Thursday, April 15, 2010

God of War Critique (Part 1 of 6)

Here's the first part of my critique of God of War. It took me about a week or so to tear through the game on a literary level, and my digging revealed some pretty sweet concepts. You might be thinking, "But I thought God of War was about living my fantasy of being an actual man?" Well I say you are wrong! In God of War (the first of the series, at least), there is a surprisingly deep and interesting story. I'll be posting the rest of my findings over the week.

God of War: There is a Story

God of War, a game created so that players can experience the word “epic” in the bloodiest way possible, has a pretty strong story that occasionally falls apart under careful scrutiny. The story is intriguing and fun to live, as the player watches the protagonist, Kratos, rise from the emotional dirt to absolute and solemn glory. I say “emotional” because the game brings out sentiments that are very important in understanding the protagonist, and this makes for a richer and deeper story. A lot of the environments, as well as the tasks, convey something about Kratos and his internal conflict, which is the crux of the story. God of War was also one of the first games to involve a lot of background action; stuff that didn’t directly affect the player but said something about the current situation. One thing that will go without saying for most of this critique is that God of War's gameplay and story mesh well, and this is more important than some people might think.
I hope there yet lives an Athenian Chiropractor!

           Let’s start at the beginning, and the somewhat surprising introduction. The game kicks off with Kratos flinging himself off of the highest cliff in all of Greece. This may come as a surprise to the player who, due to trailers or the game's general popularity, probably believed this guy to be the baddest ass of badassery. Why would a character, who practically showers in the innards of his enemies, do something that says he's not such a tough guy after all? Firstly, its an attention grabber. Secondly, this scene tells the player right off the bat that this isn’t just a mindless action-game, and there's a nice character driven story to be appreciated. This scene offers a mystery to be revealed throughout the course of the game; how did Kratos come to this tragic end?

The writers, or whoever was responsible, must’ve hoped that the player would keep this scene in mind, so that he/she would keep track of how Kratos is affected by the situations around him. The player eventually gets a grasp of who Kratos is, and why they should care about him. (I put so much emphasis on this because of the sequel, which bastardizes Kratos and makes him a 1-D ball of rage with little depth). To avoid letting the player make assumptions for too long, the game transitions to a time before Kratos decided to greet the waters at mach 1.


The player is dropped into a chaotic situation amidst a fleet of ships, ignorant of how Kratos got there or why he’s there in the first place. This fleet definitely doesn’t belong to Kratos, nor does he belong to it, as nobody seems to recognize him. I just assume that Kratos was guided here by the gods. It’s also not explained why there are so many undead minions ripping up the place. In any case, clarity isn’t too important here. The Aegean Sea is mostly a framework for Kratos’ epic deeds, a hint at his infamous past, and a look into his psyche.

Ships are wrecked upon a jagged coast, people are dying left and right, the legendary Hydra torments the survivors, and all the while Kratos is culling baddies amidst a raging sea-storm. The game eventually explains that Kratos has some skeletons in his closet, and the only thing that brings him any solace is endlessly wandering across the sea. With this knowledge, let us begin the deconstruction.
The sea and the Hydra are the most powerful symbols here, and the two go hand in hand. The sea can represent a number of things, and most of which are relevant to this story. The sea can be a symbol of the cycle of life, the unconscious, or even the feminine side of the mind. We’ve already been given a burly protagonist who just surprised us with his own suicide, so a lot of the representation is obvious. Something happened in Kratos’ past that really messed him up, and his present situation on the sea reflects this. A storm thunders overhead, the sea is churning and crashing, and crewmen wail upon broken ships because a vile monster rose from beneath the angry waters to destroy them. The whole situation is a nice way of depicting Kratos’ emotional and mental state, as well as how he judges himself. 

Kratos is a torturous person with a tortured soul. He is built of fury, sadness, desperation, and a hint of madness. His fury and sadness are reflected in the storm and sea. The Hydra could be a manifestation of his monstrous side, as well as its control over him. It almost like he’s fighting himself (I wonder if that pops up again, later (It does)).

The Hydra takes a lot of the spotlight in the introduction, so let’s take a deeper look. The Hydra is a creature that lives buried in the earth whose many heads can regenerate when damaged or destroyed (often growing two more heads in place of one), making the beast nearly immortal. Because of this, the Hydra can represent hopelessness, which brings us back to dear old Kratos, whose only comfort from his past is in getting lost at sea.

Everyone, save Kratos, is running around flailing their arms and screaming like madmen, utterly stricken with fear. If you haven’t guessed or played the game, Kratos must do battle with the mighty Hydra; a beast which rose from the watery abyss. So, by extension, Kratos may also be fighting his own hopelessness brought about by his past, which he desperately wishes he could bury. By the end of this level, we find out that this is precisely the conflict of the game.

Kratos eventually conquers the Hydra in a deliciously violent fashion, which serves to show how remarkably able this particular hero is. However, Kratos isn’t the goodly type.

After playing through the Aegean Sea, we get a sense of how dark and sinister our hero is. As Kratos rampages across the ship decks, he comes across a lone survivor. Upon seeing Kratos, this guy locks himself behind bars, and screams like a lunatic about how he doesn’t want Kratos of all people to save him. He rants about how Kratos is a monster and pretty much the worst thing to happen, ever. The player must consider that this guy is so afraid of Kratos that he locks himself in a wrecked ship that’s getting torn asunder by a beast that the gods don’t even know what to do with (That has to say something).

After Kratos brutalizes the Hydra, he saunters straight into the thing’s throat to fetch a key he’s been looking for. It just so happens to hang about the neck of a dangling captain that got gobbled up prior. Kratos nonchalantly rips the key from his neck and boots the captain toward his surely horrifying and corrosive death.

Now that he has this special key, and because I assume Kratos has a soft spot for crying women (I wonder if that means something (it does)), he feels the need to return to a room filled with them, to unlock the door. As he could’ve guessed from the frantic screaming before, everyone therein has been slaughtered. Kratos massacres the present foes and reflects on the tragedy before him, mostly because the sight is a parallel to that dastardly thing in his past. Since this whole level is pretty much a projection of Kratos’ inner conflict, its interesting to note that this room was locked away, much like his past.     --


  1. That's nice, Ed. Looking forward to the rest of the critique.

  2. Very well done! I watched the cutscenes to God of War III a couple weeks back and found it utterly stupid, whereas this one was actually interesting (and the second one was still cool greek myths).

    Keep it up! I can't wait to see something on a game I've actually played (lol)!