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SummaryKratos is quite simply just one big "pee yoo es es why"
The GoodIf videogames have had a hard time being accepted by society like other “big city” art forms, it is in no small part of the “small town” attitude proffered it by video gamers themselves. This can be seen in the “small town” reviews that are made by the vast majority that you’ll see everywhere. When a game is either good nor bad depending on whether or not it is enjoyed, it is not a criticism worthy of any art form. While this is something that you’ll see more akin in a small town newspaper about the local play, this is not an attitude that propels the form of videogames forward. Basically speaking, games are fun or not fun; art is good or bad regardless of enjoyment, but interesting to talk and discuss about. If you treat videogames as just a game, then why should society at large respect something you regard just as fun?
The main thing often seen in a review of a videogame is the opinion that something is very good or very bad, and then the reasons why. Like you’ll see on this site, reviewers try to outdo each other but end up talking about the same thing; usually it has to do with the tech side of things: frame rates, texture mapping, pop-ups, collision detecting and all things geek. However, if videogames are indeed art like many say then a successful videogame has to marry the scrawny, technical geek with the beautiful, emotive art. Videogame reviews should reflect this: sure, a game is fun but as a work of art how does it make you feel, make you think? Such thinking is sure to be condemned, and with cardigan sweater and pipe is ripe to be banned to the rural countryside of some pre-industrial nation.
Is free thought on videogames so radical? Are videogames an art form that is suitable for criticism despite fanboyism and casual gamers? Or do people just want things to blow up real good? With that in mind, I offer this opinion on the hero of the PS2’s crowning achievement, 2005’s “God of War”:
Kratos is one big pussy. And because the game operates on such an epic level, I think it’s fair to say Kratos is a pussy on a MASSIVE scale.
First off, to “Donald Rumsfield”: “Is this game fun?” “Is this a good game?” Yes and yes. Like many before me have so eloquently said before, this is a fun and well-done third-person action game that successfully blends excessive violence and sex with action game play, paces it correctly with puzzles and platforming to maintain a balanced overall experience and serves it on a platter that is nothing short of epic and breathtaking. Lots can be said on that alone, which already has had a lot said about it.
However, the fact that Kratos is a terrible protagonist seems to have eluded everyone. While he does have a cool body length tattoo, a bald head, a deep and dark scowl and the mandatory weapons of destruction chained permanently to his wrists, he is not the “bad-ass” the game purports him to be. (next section may contain spoilers)
The beginning of God of War has the game’s hero, Kratos, step off the highest cliff in Greece to his death in the Aegean Sea below. This beginning of the game is also the “end’ of his story. The game play is the middle of the story, and then throughout the game flashbacks occur that show the beginning of the story. If you haven’t played the game, I will save you the trouble of doing so because nothing at all during the game matters. Kratos’ story is such that he could have skipped from the beginning to the end; if he thought about it he could have just committed suicide right where the game begins and saved himself and the legions of dead he will send to Hades the hassle. This, of course, is no fun for the gamer but it does cancel out any kind of a point to the story.
The reason why he commits suicide is thus: he can’t forgive himself. Without trying to give the story away, Kratos did an unpardonable sin and wants redemption. Kratos is not out to eradicate evil; that the object of his vengeance, Ares, is evil is neither here nor there. The character Marv from Frank Miller’s “Sin City” has an awesome pulp fiction line: “I’m killing my way to the truth, one body at a time.” However, this is inversely the opposite for Kratos: every one he kills takes him further from the truth.
Kratos is an asshole, one on an equally epic scale as his being a pussy. He is extremely selfish and arrogant. There is a Chinese saying that suits him, “怨天尤人” (yuan4 tian1 you2 ren2)—to blame god and man. It means to blame everyone except oneself, and that’s what this game is about: to fault someone else for one’s own actions by killing lots of things that are mostly evil but sometimes not. Kratos believes that Ares tricked him into committing that awful act, but who indeed is responsible? In the “God of War” universe you can murder gods (God of War) and also change your fate (God of War II)—is this not the ultimate assertion of the power of the individual? It’s Kratos himself who begged Ares for power to destroy his enemies at any cost, and so Kratos got exactly what he wanted, and it may even be said what he deserved. If any is responsible, it Kratos himself; he, however, finds it easy to blame others.
Therefore, this asshole quality is what propels the game story forward. Furthermore, this redundancy of the “middle story” that the gamer plays through is not in fact redundant to Kratos because it’s exactly what he wants. Kratos is doing it because he can’t give up the power he has amassed and so can’t give up being an asshole. It’s very apparent he likes the Blades of Chaos-end of the deal he has with Ares but not the bad end of the deal that always happens when you make a deal with the devil; this makes Kratos not a man of his word, but he is an asshole after all. If he was a good man he’d walk away from it all and try to start over again, but then we wouldn’t have a “kick-ass” video game. Instead we have a protagonist who isn’t fair, can’t accept defeat and thinks only of himself.
