Take a guess what game I’m gonna talk about tomorrow. You guys will never figure it out.
Redeeming an anti-hero is a difficult arc to pull off in writing. One that, when executed properly, can make for an incredibly compelling story. The closer to evil your anti-hero, the more satisfying their redemption. However, it also makes said redemption more difficult to write.
Enter the topic of today’s article: the God of War series. Specifically, it’s vengeful protagonist: Kratos.
In the original God of War trilogy (as well as its three spin-off games, ‘Chains of Olympus’, ‘Ghost of Sparta’, and ‘Ascension’), Kratos is… shall we say, a violent man. He does not speak; he shouts. When he fights, he doesn’t just kill his enemies, he rips them to pieces. Friend or foe, if your death would benefit him in some way, you’d better believe he would kill you. The dude can be so monstrous that he’s only considered an anti-hero because the actual villains of the games are so much worse than he is.
His backstory is so hardcore it feels like something an edgy goth kid would come up with. When he was about to be struck down, Kratos made a deal with Ares; in exchange for power, he gave himself to the God of War. Later, Ares tricked Kratos into killing his wife and daughter, then cursed to have their ashes cling to his skin for the rest of time. So, in retribution, Kratos murdered Ares and became the new God of War.
Then he murdered all the other gods because they were all even worse. Also, Zeus was his dad. Makes sense; most characters in Greek stories are his kids.
Altogether, Kratos wasn’t a very complicated character. He was big mad and big loud. Perfect for an action game about literally murdering Greek mythology. But not a character good for much beyond that. After six total games of just that, people started getting tired of him. If the series was going to continue, Kratos needed to change.
And change, he did. Dramatically so! The Kratos we meet in the 2018 God of War reboot is a completely different character from the Kratos we knew from the old days of the PS2. If those original stories were all about his downfall, then this new game marks the beginning of his redemption.
To do this, the writers gave Kratos two things he lacked in the original games: self-awareness and something to lose.
The Kratos of God of War (2018) has had time to reflect on his past actions. Time enough to realize his mistakes. He’s become much more quiet and thoughtful, rarely ever raising his voice and actively trying to keep a hold of his rage. He tries to put his past behind him, choosing to live as a peaceful man rather than a vengeful god and hiding his history and true nature.
Which brings him into conflict with the most important addition to the game: his son, Atreus.
Kratos’ primary objective in the new games is to protect Atreus. Not just physically, but emotionally. Believing their godhood to be a curse, Kratos tries to hide it from his son, convincing the boy that he’s just another mortal. Despite the warnings of those around him, Kratos continues to lie to Atreus in a vain effort to protect him from the truth.
All of this is because Kratos fears the possibility that Atreus might become like him. A fear that, as we discover near the end of the game, is all too real a possibility. When Kratos finally tells Atreus the truth, the boy begins a downward spiral, slowly becoming more and more like the Kratos of old.
It’s in this section of the story that the true potential of this reinvented Kratos is realized. His entire story is built off of the man he was in those original games. It isn’t just about him moving on and becoming a better person. It’s also about him preventing Atreus from becoming like him. Kratos was originally part of a cycle of violence and hatred, and now he must learn to break it.
This arc has turned Kratos from a simple brute to one of the most interesting and mature video game protagonists of all time. Rather than ignoring the character he was in the original games, the writers address it and make it an integral part of his arc. In doing so, they managed to craft a truly beautiful redemption story.
I cannot wait to see where Kratos’ arc goes in God of War: Ragnarök. How will the coming of the end of the world change him? How will his relationship with Atreus evolve? How will his story finally end?
If it does end. Atreus is good, but he’s still not good enough to replace his father as the series’ protagonist.