Pocket Power: God of War Chains of Olympus

Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.

The first two God of War games were able to prove that the PS2 was still capable of delivering memorable games in the twilight of its life cycle.  When it was announced that the uncontrollable rage of Kratos was going to be condensed to a pocket sized incarnation, I was both skeptical and excited.  Being able to wield the Blades of Chaos during slow days at the office or stuck in the back of the van on a cross country trip was appealing, but at the same time I remembered some abysmal ports of classic games to handheld systems.  While not a fully rational concern, I imagined a Tiger Electronics handheld version of God of War, which if that is a reference you aren’t familiar with consider yourself lucky.

The limited power of the Playstation Portable would result in an anticlimactic conclusion to Kratos’s story, so Sony saved that for the PS3 and went with the prequel route for the first PSP outing, allowing us to get a glimpse into what tasks Kratos was stuck with during his ten years of servitude to the gods.  Having not yet played the game, I was already leery of the move to a handheld system, and thanks to Star Wars the word prequel caused a lot of anxiety over how bad things can get.  If I saw Ahmed Best’s name credited as voice actor for Kratos I was done with the franchise.  Luckily, all these fears were for nothing because God of War Chains of Olympus successfully recreated everything that makes God of War great, just smaller.

Much like the first game, Kratos begins this adventure being thrown in the middle of a battle that ultimately pits him against a gigantic monster, in this case he is in Attica battling the Persians and a rampaging basilisk.  This introductory level shows the same grand scale of enemy creatures and environments that impressed us on the PS2 God of War games.  This forced anyone who doubted that the PSP could provide a suitable battleground for Kratos to eat some crow, such as a certain writer for a game website who shall remain nameless that relates to Kratos because he is bald and has no friends due to poor anger management skills.

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After winning the battle in Attica and slay basilisk, Kratos enjoys some female companionship as is now tradition where joysticks are twisted and buttons are mashed until satisfaction is reached.  This happened before that extra satisfying trophy pop occurred, but that was added in later in the PS3 HD port.  But the darnedest thing happened that prevents Kratos from enjoying some well earned rest and relaxation after killing the king of Persia and his overgrown pet lizard.  The sun falls from the sky, and Morpheus unleashes some black fog that floods the streets of Marathon.  That’ll teach them not to have street lights.  Hearing a flute melody his daughter Calliope played which perplexes him since he clearly remembers killing his daughter thanks to some trickery by Ares, that Ares jerk punked him good.  Athena tasks Kratos with finding the missing sun god Helios and restoring light to the world, and what follows is standard God of War fare, Kratos travels through various locations in a world based on Greek mythology with many creative liberties and kills many gods and mythic figures.

Not yet ready to take his revenge on Ares or to address his daddy issues with Zeus, Kratos finds himself pitted against the likes of Charon at the River Styx who gives him a hard time about travelling into the underworld based on the technicality of Kratos not being dead.  He ends up doing a bit in Tartarus Correctional Center, which is a level one maximum security facility of the Greek Pantheon, but he grants himself early parole because Kratos ain’t got time to wait for his mandatory supervised release date, which in these times was traditionally never.  During all these, Kratos ends up ruffling Persephone’s feathers something fierce and they end up hashing it out.

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This chapter of God of War takes place when the Ghost of Sparta still has some humanity left in him.  Kratos was always a tragic antihero, but as the series progressed he became more of an instrument of death than a man, haunted by his past which fueled his quest for vengeance that could only be satiated when all other gods are dead.  In this entry there is a scene at the end where Kratos can fail in his quest with the promise of staying with his daughter forever in death.  This is not a real choice since the game will not progress until Kratos leaves Calliope, but we are given a glimpse of Kratos wishing to walk away from serving the gods to be reunited with his loved ones.  This more sensitive side of Kratos that is merely hinted at here looks like it will be developed more in the upcoming Norse based God of War.  Or maybe Kratos will start a metal band that sings about desecrating temples dedicated to Ares.

Handheld systems have always had more limitations than their television-latching counterparts.  Adjusting to a one thumbstick platform for this series was something that was surprisingly easy.  The graphics were not quite as detailed as the PS2, but they still captured the essence of what a God of War game is supposed to look like.  This game is short compared to its predecessors, taking only about four or five hours to complete.  Despite the short length of the game and the technical limitations of the PSP, Chains of Olympus came as close as was technically possible to recreate the PS2 God of War experience in a convenient travel-size format.  Like all games that came out in 2008, it does show its age when compared against current games on more powerful systems, but having replayed this recently I can verify that this title holds up.  The new God of War got a lot of attention from its debut trailer at E3 this year.  I am excited for that release and I do like the direction that is being taken with the reboot, but with that on the horizon, now is a good time to revisit some old God of War titles just to get them fresh in your mind to compare Greek Kratos to Norse Kratos, and Chains of Olympus is a good title to do so that doesn’t ask for a large time commitment.

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  • stopbeingafanboy

    Great read. I remember playing GOW:COO for the first time along with GTA:LCS in the same day. I just purchased the original psp (1000), and was blown away by how good they were. Reading this makes me wonder how good the Vita could have been with more support.

    • Chris Shive

      Glad you enjoyed it and I agree with you about the Vita, there is so much wasted potential there. It has a few gems but its library is nowhere near what it should be.