NOTICE: This post contains spoilers for the God of War series.
Very recently I was able to play through God of War 3, finally finishing the main trilogy of the franchise. God of War has been a series of games I’ve long had a deep fascination with. I’ve always been interested in mythology, as well as over-the-top fantasy violence. That being the case, God of War was a series I knew would be right up my alley.
The funny thing about this is that while I grew up with video games I never owned a PlayStation. I had an NES, a Genesis, a Nintendo 64, a Gamecube, a Wii, and then an Xbox 360. I never got to play any entry in the series until I was an adult. Despite coming late to the series, I couldn’t be happier with how my experience with it turned out.
The Games and The Mythology
During my time at the University of Toronto, I was fortunate enough to enroll in a minor program in classical studies along with studying English literature. The program really helped to nurture a budding interest in mythology that had been growing since the end of high school, turning it into a fascination. It allowed me a close and personal look at the myths of Ancient Greece, in a way that simply reading books could not provide.
It was with this stronger understanding of Greek mythology that I first embarked upon the God of War series. Knowing the mythology before playing the games turned out to be far more enriching to the experience than I had realized it would be.
Although the developer’s at Sony Santa Monica Studio have taken liberties with the source material, it was done intelligently. It is obvious to me that the creators and designers behind the game did their research and had a very strong understanding of Greek mythology, to the point where it had me geeking-out at all the references and subtle nods that I catch.
The most obvious reference, for example, can be found with Kratos himself, who is named after an actual deity that served Zeus. The mythical Kratos represented strength and power, so it is very fitting that the series protagonist is given this name. We witness Kratos progressively obtain more and more power during his violent quest for revenge, until we reach the third game where even Olympians and Titans have trouble standing in his way.
Another prominent aspect of the trilogy that I adore is how it represents the prophecy that Zeus will be overthrown by a son, just as he overthrew his father Cronus, and Cronus overthrew his father Uranus before him. Numerous myths tackle Zeus’s absolute fear over one of his sons usurping him, thus fulfilling the prophecy. He consumed his lover Metis, to stop her bearing him a son that would do this — resulting in him birthing Athena from his skull — and married the nymph Thetis to the hero Peleus upon learning that she would bear a son destined to be greater than their father — resulting in the birth of Achilles. The developers incorporated a very real concern from the mythology into the series, which I feel was captured very effectively.
This is especially important to me coming from an understanding of Greek mythology because a consistent motif is that all prophecies come true. The usurpation of Zeus is a story that was never told since it was believed he was still enthroned on Olympus when these myths held sway over people’s beliefs. The God of War series provides an interesting and dynamic vision of how that could have occurred, especially in how it suggests the shift from an ancient polytheistic belief system to the monotheistic beliefs that still thrive today.
The use of Pandora’s Box throughout the series is also very cleverly done, with a good understanding of the mythology in place. Most of us are familiar with the idea that opening the box is considered very dangerous. What I personally didn’t know until studying, however, was that along with all the Evils and Plights of the world being contained within, the box also contained Hope.
Using the power of Hope to explain how Kratos can demolish the entire pantheon is very fitting in context. Although they’ve strongly deviated from how the tale was originally told, it was done appropriately.
In the original myth, Pandora opens he box herself and releases all the Evils out into the world to plague humanity. She quickly seals the box, leaving only Hope left inside.
Though it is Kratos in the game who opens it the first time, releasing these Evils to the world — infecting the gods in turn — it is believed in game by Athena that Hope is still in the box, prompting Kratos to once again try to open it — which parallels the original myth where Hope was left within. It is only after this fails that we learn he had Hope with him all along, and was the primary source for all his power.
The idea of having Hope all along may be considered a little hokey by some, or a random plot point, but using it as a power within the box is precisely in line with the mythology. And why shouldn’t Hope have been released in the first game? Kratos’ intention from the beginning was to open it and release all power within, so there was no reason for him to restrain the action.
Knowing these stories before going into the series allowed me to appreciate everything that was going on more than I could have going in with fresh eyes. By no means are the games structured in an inaccessible way, but it is easy to see that the developers had a good understanding the mythology going in, rather than simply taking the most recognizable pieces of the mythology and warping it to their own vision.
The be continued in part 2; discussing artifacts, characters, and monsters.