God of War: Chains of Olympus (PSP) Review

The Short

Pros

– Faithfully replicates the God of War experience on the PSP

– Does well with its limited controls to streamline the experience

– Graphics look quite good for a PSP game

– Story is an interesting prequel to the first God of War that answers a lot of plot hole questions

– Well crafted through and through

Cons

– Too short

– Hardly any bosses

– Rolling, a crucial move, is mapped to the two shoulder buttons rather than a second analog stick

– Blocking has a weird slight lag that isn’t present in the other games

– Story doesn’t quite reach the same level of grandioseness as the previous games

It’s God of War, on the go!

The Long

While I was burning through the console released games, I had no idea that the series had moved on to the PSP. I honestly regarded them as smaller spinoff games, thinking there was no way they could possibly emulate the crazy action of the original series with a different developer and made on a handheld.

I am pleased to say that I was very wrong.

God of War: Chains of Olympus was a game released after God of War II but before God of War III. Slated as a prequel to the first God of War game, it aimed to explore a bit of Kratos’ past right before the start of game number one. So, did they somehow manage to pack the whole God of War experience into the PSP? You bet, though it isn’t quite the slamming experience we’ve come to expect.

This game has a great sense of scale, just like the numbered games.

Kratos is trapped in the service of the gods, hoping that working for Athena will eventually earn the removal of the horrifying memories he earned murdering his family. Before asked to kill Ares, he was enlisted on other menial tasks, such as stopping a Persan invasion of Atticus. This is where our story beings: Persia invading Greece, and Kratos kicking their butts back to the stone age. After crushing their army and defeating the legendary Basilisk, this bit of the plot is completely ignored and never brought up again.

No, the real story is that Helios, the god of the sun (whom Kratos kills and uses his head as a flashlight in God of War III) has been taken and Morpheus, god of dreams, is putting a deep sleep over all of creation. For some reason Kratos is immune (while the other gods are not), and is tasked by Athena to bring the sun back and reawaken the world.

While the story is unique (since it’s one of the few where the end goal isn’t to murder something), unfortunately most of the story beats don’t really show up until the very end of the game. What does show up, however (when Kratos is, yet again, in the underworld) is actually quite good. Without too many spoilers I can say this game has Kratos’ daughter as a key player (in the underworld), and unlike God of War III it doesn’t feel tacked on at all. It also explains that big plot hole we’ve all been thinking: if Kratos loves his family so much, why doesn’t he just kill himself and join them in the underworld? Chains of Olympus does well answering this question and providing a rather dramatic arc for Kratos, and also answering the question regarding how Atlas knew Kratos in God of War II. While the story isn’t as strong as God of War, what little it has it uses much better than both God of War II and III combined. Again, the real pity is that it’s all mostly condensed into the last third of the game.

It seems there is, in fact, a reasonably tolerable place in the underworld.

Chains of Olympus in the gameplay department feels like a hybrid between the first and second game, if stripped down a bit. The Spartian Wrath ability (activated by clicking the sticks on the PS2 controller) has been removed due to buttons, and the magic and sub-weapons have also been decreased. Dodging, which was mapped to the right stick on the PS2, has been replaced by pressing R1 and L1 at the same time and a direction, which works decently though not quite as precise. All the combos, however, are all still here in full force, with the game running extremely smooth and keeping the same addicting feel of combat.

Honestly, the “God of War Lite” feel is actually an improvement. All three console God of War games have had several abilities and weapons that were completely useless. By removing a handful of them, Chains of Olympus actually feels a bit of a tighter experience. That is to say, I’m not crying over the removal of abilities, as it just means I used the ones I had more frequently.

You spin me right round, baby, right round

Perhaps the real weakness of Chains of Olympus is that of it being about 2/3 the length (or less) of a regular God of War game, and the fact that it doesn’t quite reach the same majestic scale as the main games. The areas Kratos visits look fantastic but there’s a lot of repetition, with only a few near the end really standing out. As for the length, I was able to beat the entire game on a slow Sunday, though it does have a substantial amount of replay value should you want to go off on the quest again.

“Lucy! I’m home!”

Graphically this game looks quite impressive for a PSP game, with Readyatdawn knocking it out of the park with some downright eye-popping visuals on the little handheld system. There are plenty of big, nasty enemies and some great effects and lighting. It isn’t up to the scope of, say, God of War II, and at times the resolution can make everything appear a bit grainy, but as a whole this is one of the best looking PSP games you could get your hands on, and fulfills the series’ promise of having their games be the peak visually on their platforms.

Sound and music is also quite good, though most of the music is recycled from the first numerical God of War games. Voice acting across the board is astounding and, when paired with the strong story, work well to convey a depth to Kratos’ character and the world he resides in that isn’t found in many other games of the series.

Kame…hame…ha!

Chains of Olympus is God of War Lite, but this is hardly a negative thing. In fact, it’s quite a decent little God of War game. For those craving further adventures after finishing off the trilogy, Readyatdawn has crafted an excellent God of War game here whose only real limitation is it’s bad story pacing and short length. Still, the time I had with it was quite a bit of fun, and I really do appreciate a more mature take on the nature of Kratos as a character, with some of the final bits of story being both clever, dramatic, and emotionally powerful.

It isn’t one of the best God of War games, but I certainly liked it much better than God of War III. If you are a fan of the series, you should check this one out.

Three out of five stars. 

Plus you get a giant, goofy looking fist, so there’s that.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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