God of War: Chains of Olympus was released for the PlayStation Portable in 2008, and developed by Ready At Dawn Studios, taking place 10 years prior to the events of God of War. Here, we see Kratos fighting against the forces of Morpheus, the God of Dreams, who has risen to power due to Helios’ absence and causes the other Gods to fall into a deep slumber, with Kratos being tasked with finding Helios to put an end to Morpheus’ reign.
Throughout his journey, he hears a familiar tune played by flute, which through repeated encounters with the melody; he remembers to be a song that his daughter, Calliope, once played for him when she was still alive. This eventually leads him to the Underworld where he follows Calliope deep into the Temple of Persephone where he finds her with Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. There, Persephone tells Kratos that Calliope having passed on, cannot leave the fields of Elysium which act as a utopia to all pure souls. Persephone then explains that he can be with his daughter only if he gives up his powers to be relieved of his sins and thus be worthy of entering Elysium, wherein he obliges. He is then stripped of the powers the Gods had blessed him with as he funnels them into the Forsaken Tree, freeing him of his past evils and returning his appearance to its former self, allowing him to reunite with his daughter once more. At this point, one could assume that he has finally found reconciliation with himself, being forgiven for his wrongdoings, and finally being one with his daughter.
This peace is short-lived however, as upon the return of his humanity, Persephone reveals that she secretly worked in cooperation with the Titan Atlas to capture Helios as revenge against Zeus for betraying her and being tricked into marrying to Hades, essentially orchestrating Morpheus’ rise to power, and allowing her to destroy the Pillar of the World that holds up all the land beyond the Underworld. And with Kratos having given up his powers in return for his humanity, there was now no one left to stop her. This leads to a particularly heartbreaking decision for Kratos wherein he must abandon not just Calliope, but also his humanity for the greater good of the world. This leads to Calliope clinging to him in desperation, before Kratos pushes her aside and proceeding to regain his powers from the souls of Elysium around him. Persephone is defeated by Kratos, with Atlas being left to burden the world on his very shoulders in place of the destroyed pillar, and hints at what the Gods have in store for Kratos, foreshadowing his downfall in God of War II. He fulfills his duty and rescues Helios who then returns to the sky and restores rightful order to the world, but it has come at the cost of Kratos’ sins becoming the very bane of his existence, and being stripped of the right to see his daughter again.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta (2010, PlayStation Portable)
The next spin-off, God of War: Ghost of Sparta was released in 2010, again for the PlayStation Portable, and again developed by Ready At Dawn Studios, rooting itself between the events of God of War and God of War II. It sees Kratos having recently taken his place as the new God of War, but still haunted by visions of his past. One particular vision sees his mother, Callisto, within the city of Atlantis, and Kratos heads forth to her, despite Athena’s disapproval towards his actions.
Ghost of Sparta similar to God of War gives us flashbacks to his past, this time however taking us even further back to his childhood, where he spent his time with his brother, Deimos. They trained themselves by sparring with one another, both aspiring to become prideful warriors of Sparta, but one day, the village is attacked by none other than Ares and his army, with Athena alongside him. The reason for them being here is that they were told by the Oracle that Olympus would fall at the hands of the “Marked Warrior”, and upon seeing Deimos’ birthmarks, believed him to be this “Marked Warrior” and took him away. Kratos attempts to fight Ares in retaliation, but is merely swatted aside without putting up much of a fight. Interestingly enough, the same birthmarks the Deimos has are a direct parallel to the red markings Kratos himself would bear later in life, and serves as a reminder of not just the brother he lost, but the brother he failed to protect. And with that in mind along with his body being covered in the ashes of his wife and daughter, his appearance alone is but the embodiment of the failures that he despises himself for, and ultimately responsible for setting him on his war-torn path.
This self-imposed journey has more to do with Kratos than one would initially think, as upon reaching his mother, she reveals that Deimos is in fact still alive, albeit held captive by Thanatos, the God of Death. But due to a curse placed on Callisto, she is forcefully transformed into an indescribable beast upon uttering this truth to Kratos, leaving him with no choice but to slay her, and put her out of her misery. Callisto returns to her former self, thanks Kratos for killing her off while her humanity remained intact, and beseeches him to find Deimos before passing on, making for yet another tragic scene for the despair-ridden Kratos.
Even upon reuniting with Deimos, he is met with ridicule from him as he refuses to forgive Kratos for failing to protect him from Ares all those years ago, and then proceeds to retaliate against him out of anger, with Kratos once again being reminded of his earliest failing in life. Thanatos intervenes with their bickering and attempts to throw Deimos of the same cliff that Kratos once tossed himself off of, forcing Kratos to come to his rescue, with them both reconciling and proceeding to take down Thanatos together, not just as warriors of Sparta, but as brothers. Their reunion however passes by quickly, as in the following battle with Thanatos; he lands a devastating blow to Deimos, killing him off for good. This leaves Kratos absolutely enraged, and thus leads Thanatos to his demise at Kratos’ hands. This then has Kratos take the body of his deceased brother to be buried, and we are left with Kratos muttering to himself “By the Gods, what have I become?” followed by a chilling response from the nearby grave digger “Death… A Destroyer of Worlds”, hinting of what is yet to come, specifically in God of War III. With these events, Kratos is left with the only living mortal members of his family now dead, splintering his humanity even further, and despite being given a moment of respite, this only marked the beginning of his descent into complete madness at the loss of both his mother and his brother.
