Monday, April 19, 2010

God of War Critique (part 2 of 6)

Here's the second part of my analysis. In this part I touch on Kratos' trip through Athens, discussing what's significant and nitpicking all the while.


So Kratos manages to get away with a completely functional ship and after a few restless nights and a couple of threesomes, Kratos decides he has had enough. Ten years of serving the gods has gained him nothing, and he demands satisfaction. He storms onto the main deck, charges through the rain, and starts bellowing at a statue of Athena (his guiding god). The statue animates and conveys Athena’s voice and Kratos’ final task. He must take down Ares, the god of war, who is laying siege to Athens. Since Zeus has forbidden the gods from warring on each other directly, it must be Kratos that does the wet work. Only in achieving this impossible charge will his overwhelming past be forgiven.

O, Kratos.
This small scene lays the groundwork for the rest of the game, and communicates a few important ideas. Firstly, the player is shown this spooky animation of the statue, through which Athena speaks. The fact that Athena doesn’t come down to speak to Kratos directly tells us that there is a defined relationship, a disconnect, between the gods and the mortals that I’ll talk about later. Also, there’s this matter of dealing with Ares (the 400 1/2 foot tall Godzilla). The relationship between Kratos and Ares has yet to be explained, but it is one of the focuses of the game. Then there’s the recurring business of Kratos’ past, which Kratos wants to erase.

Something to pay special attention to is how Kratos reacts when he finds out this will be his final task. He was consumed by rage before, but now he is docile and, from the sound of his voice, desperate as if on the verge of madness. He just looks so sad and lost, standing there in the rain mumbling to himself. O, Kratos.

So after a few more threesomes, Kratos lands in Athens to save it from an angry war god. Because he is this much of a man, this leads me to believe that this kind of thing might be his everyday ritual. If you haven't realized it yet, the game tries really hard to push Kratos' gargantuan manliness through the sky (that is, if he's laying on his back). Anyway, Kratos begins his journey across the sacked city. Ares' undead minions permeate all of Athens. After grappling with a few hell-soldiers, Kratos comes across what I believe to be his strangest foe.

"What the hell are you?!"
Lo, the insidious mechano-cyclops, complete with its trusty extendo-mace, falls from the sky like an bizarre vision of Chris Farley from Beverly Hills Ninja. Every time I play God of War, I find myself wondering, what the hell is this thing? I know that the Greeks in the God of War universe have some crazy understanding of technology that nobody can fathom, but damn. You’d think this unholy thing would come later at a more appropriate time (like Pandora’s Temple where technology is omnipresent), but instead it is the first Cyclops the player encounters. What's worse is that there are relatively normal cyclopes later on. This thing is unlike almost any other creature Kratos comes across in his adventure.

After the player deals with this…thing, Kratos navigates the strange passageways of Athens, which is constructed in such a way that only people like Kratos can get through. At points, the player might notice how un-ergonomic this city is, at least, if you stand back and think about it. It begs the question; what sort of people live here? There’s a room filled with colossal stacks of boxes, and the only other exit, besides the one you entered through, is carved out at the top of a 50-foot wall. Once Kratos arrives at the residential side of town, you’ll find that half of the prison-cell homes are stacked on top of one another. From all of this I must assume that Athens is where the original Globetrotters came from. Or maybe there could have been a lot of Greek-Animal love consummation that allowed them to develop super homo-bestial jumping abilities. Considering all the minotaur and satyrs running amok, this twisted notion may not be far off. Either way, you’d think a city built to represent intelligence and culture would come up with something more practical.

Screw the stairs!
Nitpicks aside, there are some story elements to look at in Athens. At this point we know that Kratos is a Spartan. The Spartans were Greeks whose entire culture was shaped around the concept of war. Athens, on the other hand, was a city famous for its culture, innovations, and general intellect. Here, there is a clash of ideas as Kratos, a Spartan, mingles with war-torn Athens. At one point, to continue his quest, he topples a statue holding a scroll (forgoing intellect, much?). He even works for Athena, the goddess of wisdom, as if she’s his reform officer. From this knowledge it could be said that Kratos is grappling with his need for destruction, and the option of holding back his fury and taking a more civilized route.

This idea comes up later when he reaches the oracle of Athens. After rescuing the oracle, she looks into his mind and reveals his past. She finds a history of bloodlust and conquest, as well as the secrets he didn’t want dug up.

You see, there was a great battle between an army of barbarians and Kratos’ forces. Although Kratos was indeed powerful, the numbers he stood against were too great. Just before he was to be felled by the barbarian king, Kratos made a desperate plea to Ares. Kratos swore that if Ares would destroy his enemies, then Kratos’ life would be his. The War god took Kratos up on his offer, and sent down the Blades of Chaos (Kratos' iconic weapons). After their chains fused with the flesh of Kratos’ arms, he laid waste to all who opposed him.

After the battle, however, Kratos was Ares' tool; to be used and abused. Ares eventually sent Kratos and his forces to raid an Athenian village. They proceeded to slaughter everyone in the village for worshipping Athena. Eventually Kratos came upon a particular house.  Before entering he was warned not to by the local old lady. Ignoring her, he readily killed all those inside, and after the fog of Ares’ control dissipated, he found his wife and daughter dead upon the floor. The elderly woman then bound the ashes of Kratos’ family to his flesh, rendering him ghostly white, to serve as a reminder of his actions to all. In general, I find this whole bit awesome. What hubris!

I really can't imagine how the honeymoon went over.
While this cut-scene is playing we see Kratos’ wife holding their frightened child. Just before the great battle where Kratos fell, she demanded that he bring his lust for war to an end. This brings us back to the idea that Kratos is struggling with his need for conquest and the idea of sheathing his blades. Despite his ripping up everything that crosses his path, this is indeed a conflict in his character. This idea is one of a scant few that loosely hold the series together. What is it that Kratos actually needs? At this point we now know that this quest is not only about his revenge, it is about his absolution.

With his past laid out, there’s one issue I’d like to bring to light. While Kratos is storming through Athens, toward the end of the section, he comes across some sort of noble woman. She just so happens to be another person who knows the gory details of Kratos’ past deeds. After she panics and bolts away, Kratos shouts for her to wait. The thing is, Kratos doesn’t sound enraged, or as if he wants her dead (something the sequels would make the player expect). He sounds as though he could be either concerned or sad, even. Here we get to see Kratos’ remorse for what he’s done. He doesn’t want to be seen as the monster everyone knows him as. When Kratos finally catches up with the woman at the top of a balcony, she feels cornered and accidentally falls to her death. This whole situation adds to the price of Kratos’ mistakes.     --

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