Vengeance comes in massive doses in the gaming world. While tall tales of revenge is common place, none other does it quite as boisterously as God of War. This vengeful story set in Greek mythology paints its main character, Kratos, in a particularly nasty bloodlust for the Gods of Olympus. While not the most complex or deep character to exist in gaming, Kratos became an instantly beloved anti-hero thanks to his appealing design, unapologetic personality and outlandish perseverance; a quality that has marked this recognizable Spartan warrior in the history books as not only the PlayStation’s, but gaming’s most tragically violent, unforgiving icon.
God of War debuted on the PlayStation 2 in 2005, and was an instant critical and commercial hit. The very mature, bloody video game took the spotlight in several gaming news publications, both good and bad, for its bold, innovative gameplay and shockingly graphic violence and nudity; something that the gaming industry was still coming under heavy criticism for at the time with Rockstar Games’ ESRB nightmare, Manhunt. Kratos, the vengeful Spartan, took center stage as his journey to kill the God of War, Ares, for betraying and murdering his family drove him to diabolical depths, showing no remorse for his inhumane and downright brutal actions. This meant a lot of people (and monsters) died as a result of his warpath, but it left an incredible impact.
Kratos represented the average warrior tackling insurmountable odds. Armed with the Blades of Olympus, his signature weapon, Kratos ventured to slay a god, something revered within the world of Greek mythology. While his actions were by no means average, his unnatural determination and thirst for vengeance was admirable, and gave the strong emotional backbone to the game, regardless of its brutality. Throughout the entire series, Kratos encounters seemingly innocent people caught in the middle of the conflicts and chaos he inadvertently created, and given the opportunity, would slay them if it meant advancing his own agenda. This slice of inhumanity also worked in Kratos’ favor, strangely. It built his character in a quite negative light, but it further enforced the idea of Kratos as a killing machine rather than a piece of flesh that can be killed (and though this has been attempted three times throughout the series, his crawl out of the underworld never really came as a surprise considering he’d find a way to kill everything already dead).
Kratos’ strong lack of emotion ultimately made him the immovable object on the warpath to complete annihilation of the established religious order that reigned over Greek mythology. He was a hurricane of destruction; a machine of vengeance crafted for the sole purpose of slaying gods and titans, yet that piece of humanity slipped through once in a while when we got a glimpse at the extent of his soul. Behind the hoorah façade, Kratos was a severely damaged individual thanks to his troubling past, not only losing his family but being a high-ranking Spartan general once that, as one would imagine, constantly played with his humanity and making harsh decisions on the fly. It was a heartless past that built Kratos into the character we know in the games, yet the backstory is never given much focus in the light of the bombastic action, and is better off that way.
It’s subsequent sequels, God of War II and God of War III, continued Kratos’ journey into the abyss, focusing his attention on the gods of Olympus themselves, now corrupted by the evil opened from Pandora’s Box which was a result of Kratos’ actions as well. That should speak volumes about his character alone. Unable to take complete responsibility for his actions, Kratos decided the only way to right his wrong is by doing what he knows best; kill. Suddenly, this story of vengeance takes a different shape and form, ultimately leading to the emotional highs of the experience.
Kratos, the vicious Spartan warrior of the God of War series, deserves a high ranking on the wall of video game icons. His impact, like Master Chief, gave the PlayStation a definitive face; an instantly recognizable piece of fiction that elevated the gaming world onto a new level of mature storytelling. Kratos paved the way for many games set within Greek mythology, from the obvious comparisons of Dante’s Inferno to the Xbox exclusive, Ryse: Son of Rome. Needless to say, mythology has never been this much bloodthirsty fun or creative, and with Kratos in the middle of a mature uprising of video game identities and anti-heroes, the impact was felt long after the journey’s credits rolled. Well, for Greek mythology, at least. Norse is up next. Prepare your spine, Thor.