God of War: Ascension (2013, PlayStation 3)
The last game we have to discuss here is God of War: Ascension, which is the only spin-off in the series to not just be released exclusively on the PlayStation 3, but also the only one to be developed by mainline developer Santa Monica Studios. It was released in 2013, and set 6 months after Kratos initially killed his family, but before the events of Chains of Olympus, and aims to explain how his quest for redemption initially began.
Here, we see Kratos imprisoned within a prison built upon the remains of the Hecatonchires (Three giants that possessed greater strength than that of the Titans), Aegaeon, by which he is held captive by the Furies (Or the Erinyes as they may also be referred to as), three guardians that enforce retribution on oath-breakers or betrayers. Kratos’ resolve shows him not willing to serve Ares any longer after what it has brought him, and with the help of Orkos, the disowned son of Ares who now serves the Furies as the Oath-Keeper, who recognizes the injustice of Kratos’ oath with Ares, and hopes to defeat the Furies and consequentially liberate himself from Ares. The story also alternates between the present with Kratos taking on the Furies as he traverses the prison around the Hecatonchires, and two weeks prior to his imprisonment with Orkos guiding him on his quest to break his oath. With Kratos at this point still having the memory of his family’s death fresh in his mind, he’s largely full of grief over his own actions and is still coming to terms with his situation, which incidentally leaves him much more silent and far calmer from any other depiction of Kratos we’ve seen yet.
His hit list is arguably his least impactful yet, as aside from the Furies, the only other figures from Greek mythos he offs are the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux, and the aforementioned Orkos. Castor is depicted as a cruel and snobbish person who kills off anyone that dares to step out of line, with Pollux as a divine being of sorts serving as second-in-command, and were both responsible for imprisoning Aletheia, the Oracle of Delphi, who had her eyes removed upon discovering a plot between Ares and the Furies to overthrow Olympus. Kratos defeats them both by severing the conjoined twins from one another, and crushing Pollux’s head under his foot, granting him a quick and painless death.
Orkos on the other hand is treated as more of a mercy killing, as before the Furies’ deaths, they mark him as the Spartan’s oath-keeper, meaning that the only way for Kratos to break his bond with Ares (And coincidentally Orkos’ bond with Ares) would be to kill Orkos, the same person who assisted him since he was betrayed by Ares. Orkos understanding the situation accepts his death, and while Kratos is the one to drive his blade through him to end his life, he does so with hesitation, acknowledging what Orkos had done for him up until now. While Kratos has now successfully freed himself from the shackles of Ares, the visions of his past also begin to manifest and flow back his mind, reminding him of the loss of his wife and daughter. These very visions would remain with him to the end of his days, and with his liberation, begins his quest to rid himself of his nightmarish past.
And so, the first major chapter of God of War comes to a close. While the numbered iterations have shown Kratos at some of his worst moments, these side stories conversely depicts him at arguably his best as a person. Chains of Olympus has him confront and come to terms with his own daughter after her death at his own hands, desiring to be with her and attempting to give up his strength just to do so, only to have the opportunity torn from him for the sake of the greater good of Olympus. Ghost of Sparta sees him on a personal quest to rediscover the family he never knew, witnessing his mother be transformed into an monster and leaving him no choice but to commit matricide for her sake, and reuniting with his long lost brother who had grown delusional over his own hatred, having quelled his anger, but still lost him to death itself, and feeling a strong sense of loss once again. And Ascension goes as far to remind us that he was once filled not with rage, but with regret over his life choices, vowing to never again fall victim to the mistakes he made under his pledge to Ares, and having set off on his journey for redemption. Understandably, without these tales, Kratos would otherwise be nigh completely unlikable, vengeful, and inhuman that one would be pressed to root for, and while that can still ring true in some sense, they still serve to balance out his character. Therefore, it's important that one shouldn't forget that he still has a shred of humanity lying within his being, even if said shred is but faint at best.
The Future of Kratos
Going forward, several years have passed since his exploits in Olympus, where he now ventures into the Norse realms, having started a new family, journeying far and beyond with his son, Atreus, and establishing himself not just as a scarred warrior, but as a father getting by in a cold and hostile world. The rage that had become a central part of Kratos’ identity has largely dissipated. Having lost his family, the trust he holds towards those around him, and his home to the chaos he himself had wrought, we see him now seeking a fresh start in hopes of establishing a new identity for himself, and one he can be proud of at that. He has seen his fair share of suffering and poor decisions that have allowed him to become wiser, calmer, and otherwise aims to create some distance from the monster he once was. Even in the instances where he does lash out, he now looks back on them with regret and would rather leave his rage in the past where it belongs.
The very premise of his new quest this time doesn’t even revolve around killing gods or getting revenge either, but instead is simply to fulfill the dying wish of his recently deceased second wife, Faye, by scattering her cremated ashes from atop the highest mountain in the Norse realms. From that alone, he has found a renewed resolve beyond his own suffering, and desires to do nothing more than to press forward on the behalf of his newfound family. Though that doesn’t stop him and Atreus from encountering any Norse figures that may prove to disrupt his newly established way of life, some of which may even revive remnants of his ruthless past. Despite all this, while his sins may forever stay with him to his dying day, his hope remains undying as he continues to fight for not just redemption, but also for new meaning in his life.