the world into chaos, all in the name of revenge for an act he committed, and now suddenly decides to care about someone? I don’t accept it.
Kratos eventually gets Pandora’s Box, but it’s empty, so Athena tells him he had the power all along. All he needed to do was “believe!” That’s how they write him off as being able to kill all the gods and eventually Zeus himself! I find it unbearably lame. As a player I was waiting for something big, exciting, or even unexpected only to find out he had the power and didn’t need to do anything in part II or III but walk up to Zeus and punch him. Cop Out!
Usually stories of this nature involve character development: Dorothy growing up and realizing what her family means to her in Oz, or Neo finally understanding the Matrix and his role in it, but not Kratos. His story is compelling in the first game but in II and III he is just an angry, angst-ridden child who wants to kill people. In the end he kills himself, but he’s escaped Hades so many times death really has no meaning anymore, and after the credits his body is gone leaving just enough leeway for there to be a fourth (which has since been announced).
I hope Sony can salvage the story of the franchise and set it on a more coherent path. I hate that I love to play these games because even though they’re very fun, the character you play as and the story he’s involved in are just frustrating. Sony would do well to let someone with actual film/television/better writing credentials helm the narrative, but then they would have to let the story dictate the direction of the game and not the other way around.
I can only imagine what Sony has in store for the fourth installment. Rumors have already been circling about co-op, introducing Norse and/or Egyptian mythology, and even having a different main character. I actually dread the terrible narrative they’ll create to string everything together, but what I hate more is that regardless of what happens I’ll probably buy and play it.
Like a train wreck, I can’t stop looking at it. Or thinking about it.
The games are fun to play from a gameplay perspective, which is so infuriating for me because the story and bosses have so much potential, but all the creators care about is getting to the next big thing without focusing on what is currently happening in the game.
Stay tuned for part II: Boss Fights: the Good, the Bad, and the Easy.