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April 03, 2013

GOD OF WAR SERIES REVIEW / RETROSPECTIVE / SYMBOLISM ANALYSIS





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GOD OF WAR ASCENSION REVIEW


WRITTEN BY: ZIG 
(Not Kyle van Rensburg!)

(Minor revision 10/04/2013 - as I tend to do... This garnered some attention on IGN so I decided to clarify and "Special Edition" this - fix typos and add some info about my gaming history)


The GOW series is hack-and-slash/adventure/platformer which started on the PS2 and continued on the PS3 and PSP. All of the games are available for the PS3.

GOD OF WAR - 2005
GOD OF WAR 2 - 2007
GOD OF WAR: CHAINS OF OLYMPUS - 2008
GOD OF WAR: GHOST OF SPARTA - 2010
GOD OF WAR 3 - 2010
GOD OF WAR: ASCENSION - 2013


ZIG here!

Firstly, good to be back, work takes a lot of my time, alas.

Okay, this is something a little different. Get comfortable... This is going to be "involved". Also, I don't plan to follow the site's usual article structure too much.

A basic knowledge of storytelling structure and tropes, as well as an awareness of the use of symbolism, subtext, and representation in general media might be useful. No, seriously...


Some background on myself, gaming and GOW:


I'm going to state something I've stated before, I am not easily offended (no I'm not going where you think I'm going with that comment...); I've played every game under the sun. Before all the Call of Duty kids were linearly moving between cutscenes shooting people with auto-aim, I was rocking "Rise of the Triad", "Doom" (Yes it had auto-aim - because you couldn't look up or down...), "Contra", "Quake", the works... I'm a lifelong gamer who also happens to believe in Jesus (I was way more liberal with my choice of games back then...).

I have seen everything, like we all have, I'm extremely desentized - even to a lot of GOW's content, so I am unmoved by most games, but it's not about what offends me or not, it's about what offends God.

Here are some of my "gaming credentials" regarding the GOW series: I "platinumed" GOW3 and Ascension (the pre-patch "Trial of Archimedes" is overrated, I did it on "titan" difficulty, not to boast...), as well as contended with the awful balance-beam and "hades column" platforming sections in GOW1. So I am no "noob" as far as this series goes.


These are just the recollections of a gamer who really enjoyed the gameplay these games offer, but not the content that clashes with his beliefs.

The cartoon - yet graphic - violence doesn't get to me as much as the subtext and symbolism, and I shall elaborate later.

Note: I hate writing "god", as in false god, with a capital letter just because its the title of the game ugh... So it shall henceforth be abbreviated as (how it is commonly abbreviated) GOW, and also for brevity (obviously)...

Okay now that that's over with...


I decided to review the newly released GOW: Ascension and realized that I needed to reference a lot of the general symbolism and issues I have with the series as a whole (and feel the need to talk about), so I may as well do a retrospective.

Now, off the bat, God said "look upon things that are good", and well, none of that to see here, in that sense... All of these games are BANNED according to this site's rating system in the strongest sense... HOWEVER, as always, it is up to you to make up your own mind, and between you and God, of course, and the rating is merely the logical conclusion based on questionable/offensive content.

I first played them out of the recommendation of a friend, who had also shown me the opening epicness of GOW3 when he first got his PS3 and it was nothing short of jaw-dropping, fighting with a sword/whip weapon, old-school-Castlevania-style almost, as a pulp-fantasy warrior in Greek-mythology fantasy alternate history, on a mountain sized rock creature (titan), in a similar visual style to Lord of the Rings, and with the most epic of soundtracks to boot also. What's not to like? Plenty it appears... but initially I was sold.


Soon I played through GOW3, found the GAMEPLAY immensely well made and enjoyable (one of the best GAMES out there... in spite of a story and framework which ruins it at every turn, and having an unlikable protagonist) and the graphics are easily the best of the generation. Because of this I mistakenly forgave other aspects, story, symbolism, ultra-violence, sex, nudity, magic use, general mean-spirited-ness of the "hero" and the most odd aspect - the use of Greek Mythology and its false gods as a means to plant the seeds of a satanic anti-deity / anti-God mentally - and preaching secular humanism, much like the Clash of the Titans reboot, and to some extent its sequel, did as well... 

