At this year’s E3, fans were treated to the surprising return of everyone’s favorite hot-tempered God of War - Kratos, usurper of the throne of Olympus. This time around however, not only is Kratos sporting a different look, he seems to have grown up a bit.
In the ten-minute Gameplay trailer from E3, we watch an older, more grizzled Kratos track through the snowy undergrowth of a Norwegian forest alongside a young boy. A child, whom turns out to be none other than Kratos’ son, learning how to hunt under the guidance of a master. Of course, being a God of War game, it isn’t long before the duo encounters a monster which they have to fight against for their very lives.
A Norse Mythology Shift
It seems that Kratos has moved country. After killing all the Greek Gods, he now lives with his child in the world of Norse mythology, learning how to damper that famous rage of his and be a good dad to his kid.
At least this is what we can assume from what creator Cory Barlog writes in his blog regarding the new direction the franchise is taking:
“Kratos’ rage has provoked a ton of bad decisions in his life, so I was fascinated to see what would happen if he actually made a good one. What would that look like? How would he struggle with this very difficult and unfamiliar road? And more importantly, why would he do this?” (Barlog, 2016)
Corey goes on to explain that the birth of his own son is what inspired Kratos’ new journey, one into fatherhood and learning from past mistakes, breaking the cycle of violence that his family has perpetuated for so many years. This is a welcome change to the Kratos we last saw covered in blood, his sword deep in the chest of his own father, Zeus.
In the early ‘00s, Kratos was an explosive, angry antihero force to be reckoned with, and people loved him for it. However, there’s only so much of that type of character folks can take, as after God of War III he quickly fell into a relative silence on the PS3 and 4.
A revenge story is great, and has its place, but as a general rule, unless the revenge story is suitably complicated, it will not have lasting appeal. Juxtaposed against this is the Kratos of 2016. He seems wiser in a way. More concerned with family, and navigating the difficult path of responsibility and doing things right.
Kratos is Coming of Age
Typically, when we think of a Coming of age story, we tend to direct our thoughts towards teenagers and such stories like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but the coming-of-age genre can be at times a lot broader in topic than that. In literary theory, we call it the bildungsroman genre.
“The Bildungsroman (the novel of personal development or of education) originated in Germany in the latter half of the 18th century and has since become one of the major narrative genres in European and Anglo-American literature. It charts the protagonist’s actual or metaphorical journey from youth to maturity.” (The Literary Encyclopedia, 2002)
Although still typically following a younger character, it is perhaps suitable to view this new edition to the God of War mythos as such. Not only do we have the coming-of-age tale of Kratos’ son, learning how to be not only a man, but also a demigod, we have the reverse coming-of-age tale of Kratos himself, learning how it is to become human again.
Learning About Character
In a good story, we need good characters. So what constitutes as a good character? The general consensus is a good character is one who has complexity. Who has multiple motives that lie in conflict with each other. In the film industry, you could talk about it as through lines. A good character needs at least two through lines. Typically an action line and a relational line. While an action line can be fairly simplistic (best seen in bad action films an example would be, the hero needs to save the day and get the girl), the relational line is where the real money is at. A relational line involves the people in a character’s life, how they connect or don’t connect with one another. These are also known as masculine and feminine plot lines. A good story is not complete without both.
Adding to this, we have conflict as well as dilemma, and like through lines, one is external, the other internal. Conflict is what externally gets in the way of the protagonist achieving his goal, where as dilemma… well, I’ll let an expert explain that one:
“At the heart of every story lies a dilemma. It is not a question of whether or not our protagonist has a dilemma, but rather how effectively it has been explored… A dilemma is a problem that cannot be solved without creating another problem… Problems are solved, while dilemmas are resolved through a shift in perception.” (Watt, 2013)
Al Watt is a story expert and the author of The 90 Day Novel in which he deals extensively with this concept. It was his book that first opened my eyes on how to write strong character arcs.
The Future of Kratos
How all this applies to God of War is this: Characters need change. They need growth. They need shifts of perspective. If a character does not grow, he or she becomes irrelevant, a cliché, a literary trope. Kratos had long since fallen away into the angst-filled adolescent days of my youth as being an archetype that tied heavily into my own blind anger towards the world, but now, out of the woodworks, it seems, he’s back – and just in time to grow up alongside all of us grumpy teenage boys who are now becoming men and learning how to deal with our frustrations and how wisdom and age can make us more tender towards others.
And that’s really what it’s all about in a coming-of-age tale – there is growth and learning from mistakes for both the characters and the readers. It has been said that a great story provokes you, it makes it so once you get to the end of it, you are never the same again, you have learnt something, changed somehow. Could we be witnessing the rebirth of Kratos from antihero cliché into a tragic literary hero? We won’t know until the final game arrives, but from what I can glean from the footage released so far, it very well may happen, and I for one am all for it.
Barlog, C. (2016, June 13). First look: Santa Monica studio’s new God of War on PS4. Retrieved from http://blog.us.playstation.com/2016/06/13/first-look-santa-monica-studios-new-god-of-war-on-ps4/
The Literary Encyclopedia. (2002). Literary encyclopedia: Bildungsroman. Retrieved from http://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=119
Watt, A. (2013). Fiction university: Guest author Al Watt: Dilemma: The source of our story. Retrieved from http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/12/guest-author-al-watt-dilemma-source-of.html