March 22 of this year marks the 15th anniversary of the first God of War game, which was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2005, and developed by Sony’s Santa Monica Studio. It’s been a long road for the God of War series, and it’s one of the few PlayStation-exclusive franchises that have consistently performed well in terms of sales and critical praise throughout several generations of the PlayStation.
Those of us old enough to have been able to play the God of War games since the first game know that Kratos wasn’t always the stoic and doting father that he is in God of War (2018). In fact, most God of War fans probably know Kratos as the demi-god who single-handedly killed all of Mount Olympus, and it was the original games’ concept of a spiteful anti-hero going against all the famous creatures and gods of Greek mythology, that made the series so popular among video game fans.
The original God of War was a huge success and an instant classic when it was released, but what most people don’t know is that it was also influenced by many of the other classics of the PlayStation 2 era. In celebration of God of War’s 15th anniversary, let’s take a look at the games that helped shape God of War as we know it today.
It may come as a surprise to you that one of God of War’s original influences was Onimusha. The creator and director of the first two GoW games, David Jaffe, originally set out to make “Onimusha, but with Greek mythology” when he was developing the concept for God of War. If you’ve played both Onimusha and God of War, however, you’d know that the two games couldn’t be more different in terms of gameplay.
In Onimusha, combat gameplay is mostly restricted to basic sword attacks and special elemental attacks that you can execute with certain weapons and upgrades that you obtain throughout the game. There are no aerial moves or complicated combo strings in Onimusha, and with a fixed camera, it often feels like a hack-and-slash Resident Evil game. Despite its limitations, Onimusha manages to deliver a satisfying combat system that suits its supernatural samurai theme, as it banks on its grandiose attack animations and engaging storytelling.
Onimusha inspired God of War’s mix of puzzle-solving elements and explosive weapon combat, as many missions in Onimusha involve figuring out how to open a certain gate or procuring items you’d need to progress the story. God of War executes this in a similar fashion, fitting Mount Olympus with several puzzles in-between combat sequences. I bet you never thought a samurai game inspired God of War, huh?
Onimusha inspired God of War’s basic structure of puzzles plus combat, but it’s Devil May Cry that served as the inspiration for Kratos’ explosive, over-the-top fighting style. You could look at Kratos’ Blades of Chaos and mistake them for a weapon in Dante’s arsenal, because just like Dante’s weapons, they were designed with heavy-hitting aerial combo chains and epic special attacks in mind.
In God of War, you can throw an enemy up in the air and unleash a long string of blade strikes before finally slamming them onto the ground, and when you’re surrounded by enemies, you can swing your Blades of Chaos around like a propeller, with chains attached to Kratos’ arms. You can see DMC’s influence on God of War because of just how cool Kratos’ fighting style is. Devil May Cry, after all, is a game that revolves around looking cool, created by none other than PlatinumGames’ Hideki Kamiya, and it proved that a lot of gamers are willing to suspend their disbelief in a character’s abilities as long as they look cool.
So, of course, no one wants to question how or why Kratos is able to swing around a pair of heavy flaming swords with chains of seemingly infinite length wrapped around his arms, because hey, he looks cool doing it. And you can bet that it’s all owed to the path paved by Devil May Cry.
Ico is a 3D puzzle-platformer from the makers of The Shadow of the Colossus, and it served as the inspiration for God of War’s puzzle sequences. In Ico, you take control of the titular character Ico as you explore a castle with an NPC named Yorda. In order to get around the castle, you must solve the puzzles found in the game’s environments and safely escort Yorda, as there are doors that only she can open.
The complexity of Ico’s gameplay comes from Yorda’s inability to perform the same actions as Ico, meaning while Ico can jump around and push or pull obstacles and levers, Yorda can only jump short distances and walk. Just like Ico’s spiritual successor, The Shadow of the Colossus, Ico makes sparse use of dialogue and often tells its story through its environments and minimal cutscenes.
God of War’s puzzle sequences involve a lot of moving and jumping around and figuring out how to arrange obstacles and use key items in order to move from point A to B. The puzzle-platforming element of God of War borrows from Ico’s puzzle-focused gameplay, which is also why some of God of War’s puzzles are notoriously hard to figure out without a walkthrough. You can tell that Santa Monica Studio put as much effort into creating the puzzles as they did perfecting Kratos’ combat system.
Few games perfectly capture the good ol’ days of the PS2 quite like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Its combination of acrobatic combat and exploration, huge environments, and puzzle-solving elements make it a perfect game that seems to have aged well if you watch playthroughs of it on YouTube.
You could say that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is more of a competitor to God of War than an inspiration, as the latter drew comparisons to the former upon its release. Sands of Time was released in 2003, two years before God of War, and it dominated the PlayStation 2 audience as the best action-adventure platformer at the time. While it remains a PS2 classic, some might say that it was dethroned with the release of God of War.
As God of War games continued to be released for the PS3 and PS4, the Prince of Persia franchise started to fall behind, and many fans shifted their interest to God of War. Despite no official comment on whether Sands of Time was a direct influence to the original God of War, Sands of Time set the standard for action-adventure games of the PS2 generation, and you could say that it was the game that paved the way and prepared audiences for the God of War experience.
Although Ubisoft has stopped developing new Prince of Persia games for the current console generation, the Assassin’s Creed franchise is widely considered to be its spiritual successor. If only the Assassin’s Creed games had that time-control knife…
We’ve talked about the games that helped shape the original God of War, and they’re all classics from the PS2 generation. God of War took the best parts from the best games of the time and put them all together to become a classic flagship title for the PlayStation. It’s no surprise that the soft reboot, God of War (2018) also borrows elements from some of its own generation’s classic games, one of them being the groundbreaking hit, The Last of Us.
In God of War (2018), the anger in Kratos has finally been quelled, and he’s become a stoic old man living quietly with his wife and son. When his wife, Faye, passes away, he goes on a journey with his son Atreus to spread her ashes. If you haven’t played it yet, I won’t spoil it for you, but a few mishaps befall Kratos and Atreus and they end up fighting against the gods of Norse mythology, with Kratos once again having to slay an entire pantheon.
God of War (2018) borrows The Last of Us’ over-the-shoulder view as well as its storytelling techniques, as Kratos and Atreus’ relationship mirrors Joel and Ellie’s. Playing as Kratos, you watch over your son just like Joel watches over Ellie, and in both games the focus remains on the relationship of the two main characters. They converse, they argue, and they kill baddies together, and it serves to humanize them as characters, which is something that was much needed for a current-gen Kratos.
Now you know the games that inspired God of War. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a slew of PlayStation 2 Greatest Hits games to raise a PlayStation flagship title. The original God of War is 15 years old today, why not celebrate by calling all your friends and family “boy”?
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