"Clash" was basically a two-hour sermon on secular humanism, enlightenment principles, and very anti-God, but safely obscured under the guise of fantasy. Some could argue being anti false-gods is a good thing. Yes, but it's clever misdirection in the case of GOW and "Clash", hence the regular use of Greek Mythology in popular culture (See "Immortals", as well as two upcoming films about Hercules that I'm almost certain will punt the same message) - there are some similarities to Christianity (Olympus is similar to Heaven, Hades is hell etc...), but its not "Close enough" to be outright blasphemous if characters are anti Greek-gods, because, well, they are gods made in man's image, flawed and messed up... But the seeds of "hey, maybe those characters are right about their gods why do we need our true God?" have been planted (in the minds of those open to such deception, of course).




I decided, regardless, to give the other games a chance, to see if the content was as "dodgy", besides curiosity, and partially as research in a sense, to understand this phenomenon (Not to justify this in anyway of course...).

So onward I went, finishing them all, GOW1, GOW2, Chain of Olympus, Ghost of Sparta, and eventually Ascension, enjoying them all, but various aspects making me very uncomfortable. So "I've played these so you don't have to", if you will...

This has been stewing in my brain for a while now, and its kind of apt I start this article off with a mention of bodily organs actually...



A LIGHTHEARTED HISTORY OF A MAN WITH SLIGHT ANGER MANAGEMENT ISSUES:


Kratos' convoluted story goes more or less like this:

He was a Spartan general fighting against a barbarian horde, who would, we assume, enslave and murder everyone in Sparta if he didn't stop them (that's inferred, it could just be he didn't want to lose... but the prior option seems more logical).

Also Kratos and his brother, Deimos, were born with identical red spiral birthmarks that extended over their left eyes, indicative of some sort of prophecy whereby the mark-ones would destroy Olympus, or such. Oh, and Kratos is also the illegitimate son of Zeus.

Anyway, his forces were dead and he was about to lose the battle, when he cried out to the "god of war; Ares" to help him.

So Ares did that, giving him chain-blade weapons forged in "Hades", helped him win the war, while secretly wanting to use him to overthrow Zeus (as Ascension explains).

Ares caused Kratos to have strange visions and tricked him into accidentally murdering his own wife and child. At this point their ashes were bonded to his body, making him grey-white and be known as "the ghost of Sparta"... (Pleasant stuff...)

He went a bit mad after this, and decided to kill Ares... and every mythical creature in his path in extremely surgical ways, earning an honorary doctorate in mythical-beast physiology along the way... But I digress...


After dispatching Ares, the gods reluctantly made Kratos the new "god of war" (for his heroic deeds?), but, because Kratos had opened Pandora's box, they were infused with fear, so they plotted to make him mortal again, fearing the prophecy. They "took care of" Deimos, Krato's brother, just in case, and this is when Kratos started to fall out with the gods.

Eventually they made him mortal again. And killed him. Kratos met the titans in Hades who told him how to change his fate and that they would help. This culminated in a time travel scenario whereby Kratos ended up defeating Zeus before he could kill him. He didn't murder Zeus this time, but ended up leading the Titans to destroy Olympus (as the gods had originally overthrown the titans, who wanted their original power returned).

Kratos then killed Poseidon by horrifically poking his eyes out and snapping his neck. This caused the world to flood.

Thereafter the titans admitted to merely using Kratos and he ended up having to escape the underworld again - again (it happens a lot in the series).

So being a wee bit peeved at this point he decided to murder everyone. Literally. He first killed Hades, because, well, Hades was the closest, and ugly, etc...


Then he moved on to Helios, so-called sun-god, who's head he removed with his bare hands, carrying it around the rest of his adventure, to stun enemies. Also the world goes dark because of this.


Then he murdered Hermes, then Hercules by beating his face in, then onward and onward, Hera (causing plagues and disease), various titans, and then Zeus - also by beating his face in. 

The man has some issues.

Then he stabbed himself to release the power of hope to mankind (who had possibly pretty much been wiped out at this point anyway...) The end (of a lighthearted yarn). Or so we assume.....


AREAS OF CONCERN:


General Series Violence:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Ban-worthy

While arguably over the top and therefore possibly comedic in a sense, there is a lot of slow and prolonged torturous death throughout, the aforementioned head-pull, ripping enemies in half, pulling out eyeballs, cutting a creature to spill its organs, cutting a creature's brain out, etc... 

There is some bizarre violence against women as well, namely in GOW3 Kratos chains a woman to a turning cog device to hold a door open for him, but she isn't strong enough and so gets crushed to death offscreen - to open a door...

