Kratos Hasn’t Gone Woke, He’s Been Given The Chance To Grow

God of War and lead character Kratos have once again fallen under the microscope after the release of Ragnarok’s Valhalla expansion. On the surface, it’s a roguelike inspired by recent genre masterstrokes like Returnal and Hades, but it becomes clear quickly that Sony Santa Monica intends to use the cyclical nature of repeating stages over and over as a compelling storytelling device. And it does, essentially turning Valhalla into a glorified therapy session.



In turn, Kratos is allowed to embrace difficult emotions and figure out how past events have impacted how he reacts to and behaves around certain things. It allows one of the toughest men in video game history to be vulnerable and intimate with their own psyche, something that original creator David Jaffe and particular fans view as a betrayal to his character. This isn’t something I agree with, and demanding a hero like Kratos must constantly be married to his love of toxic aggression, instead of seeking to confront it, feels like a refusal to accept any form of growth. Ever since the reboot arrived in 2018, God of War has sought to deconstruct many of the foundations it was built upon – particularly Kratos’ love for all things murder.

Kratos was born from a place of anger. His initial design was a product of the development team being sent home and asked to envision their take on personified anger. A man willing to take revenge at any cost, even if it meant burning down the whole world around him. Kratos came to accept that definition, his backstory built on the slaughter of his own family and the tragedy of surrendering his life to a vengeful god. He became a plaything of Ares, commanding his army to raze cities in the name of a deity he had no faith in, and no time to reconcile with a past that continued to haunt him. The original trilogy had myriad moments of pathos and a strong sense of character development, but it all ended up squarely at the foot of sex and violence without a need to mature beyond that. Without complete reinvention, Kratos was doomed to never move beyond his origins. Stories that were well done, but limited in depth.

Jaffe having a personal connection to a character whose personality and appearance he had a hand in crafting decades ago is understandable, but ignorance overwhelms his perspective the second you realise he isn’t just advocating against change or growth, but feels it to be an incorrect way to approach telling stories. But the lives we live and media we interact with will forever stem from a place of growth and change – it’s inevitable.

God of War Kratos Character Growth

We are not the monsters our scars make us out to be, and nowhere is this more true in the world of video games than a character like Kratos. A man who literally has his sins sinking into his wrists, a permanent reminder of past mistakes, while his skin is stained with ashes left behind by the family he was forced to kill. All of these things remain throughout the new reboot and Ragnarok, signs of where our hero came from and the past he’ll never escape.

Not to mention that Jaffe didn’t play much of a role in the second game, with directing transferring to the hands of Cory Barlog, the very same developer who would helm the 2018 reboot. Loads has been said about how these two games and the stories and characters therein reflect the personal growth of those involved. Barlog was a younger and less mature man back in 2006, and likely thought sex, violence, and heavy-handed storytelling were everything we needed to push the story forward and make an excellent game. But none of this stopped him from returning to the series and allowing it to grow years later.

God of War Ragnarok

He had a son, realised the importance of human connection and nurture of those in his care, and saw how those experiences could so easily apply to a man like Kratos. A medium which became renowned for hypermasculine power fantasies was suddenly afforded a chance to be vulnerable, as its biggest creators grew up and returned to franchises born of their oblivious immaturity. Players who enjoyed games like the original God of War upon their release and haven’t grown, or perhaps refused to, are going to be on the other side crying foul betrayal about characters like Kratos they believe are supposed to represent them.

Valhalla finally opening the floodgates of Kratos’ vulnerability also feels like a natural end for this current arc. Ragnarok’s ending saw Atreus embark on a new adventure with Angrboda, leaving his father behind because both of them realised that, in order to grow as people, time apart was not only necessary, but encouraged. With the prophecy overridden as his son is now on the cusp of adulthood, Kratos is left without purpose for the first time in decades. With all the time in the world to grow, juxtaposing his past with repeated battles in Valhalla is quite a perfect bookend to everything he’s been through.

God of War Ragnarok

Kratos never once left behind the man he used to be in the original trilogy. If anything, that past looms over him at every moment, influencing every word he says and action he takes. He is staunchly defensive and judgmental of Atreus because he doesn’t want his son to be the man he once was, a reckless god eager to throw his life away in pursuit of power when the ruins that await after the fact are nothing but ashes. Learning to let go, and that he can even have a positive influence as a father despite all his flaws, is substantial growth nobody should understate, especially long-term fans who could learn the most from it.

Next: Cyberpunk 2077 Will Never Erase Its Own Troubled History

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