God of War’s Kratos – The Anti-Hero No One Asked For
For over 30 years video game enthusiasts have been playing as the hero. They’ve led these heroes on quests to save kidnapped princesses, protect kingdoms, and even saved entire worlds. While it is fun to play as a heroic character and save the world, even something that exciting gets stale after a while. The same generic goals that once motivated the player become dull over time.
In 2005, a new protagonist named Kratos was unleashed into the gaming world in God of War. This character, sporting ash-white skin and his iconic Blades of Chaos, was a completely different type of character compared to the colorful icons that had dominated the gaming landscape at the time. Kratos was not a happy-go-lucky purple dragon, nor was he a bipedal anthropomorphic animal. Instead, players were presented with a tough looking Spartan soldier who was motivated by one thing: revenge.
By the time players got to control the man known as the Ghost of Sparta, he had become a warrior that had no moral issues about killing anyone who got in his way. It didn’t matter if they were an enemy, or just an unfortunate soul that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His motivations, unlike most protagonists, were not noble by any means. His goals were strictly selfish, with no care for how his actions could possibly affect others. For him this was a personal vendetta.
God of War is very much Kratos’ story, not the players’; there are no branching paths, and no making decisions for the champion of the Gods. Linearity may be a common complaint in games, but for God of War this worked.. Kratos is a strong character, so it only makes sense that he would do things his way. It would feel against his core essence to allow the player to choose for him.
Kratos does terrible, despicable things during his journey; the murder of innocent lives, an unsettling amount of violence towards women, and a thirst for dominance are all common occurrences in the series. Kratos is not a hero by any measure. That isn’t a bad thing, though. In fact, it is one of the reasons why he’s such an interesting and memorable character.
Kratos has plenty of flaws as a person, and in his defense, the guy has gone through a lot. Everybody he has ever loved is dead. His wife and daughter were killed not by Ares, but by his own hands. These events would cause almost anyone to become emotionally detached, and Kratos is no exception to this. It is a stark reminder that the character you are controlling was mortal, and carries an unbelievably heavy burden with him.
Most people consider Kratos an anti-hero, a character that lacks the traditional heroic attributes. Some would even go as far as calling him a villain due to his lust for blood and his indefensible actions at many points during the games. I would argue that defining Kratos by any of these terms would be doing the character a disservice. He is a unique, deeply flawed character that we have been lucky enough to watch develop over six games. His suffering and quest to set things right in his mind have entertained many for years.
Ghost of Sparta
So, if Kratos is a bad person why has he become an iconic part of the PlayStation brand? How has someone who has no regard for others managed to connect with so much of the PlayStation audience. One of the most prominent reasons for his success is due to the character’s hulking appearance and combat skills in-game. Kratos is a character that manages to pull off incredible feats and look good while doing so. His chalk-like skin and red tattoos are as iconic as the character himself. He may be flawed as a man, but as a warrior there is none greater.
Being flawed also makes the character far more interesting. It is the same reason why so many people yawn at the thought of another film based on Superman, but love to see a character like Batman on the big screen. People want to see someone they can relate to, even if it is just by seeing that the character is ultimately human. Kratos may be the toughest guy on the block, but he is the furthest thing from a cookie-cutter hero that is just there to save the day. Kratos is here for himself and that is far more compelling to see it unfold.
Ultimately, you may not love the character, or agree with his actions, but you constantly want to see what happens next. Players are emotionally attached due to the great storytelling and how a twist may occur at any moment. Even if you don’t want Kratos to succeed, you need to know what happens to him. That is why the God of War series is compelling. It is the story of one man. A man that is flawed, but one that is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goal. A man that is not a hero, but a complex human that manages to be so much more.
Let us know in the comments how you view Kratos as a character. Is he a hero, an anti-hero or a villain? We look forward to reading your responses!