There are several instances of beating people's faces in, or covering the entire screen with blood in a prolonged bloody beating to the death, poking eyes out, curb stomping a woman (an evil demonic one, but still..), general impalement, decapitation, dismemberment, slicing in half, stabbing, burning alive, electrocutions, general gore, rivers of blood, devoured by creatures, impalement on spikes, the works....


General Series Sex/Nudity:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Ban-worthy

In each game women are depicted topless briefly (as was apparently not unusual in ancient Greece), and Kratos can have the option of having an off-screen sex-minigame once per game with various women. The sex-minigame is optional always and can be avoided, the nudity cannot.

Also mythical human hybrid enemies: gorgons, medusas, harpies, sirens, and other female enemies are depicted topless throughout.



General Series Drugs/Alcohol/Smoking:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Ban-worthy

One character is seen drinking wine and is somewhat intoxicated. That's about it.

General Series Language:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Ban-worthy


Kratos gets called a b*stard once, that's about all I can recall.

General Series Morality:

Abysmal Bad So-so Okay Good Very Good

Kratos starts off sympathetic, sort of... feeling the loss of his wife and child, but becomes murderous to the extreme, alienating the player from any sympathy towards him because he kills innocents who beg for mercy at random. In GOW1 there is a recurring "joke" about a man who wants to be saved from being eaten by a sea beast, but Kratos kicks him down its throat, then he appears again about to "fall into hades" but Kratos doesn't assist him, he lets him fall.

Enemies beg for mercy but are impaled in the head, organs strewn etc.

At one point a character offers to give you a flame-bow weapon if you free him, but you have to set him on fire and take the bow, for no reason... Also the entire plot of GOW3, the "gods" becoming evil, is actually Kratos' fault because he opened Pandora's box and made them evil. It's not well written, all things considered.

As another side-note; the character of Kratos should be somewhat sympathetic for the player to justify this quest (Hence the film adaptation of "Conan: The Barbarian" - Conan's family and people are killed, he goes on a quest for vengeance, its more identifiable - not to condone "vengeance" - okay it gets through on Arnold's sheer charisma, but I digress yet again...)

They tried to fix this for Ascension, making it appear that Kratos went mad because of the furies and it was Ares' plot all along to cause the events of GOW3 to happen etc (Partially inferred). Also, Kratos kills no innocents in it, and actually saves people, shows remorse and compassion for others, and it is by far the most palatable version of this character - but I will get to that later.

General Series Spiritual Content:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Ban-worthy

False gods, statues of them, statues of bulls, one-eye symbolism, general eye symbolism throughout, symbols very similar to all-seeing eyes, much serpent symbolism (in Ascension), uroboros symbolism, solar symbolism, spiral symbolism. Use of magic and visits to hades and "the pits of tartarus", seeing the damned and undead, disembodied arms, spirits.



There is possible masonic symbolism in Ascension, a symbol on a few walls that looks a bit like a crude/simplified version of this (in the "Temple of Delphi" - where the pushing statue puzzle occurs):



Spiral artwork is prevalent, as are spiral staircases - in every game there will be a top down view of a staircase which could allude to 666:



Ascension has a puzzle involving the symbol of 3 curved snakes biting a circular central object with an eye in it. They light up and it is essentially another 666 symbol.

GOW3's story involved getting "the flame of olympus" to kill a god. The flame is your typical statue of liberty / olympic torch, symbolising the enlightenment of lucifer, essentially (Hence "The Enlightement" period). So basically the symbolism of the entire quest is getting the flame of lucifer to overthrow God. Whether the game developers are aware of this or not is debatable.

It is also worth noting that inside the flame structure is an "ark of the covenant" type of box containing the actual flame.


There is more flame/luciferian symbolism in the form of the "blades of exile" Kratos uses in GOW3:


It is also possible that Kratos is symbolic of both Jesus and the devil, hence his falling into hades and wanting to overthrow Zeus, as well as the fact he "gives hope" to humanity in the end via "sacrifice".

It is worth noting that "Ascension" is obviously commonly associated with the Ascension of Christ from the dead and into heaven after being crucified. The GOWA box has Kratos in a curiously similar pose also (here it is again):



In each game you collect "Gorgon eyes" and "Phoenix feathers" to level up health and magic. 

You go from needing 3,5, or 6 of each in the various games and they arranged on screen like so:



Notice anything?  Join the dots, hexagram, pentagram and the last one forms an all seeing eye:


It could be coincidence, but why else arrange them in such a manner?

Once you have collected enough eyes, in GOW3, it will display the message "Sacrifice accepted" and the eyes will spiral and turn into energy and lengthen your health bar.

