There are very few games out there that really get my gears turning and heart pumping like a good round of God of War, the epic tale of a one-Spartan-army and his rampage through the pantheon of Greek Mythology with the power of chain blades and quick time events. Praise him or condemn him, there is no denying that Kratos has lead a whole new standard for the hack-n-slash action genre in video games, with very few competitors in said genre making even an ounce of the impact his games have had in six short years. That being said, I am one to admit when something has run its course, and with the conclusion of the trilogy in March of last year, God of War most certainly has. Santa Monica Studios did declare that God of War III would be the end of Kratos’ journey. I hope Sony will let them keep it that way so they, and we the fans, can move on to something new.
However, I am in no way against re-releasing the God of War spinoff games from the PSP to a platform I actually have. And that is exactly what we got with one of the PS3’s latest combo packs, The God of War Origins Collection.
To clarify, this collection contains the two PSP God of War games known as Chains of Olympus (2008) and Ghost of Sparta (2010). These games were made, not by Santa Monica, but by Ready at Dawn Studios, who made their debut to the industry with a frequently well-received PSP platformer, Daxter (2006), of which also happened to be a handheld spinoff of another popular PS2 franchise at the time. Formalities aside, rest assured the developers have stayed true and blue to the series’ roots, as the controls are roughly one button press away from being exact replicas of any of the three console games. Even more so for the Collection, as they have accommodated for the controller’s second analog stick to apply for Kratos’ rolling dodge move. (Originally done on the handheld by holding both shoulder buttons and then moving.)
Likewise can be said for the gameplay itself, which follows the exact same ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it formula from every other game in the series: bloody fight, solve a puzzle, bloody fight, platforming, bloody fight, sex minigame, bloodier boss fight, cue Linda Hunt Oscar-winning narration, repeat. Not to say that this is bad by any means, it just means there is very little to be had as far as real surprises go. Sure we run into a few new classic Greek creatures and characters: a Basilisk, Scylla, a Persian army, Charon, King Midas, even the grunt fighters, the satyrs, seem more quicker and lethal than normal. But none of these fights come close to being as gripping as the opening Hydra battle in the first God of War, or as mind warping and elaborate as the battle with the Sisters of Fate in God of War II.
When these games first released, I did not think there would be much of a story to them. The first God of War had an excellent story, God of War 2 and 3, however, at their bare bones, combine to be an elongated revenge tale for a guy who ceases to be sympathetic at all. I assumed the PSP games, seeing as they had to fit stories in-between games that already existed, they would just be something simple and generic to serve as an excuse for fans to get their hack-n-slash fix on a handheld. I am very please to say that was a mistake. The origin stories of these games, even more than the familiar gameplay, should be the real selling point. They fit excellently within the continuity of the console games and, oddly enough, are the moments where Kratos feels the most fleshed out and human he’s ever been.
Chains of Olympus
Chains of Olympus is a prequel to the first God of War, taking place sometime during Kratos’ ten-year service to the gods to atone for his sins. Still believing they will get rid of his nightmares, he answers the call of the gods when he witnesses first-hand the sun plummet from the sky. Helios the sun god has been taken deep under the earth, and the rest of the world, even the other gods, are all falling into a deep slumber at the hands of the dream god Morpheus.
There are two things the plot of Chains of Olympus does really well. First, there are a couple unexplained plot elements from the console games…
- The Titan Atlas blaming Kratos for his sentence to carry the earth on his shoulders. (GoW2)
- Hades accusing Kratos for the murder of his queen, Persephone. (GoW3)
- Helios offering Kratos repayment for rescuing him in exchange to spare his life. (Also GoW3)
…all of which get explained in the climax of this game.
The second thing is, as I said earlier, we get to see Kratos in probably his most vulnerable state yet. At this point in the story, he is still extremely guilt ridden for the crimes he committed against his family. So when the Queen of the Underworld offers him a chance to live in Elysium with his daughter Calliope at the cost of relinquishing all his weapons, he takes it in a heartbeat, in complete disregard to what Persephone’s motives behind said gesture may be.
If it’s not already obvious yet, Persephone is the puppeteer behind everything in Chains of Olympus. Not only that, she is probably the series’ most sympathetic main villain. Her back-story is glossed over in the game, but she doesn’t need much more than that, because we’ve all heard her tragic tale ever since we first read it in middle school. (Or was I the only one paying attention?)
Ghost of Sparta
Moving onto the second game, Ghost of Sparta is a prequel to God of War II. Upon defeating Ares, Kratos has been appointed as the new God of War. While the Gods refused to rid the nightmares about his wife and daughter, Kratos turns his focus on other demons of his past the games have yet to bring up. In his youth, Kratos had a younger brother named Deimos whom he failed to protect and was taken away from him. Kratos, still believing his brother to be alive, seeks answers at the Temple of Poseidon in the city of Atlantis. There he learns of his brother’s imprisonment in a purgatory guarded by the god of death, Thanatos.
While the inclusion of Kratos having a long lost brother may seem a bit out of nowhere, this was actually one of the very earliest ideas Santa Monica had when first considering plots for a sequel (back when they were directed by David Jaffe). For anyone who owns the original God of War, there is a bonus feature upon beating the game where it plays a little teaser comic that essentially highlighted what then “could” have been a possible plot to a sequel, but is now a very real plot to the sequel’s prequel (confused yet?). Another speculated plot development from way back that crops up is the inclusion of Kratos’ mother Callisto, who finally confirms to her son that his father is in fact the king of the gods. Zeus, of course, had forbidden her from ever revealing the truth to him, and by doing so, she is cursed, and turns into a… um… well… this.
One of the most fascinating things about Kratos is how his story is literally worn on his character design. His ghostly white skin, the chains wielded to his arms, the stab wound in his abdomen, his golden fleece, all tell stories. Ghost of Sparta continues this trend by showing us both where the scar across his right eye came from, as well as the symbolism behind the red tattoo across the left side of his face and chest.
At this point I realized I have already spoiled quite a bit of the game’s opening. I won’t give away any more, though I will say that looking back at it, Ghost of Sparta is probably what the plot of God of War II should have been. It makes Kratos’ anger and hate for the gods, specifically Zeus, a lot more justified, and then they could have saved the “revenge against Zeus” plot strictly for God of War III.
If there were any problems I ran into these games, it’s that there were a few random load times. I don’t know if the portable versions were like that, or if this was a result of remastering all these images for colossal HD televisions. Either way, it is a very minor complaint that isn’t too distracting and would only happen during lulls in the action when progressing from one area to another.
All said and done, I must say I did enjoy Ghost of Sparta slightly more than Chains of Olympus. There is a bit of a graphical upgrade, and while both games do sport plenty of the same old “been there, done that” combat, Ghost of Sparta did take place in an active volcano for a chunk of its game, and as such there were a couple really fast pace run/jump/climb/swing race-against-time sequences. Of all the new weapons and power-ups, I really enjoyed the Arms of Sparta (a classic spear and shield combination).
For not being the original developers, Ready At Dawn have crafted two competent and perfectly serviceable additions to the franchise. If you had fun with the other God of War games, I’d definitely say this collection is worth a play through. Length wise, Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta are roughly 4-5 hours each, which combines to be the length of any one of the console games. As always, it makes an excellent rental game.
And while I did say the franchise is best laid to rest and for Sony and Santa Monica to move onto something new, I would not be completely against the idea of Ready At Dawn making maybe one more installment for the Play Station Vita.
But that’s it! No more after that!