Monday, March 11, 2013

God of War III - It All Ends Here

At last we have come to the end of the God of War saga. Chronologically. As I mentioned in my review of Lollipop Chainsaw, this is the first game where I was so excited for it that I actually went to a midnight launch party at a GameStop when the game came out in March 2010. The timing of this release could actually not have been more perfect, since I was a senior in high school at the time, which meant that I was exempt from taking a certain test that all the other non-senior students had to take (though I still had to show up for a brief period of time). Since testing took a couple of days, this meant that I had practically two whole days to do nothing except play this game. What made the experience even more worth it was that I had gotten the Ultimate Edition of the game at that midnight launch, which included, among other things, a sculpted replica of Pandora's Box as it appears in the games. In a God of War mood, I fully enjoyed my time with this game during those two days. Replaying it now so close to the release of God of War: Ascension (which I will play, but was not building up to), this game is still fun and exciting to play three years later.

The story of this game follows right from the end of God of War II, as Kratos continues his pursuit to kill Zeus. Like with Harry Potter, this is as far as I can go with a story like this, since it would only serve to create massive spoilers for those who haven't played the previous entry yet. What I can say however is that the story is very nicely written. As Kratos interacts with (and kills) the various Gods, we learn more about the back stories of Kratos and the various bits of the game world. In all the chaos, you still get to feel the same way as the Ghost of Sparta and care about him and others in the process.

Nothing will stand in the way of Kratos' revenge.

Then there's the combat, which is similar to the previous games, but with a few tweaks. Button prompts during Quick-Time Events are now placed all around the screen in correspondence to their placement on the controller, leaving more of the screen to display the brutal kills and, oddly enough, being less distracted by the button prompts to focus on Kratos' actions. This change in the button prompts is a welcome addition to the series, which also appeared in the later PSP game Ghost of Sparta and will hopefully be improved upon further in Ascension. Then there's the weapons, which you acquire at various points in the game after killing certain Gods. Their functions are similar to the Blades of Exile (replacing the Blades of Athena), but they each have their own unique attributes that encourage you to actually use them rather than relying solely on the Blades. As an example, the Nemian Cestus  is a weapon more suited to close-quarters combat, but is also needed to break certain surfaces to accomplish various tasks, mainly used to take on specific enemies.

Another change includes items you obtain throughout the game, such as the Bow of Apollo to burn down bramble, which is necessary to advance. As shown in the demo released before this game, one of the many deaths in the game is that of Helios, God of the Sun, accomplished by ripping his head off. After that, his head becomes an item that can be used to find hidden chests and unlock doorways, as seen by a yellow glow around the area (delving further would create a bigger spoiler for later on). To make items like these easier to use, there is now a special Item bar underneath Health and Magic, which refills quickly and doesn't require the use of orbs. However, it can still be upgraded by acquiring three Minotaur Horns; the number of Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers needed to upgrade the Health and Magic bars respectively has also been reduced to three from the usual six, which not only provides easier balance with the Minotaur Horns, but also makes them much easier to upgrade in general. And of course, Kratos gets to keep the Golden Fleece from God of War II, which not only provides a quick defense during combat, but also serves as a nice bit of continuity.

There's also a bit of variety when it comes to the magic. Aside from the magical ability you get with the Blades of Exile, activated with L2 each weapon has its own magical power that has great use in combat. This allows you to further change up your playing style during combat, ensuring that slaughtering various enemy hordes stays fresh and never gets tiring.

This will not end well for Helios.

And then there's the boss fights. Santa Monica Studio has really topped themselves with God of War on this one, being some of the most interesting and creative boss fights I've seen in a hack-and-slash, even when played on Easy. There's one fight where you finish them off from their perspective (which I thought was interesting) and an epic battle with a titan, among other things. Since the whole driving force of the game's plot is to kill Zeus, King of the Gods, you can probably guess that he would saved for last, and without ruining anything, I can tell you that it is very satisfying. No one is safe in this series, with each boss dying in different, often gory, ways, and they manage to keep each one interesting and different to prevent monotony.

For added replay value, there's also a number of Godly Possessions you can find throughout the game, which can provide you with special skills on a second playthrough. This encourages you to look around the area for these hidden collectibles, most, but not all, of which can be obtained after defeating a boss. With this in mind, bu sure to do a clean sweep of the area before you press on (you may even find a hidden chest or two in the process).

The graphics of this game are simply amazing, even three years after the game's release. They are some of the most realistic graphics I have ever seen, though they are thankfully not so realistic as to be a turn-off. Thanks to the increase in the graphical detail, the game is truly a spectacle, even during some of the gorier moments (including ones that render internal organs); while this may be a turn-off for those who are especially squeamish (I kind of am, admittedly), the gorier moments aren't enough to actually make you squirm, depending on your tolerance level for this sort of thing.

Look at that detail!

Despite all of this, this is probably one of the smoothest games I have ever played. Even with the high level of detail the game possesses, the animations are very fluid and lifelike, but not to the point of uncanny valley, further displaying the increasing graphical power of the God of War franchise. On top of this, the truly amazing thing is that this is finally a game where the in-game graphics and cut scenes are exactly the same, thanks to both using the God of War III Engine. This on its own is a real technological feat, especially since most of the cut scenes are rendered in real time and are almost completely indistinguishable from the pre-rendered ones, which is something I wish that other developers would be able to do.

In terms of sound quality, the game really shines here as well, with an epic orchestral soundtrack that fits the moment just right and knows how to pump you up for the next fight. Even on CD, which I have, the soundtrack is pretty amazing to listen to and is a must-have for fans of this game. The voice-acting is also amazing, which each of the major players delivering a solid performance. There is not a single moment of bad  or sub-par work in this game, especially with performances from the likes Corey Burton as Zeus and Clancy Brown as Hades, God of the Underworld; T. C. Carson also shows that he can still pull of a good performance as Kratos, giving a performance fitting to his rage (and other emotions) that doesn't feel over-the-top. A more surprising casting choice would be Rip Torn as Hephaestus, the Smith God, though he shows he was a good choice for the role by delivering a fitting performance. There are many others I could list here, but to make it short, I repeat that all of the voice work in this game is very top-notch.

Clancy Brown takes over for Nolan North as Hades.

If there's one thing that bogs down the game for some, it's this one one particular puzzle that seems to incorporate the PlayStation icons into the game world. However, I have heard that the resulting icons are actually Greek symbols resembling said icons colored to make them easier to identify for the player. Even with this explanation, it seems a bit jarring to include this, but if you take the time to look at the symbols, you can actually tell that they are, indeed, those Greek symbols. The puzzle felt more authentic to me when I played it again with this knowledge, though whether this adds to or detracts from the overall value of the game is up to you.

That aside, God of War III is, simply put, a perfect game. The voice acting and soundtrack are amazing, the graphics are highly advanced, the story is engaging, and overall it feels like the perfect end to Kratos' story. If you have played at least the first two main entries in the series (and fit age requirements), you must play this game. If you are new to the God of War series, play at least God of War I and II first before playing III, simply because the story would otherwise make no sense. If you wish, you can also play Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta (and Betrayal if possible), since they add more to God of War's world and certain references made in this game actually make a lot more sense once you play them. Kratos' end may have been executed spectacularly, but the question remains with how well Santa Monica Studio can handle his very beginnings.

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