When levelling up weapons you attain red orbs with are currency in a sense, this fills up a meter of sorts with red blood, assuming the blood of your enemies.

In GOW1 you come to a point where the game gives you a choice: "make a blood sacrifice to Hades Y/N?" and in order to continue you have to say "Y".

As well as Poseiden's appearance, which is slightly reminiscent of traditional imagery of Jesus, the same can be said for Zeus looking like a typical possible image of God. Again, this may not be intentional, but they did change Poseiden's appearance in Ascension.

Below is an image of Poseidon juxtaposed with imagery of Jesus from "The Passion of the Christ" (But there are obviously many other depictions of Jesus' suffering, this is just fairly recent):



Another Poseidon image:



What is your take on this? Comment below.

And Zeus juxtaposed with traditional art interpreting God's appearance:


Of course, we don't know what God really looks like... but the interpretations are similar, accidentally or on purpose?



And then of course "Hades" looks demonic, like the devil in a sense, adding in a contradictory layer because he is also "taken care of" by Kratos.

Oddly the game also alludes to the biblical plagues.

Killing Poseidon seems to cause the something like the great flood, and the death of Hera causes something like the plagues of Egypt. 

Also, in GOW2 a "Hall of prophecy" contains artwork from the future or the like. One of the images depicts the three wise men heading towards a star - to take gifts to newborn Jesus - further confusing symbolism.


                        

After some research it appears, originally, one of the game developers wanted to have Kratos kill all the false gods of various mythology in GOW3 and then have the game end with "the arrival of new gods". 

Also in GOW2 a weapon Kratos uses is the "Spear of Destiny". Now the "Spear of Destiny" was supposedly the spear that pierced Christ's side on the cross, strange for a game about Greek mythology, although it could be a coincidence, but that's hard to imagine taking the appearance of the 3 wise men in the same game.

Other interpretations of the "Greek gods" is that they could be a reference to fallen angels or the Nephillim who roamed the earth in the time of Noah and possibly interfered in ancient cultures. The Bible mentions the Nephillim as giants, and their offspring as "men of renown". Could the "titans" allude to the Nephillim, and the "gods" their "men of renown" offspring? Possibly... It's another way of looking at the quite layered and confusing symbolism of these games.

Also, arguably, Kratos is a lot like Nimrod (a warlord, and with similar beliefs, in a sense), who lived in the time of Abraham, who wanted to overthrow God, and oversaw the building of the tower of Babel.


THOUGHTS & IMPRESSIONS / GENERAL CONCLUSION:

Hmm... These games are fun in spite of themselves, the false god framework etc... The combat and puzzles are satisfying and challenging and the epic adventure aspect is well realized. They look and sound amazing, specifically GOW3 and Ascension.

But of course the potential fun is undermined by the framework, story, character (sort of rectified slightly in Ascension).

But the "overthrowing God" aspect is still there, and that's something that's "hard to un-see" once you realize this subtext.

It's such a pity that these games are ruined by their stories and other elements because they play so amazingly well (such frustrating games because of this) that you find yourself wanting to like them, trying to justify the symbolism, in vain.

Not because it is the best game in the series, but the most palatable one is definitely Ascension. The gods don't really appear, except in statues etc (and in the multiplayer where you "pledge allegiance" to one of them, choose a team, for different abilities.) Is this going against "You shall have no other gods before Me"? Possibly, it's debatable.

Ascension also has a more likable protagonist, as mentioned. Its far tamer in every aspect than the others, but this doesn't mean it won't be banned like the other games in the series by the article's end, but read further to find out.

SERIES VERDICT:

BANNED


GOD OF WAR ASCENSION REVIEW:


Okay, let's get into some specifics on the latest entry, will keep it as brief as possible considering how long this article already is.

Ascension is the first chronologically in the series, taking place shortly after Kratos family has been killed and he is plagued by visions. He goes on a quest to free himself from his "bond" to Ares, and must "take care of" "The Furies" - 3 god-like evil female entities to do so.

He still has some humanity in this and an actual character arc - He is content to live via his strange visions at the outset, but he is convinced to take action, and in the end, when offered a life of blissful visions (of his wife and family forever), he declines it because it's not real, so he deals with their deaths, slightly, that is not terrible storytelling, for once.

It benefits from a more likable protagonist this time around, a more human Kratos, and no god-killing, per se'. The anti-God sentiment is still there though, as previously mentioned.


