[13 May 2010]
This discussion of God of War 3 contains spoilers.
Unlike the previous two games in the series, God of War 3 finally confronts Kratos in a more substantial way, especially the result of living a life filtered through the eye of revenge. Cover art can sometimes give an insight into a developer’s artistic intentions and Sony Santa Monica decided to make a statement by dismissing Kratos’s backside (as seen on the boxes of the previous two games) and decided to concentrate solely on representing his eye. It is said that the eye is seen as the entrance to the soul, and that through this window, we can see what kind of person someone is. This emphasis on the eye foreshadows a difference in the way that we will feel about and perceive Kratos once his saga comes to an end.
At the start of the game, there is an emphasis on perspective and scale as Kratos is climbing up the back of a Titan on his path to Mount Olympus. The way that the camera pulls in and out to showcase the sense of scale is nothing new, but the fight that comes shortly after with Poseidon introduces a new perspective on this protagonist. After completing a familiar series of quick-time events, we eventually come face to face with Poseidon. Only this time, we see the world through Poseidon’s eyes. From this perspective, we see the brutality that Kratos inflicts on others with no remorse or sense of morality. At the climax of this encounter, we are instructed to poke out our (Poseidon’s) own eyes. If you thought that Kratos was on your side, then you should rethink your position. Kratos doesn’t care who he has to kill, even the one responsible for his success thus far (the player). The end of the battle leaves Kratos covered in the blood of a character whose perspective you, the player, have been seeing from. In a sense, he has murdered how you perceive him from now on.
Sony Santa Monica isn’t only interested in how we view Kratos abstractly but also how we perceive Kratos physically. In order to showcase the evolution of his character, the violence in God of War 3 has grown exponentially gorier. The effect of this is to partly reflect how Kratos wants us to perceive him. Centaurs are gutted and innocent bystanders are ripped in half all in the name of physical strength and as a reflection of that power. Gods are not left out of this illustration of power, and in fact, he saves his most brutal kills for them because he wants everyone, especially Zeus, to know what he is capable of. By killing everyone and every god, the player sees that Kratos is able to momentarily cover up the sight of his dead daughter and wife.
There are also instances where killing a god will have a traumatic effect on the world, leading, for example, to overflowing oceans or the death of nature’s beauty. Each of these gods is a physical symbol of an aspect of life, and, of course, they control how it is manipulated. As you start to kill off the gods, they tell Kratos of the chance of ill effects that may be reflected in the world as a result of their death, but his desire for revenge causes him to cast a blind eye to any of the consequences. By the end, it seems hard to believe that any living thing could survive this desire.
The story starts to evolve from a simple revenge narrative to a story of apocalypse, and at this point, Kratos becomes even more disconnected with how we perceive his intentions and the reality of his actions. It is hard to argue for Kratos’s instinct for such grotesque revenge but for him to turn a blind eye to all of humanity is even more troubling.
Finally, the confrontation with Zeus is close at hand, but what is left to fight for? On one hand, Kratos was thought to be fighting for his family and also to end the manipulation of the gods. On the other, we see that Kratos never cared for anything but blinding himself to truth. Kratos killed his own family and only when he confronts that past does he find relief.
In this closing scene, the developers choose to express relief for Kratos by defining that relief as hope. At the beginning of the first God of War Kratos states that “Now, there is no hope”. It is evident that before Kratos was doomed to torment for killing his family that he believed in hope, but without them, there was nothing left to live for. The basis for this negativity towards hope stems from the gods having the ability to destroy hope in the form of their control, resulting in a loss of freedom. Without that freedom, Kratos doesn’t believe there is any chance of hope’s existence. So he uses that freedom as an excuse to turn a blind eye to the consequences of his actions because, under the strictures his philosophy, we are all predestined by the gods and therefore doomed to merely performing a puppet show for their entertainment. Now that Kratos has an excuse to destroy any sense of these kinds of authoritarian beings, he can create the type of chaos needed to stop the gods. This all seemed to be going according to plan until he is forced to resume a role he thought was lost forever—the role of a father.
Pandora represents the daughter that Kratos once had and through her youth and innocence she is able to instill in Kratos a reason for living. She knows that Kratos is going to kill her in order to get to Pandora’s box, but she sacrifices herself instead because she understands that, in order for humanity to have hope and freedom, Kratos must fulfill his destiny. Before the sacrifice takes place, Pandora tells Kratos that, “Hope is what makes us strong. It is why we are here. It’s what we fight with when all else is lost.” If any other character spoke this dialogue, it surely would have fallen on deaf ears but because Pandora resembles a child in need of a father, Kratos listens. Through this exchange, Kratos momentarily sees the life that he used to live, and through that brief glimpse, there seems to be hope. This sets up the ensuing multi-faceted finale where Kratos will have to choose between hope and death—appropriately the two elements classically associated with Pandora’s Box.
At this point, the player might think that this is the end of Zeus and that Kratos has finally fulfilled the revenge that he has sought. That is, until Zeus takes on an alternate form to attack Kratos that comes from a different and less physical direction: his soul. The ensuing deep psychoanalysis of Kratos is very reminiscent of the first Max Payne. Payne also suffered the loss of his wife and daughter, and he had to face his demons in order to complete his destiny. Just like Max Payne, Kratos goes through a mind bending trip to face the death of his wife and child. This trip leaves Kratos treading water following the voice of hope (Pandora) in order to escape the abyss (death), while also coming eye to eye with memories that he has suppressed thus far.
After confronting his past, Kratos is reborn (reminiscent to a baptism), finally on embracing the death of his family and acknowledging their existence as well, he believes once again in the idea of hope. We now take control of Kratos in the first person perspective, a first in the series, illustrating a new outlook on life. The new perspective is hope, and it allows Kratos to kill Zeus because it is something that cannot be controlled or physically manipulated. Up to this point, Kratos has gone out of his way to find and exemplify any physical characteristic of power because that seemed to be the only way to get something that he wanted. All this time, he could have confronted his past and found the hope that he was looking for, but in the end, it is too late. The world is in ruins and Athena wants to control the last hope that Kratos has found, to manipulate the little bit of humanity that he has left so that she can be The God. Killing himself allows for the release of hope to everyone and allows Kratos to leave his past behind him.
The end of God of War 3 has been met with some controversy because it doesn’t seem to fit with the franchise. Kratos has been characterized as an indestructible machine and many seemed to be waiting for him to take his place as The God to rule all of humanity. This last chapter opens our eyes to Kratos, and it is fitting that he should recognize his inability to lead humanity based on hope. There never was hope in Kratos’s view of the world, just an eye set on revenge and destruction.