Not the qualities of a hero; a hero wouldn’t fight through a horde of monsters in disillusionment. A hero is someone who does things unselfishly for the greater good. Kratos isn’t much of an anti-hero either due to the epic scale he is thrust upon. Sadly, the story is pointless that even though Kratos battles giant monsters and does things scarcely hinted at in other video games, the real battle is occurring within his heart for the ability to forgive himself. Athena does “promise” to end his visions but then again in this individual empowered world of “God of War” if a mortal has the ability to murder gods and change his fate, why can’t he forgive himself? Why is this only in the providence of the gods? Perhaps those gods that Kratos despises may have a use after all…
And that’s why Kratos is a pussy: even though he has the courage to fight armies of ferocious beasts he does not have the courage to face the demons in himself, something unavoidable as this is what he is trying to conquer in this game. Kratos is a pussy for taking the ultimate coward’s end by not taking responsibility for his life’s actions and committing suicide. Kratos’ death isn’t even a hero’s suicide that will benefit others (like any number of Bruce Willis’ movies, like Sin City or Armageddon); no, Kratos kills himself conceding failure in his life, EPIC FAIL as they say, if you’re going to lose well then you might as well lose BIG.
If it were not set in mythical ancient Greece it would be more apparent how much of a “gangster mentality” God of War has: I want what’s coming to me, and I want it all. The affinity towards Kratos as a role-model is similar to the way people look at “Scarface” (1983), Brian DePalma’s gangster rags-to-riches epic about the Cuban refugee who made it very big before falling very far. “Saying hello to a little friend” and “what capitalism is” as well “two things in the world will not be broken” are bandied about in modern pop culture references as a testament to how revered the movie and it’s hero are, as is the “Scarface” DVD seen in any number of hip-hop artists homes on MTV “Cribs”. However, “Scarface” was great and made sense because it was about a man’s rise and fall. Tony Montana failed, failed massively. (spoiler ending coming up on a 25 year old movie) He killed his best friend out of jealousy, couldn’t protect his sister, had his wife leave him, never got the love and respect of his mother and personally engineered the downfall of his criminal career. While Tony Montana did get everything he deserved as he is personally responsible for each of the movies end result, Kratos is absolved of his responsibilities—if for no other reason than the upcoming cash cow sequels.
It is still never explained why Kratos is so powerful. Sure, “kratos” means power in Greek, but if that connection holds any water it’s a wonder why more parents don’t name their child “Money” or “Twelve-Inch Penis” for that matter. It is a real cliché in games or movies that the hero is able to escape from a impossible situation by sheer chance or luck, but then we accept it because they are heroes: they are good people who do good things, and so naturally good things happen to them. In God of War, you have Kratos: a bad person who does bad things. There’s no reason why good things should happen to him, and none is given. Kratos is just a powerful mortal who overcomes his obstacles for two reasons: he wants to, and he’s powerful. That equation adds up to one cheap story.
All this doesn’t matter to people who won’t delve into the real story and just want a game to play that is fun. That would be okay if gamers didn’t walk around with a chip on their shoulder wanting membership to the exclusive “art club”. But, gamers do, and then there are games like God of War, a fun game but about as anti-art as you can get.
Fun game aside, God of War is about as insincere and convoluted as they come. It has a maturity that keeps the idea of videogames as just toys, and not the idea as a expressive art form to which it will one day be dragged kicking and screaming. This is a great game that proves without any doubt that video games are a poor medium in which to tell a story.
If the gaming public attitudes towards videogames doesn’t change as it hasn’t so far, we’ll be playing more juvenile and immature videogames to come because it is the video gamers themselves who treat games as toys.
The BadCan’t carjack any cars. No dialogue tree available that explores Kratos’ development as a child growing up in WWII France and his discovery of sex through his older sister. No inclusion of Japanese gravure stars or Korea’s hottest export, RAIN!
The Bottom LineYou know, I like this game as it has everything I could ask for. Great action, over the top gore, and a grown-up sensibility that combines violent and sexual themes. But this isn’t one of my favorite games because of all the contradictions inherent in the story. I don't identify with Kratos. Sadly, I can't bear to do another time through in "God Mode".
Sadly, if this game had no story if would be better off that the self-important version that takes itself so seriously now. This game is not mindless as others have said, but it requires you to be mindless to enjoy this game even though a lot of thought has been put into this. I think immoral games are better enjoyed when they don’t explain themselves, like State of Emergency or Grand Theft Auto III. Sometimes we don’t need to understand to like something. Just like Chewbacca from Star Wars.