AREAS OF CONCERN:

Violence:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme* Ban-worthy

--Kratos slices and dices mythological and humanoid enemies throughout, blood sprays. Enemies are dismembered, decapitated, beaten up, curb stomped, stabbed, etc.

--Violence against women, slamming a (a supernatural evil entity) woman into a structure and kicking her face while she is on the floor embedded in the structure, then impaling her on a spike. Note: She does survive this, but it's still quite brutal, and what makes it brutal is that she is fairly scantily clad and barefoot, which somehow adds to the sense of "domestic abuse".

--Some prisoners are mutated by insects jumping onto them and seeming to partially burrow into them.

--An elephant creature's brain is exposed as its head is cut open.


--A medusa (snake/human hybrid), depicted topless, is cut and half at the head until the chest, and into an exposed breast.

--Certain enemies, a blue painted amazonian warrior woman wearing some armour, is seen to only have one breast (covered by armor), and in place of the other is a scar.

--There is also general disemboweling (I never thought I'd use the phrase "general disemboweling"...), head pulling, and cutting off the legs of "goat men" (before stabbing them).


--You fight against a 50 armed, dead-but-re-animated Titan who has an entire prison structure built into and around him, its quite gross, but his re-animation involves being "corrupted" by insects that burrow into him (near his eye) and mutate some of his arms into reptilian-insectoid creatures.

At one point the titan's face is mutated, insect-like spike-legs erupting from his face, which attack you, causing Kratos to take control of one of the hand-creatures (Godzilla-style) to fight the creature's face. The hand creatures rips off these spike-legs before getting chomped on, and its generally very gory.

--At one point a slave of a giant (possibly "demi-god" character) is stabbed through the face with a very large spear. 

--This demi-god character has a conjoined seemingly psychic twin joined to his torso... and well... in typical Kratos fashion, Kratos ends up ripping the conjoined twin off with his bare hands, before crushing the removed deformed twin under his feet.

--Some creatures are impaled with their own tails or horns, and wings cut off etc.

*EXTREME because it doesn't do any worse than the other games in the series, the same kind of violence, and only against evil creatures and "bad people/demi-god-things").


Sex/Nudity:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Ban-worthy

--As previously mentioned, mythical human hybrid enemies are topless throughout the whole game, and there is a scene where Kratos stumbles into a brothel and there are 6 or so topless women. 2 or 3 approach him and there are lingering shots of them. Two women are seen kissing and caressing each other.

This is brief, and nothing further occurs, no sex mini-game.

--In a flashback the silhouettes of the Fury Queen and Ares appear to be engaging in intercourse (a very brief obscured shot).

Language/Drugs/Alcohol:
N/A


Spiritual Content:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Ban-worthy

The obvious false god inclusion, some masonic symbolism, loads of eyes, a couple eyes in pyramids (all-seeing eyes), 666 spiral symbolism, loads of snakes, one eye symbolism, etc.

Obviously the whole Gorgon eye stuff mentioned above applies also, in this game it is five eyes to collect, five points, it alludes to a pentagram basically.


Morality:
Abysmal Bad So-so Okay Good Very Good

Yes, you eyes don't deceive you, the morality is almost okay here... He saves people, does more heroic deeds, has compassion and you actually sort of feel for him. His quest is still kind of a selfish one, and also the brutal manner he dispatches with his enemies is still prevalent, however, they are are very evil in this one, there is no killing of innocents, so by series standards this is light (By series standards).




GENERAL CONCLUSION:

Not as extreme as the others, in pretty much every aspect, far more tolerable, but is that due to being desensitized or is the series so hardcore that this looks light by comparison when it really isn't? Probably the latter.

The game plays well, it is challenging, and has fun puzzles, that you may need to think briefly about (unlike the stupidly obvious yet painfully slow puzzles of Uncharted), this is far better, puzzle-wise. Also the game looks and sounds amazing. My first play-through took about 8 hours, and it is slightly shorter than the others. Not a bad "GAME", but again, pity about everything else... 

I felt less uneasy playing this one, it's more of the pulpy hero wish-fulfilment stuff, but still wouldn't really recommend to Christians due to the extreme violence (specifically against women), nudity, false gods, and general anti-God sentiment which runs throughout the series.

Still, this is an improvement on those aspects, so arguably a step in the right direction in that regard (but is not quite as good of a "GAME" as the previous entry, if that matters).




VERDICT:

BANNED*



*not quite as hardcore by GOW standards, by other standards still extremely hardcore.

END OF REVIEW


I hope this review/retrospective has educated and entertained. Thank you for reading!

ZIG OUT! Back soon.


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