God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP) Review

The Short


Pros

– The ultimate refinement of the God of War formula

– Absolutely beautiful PSP graphics

– Full-length God of War game that takes you some crazy places such as Atlantis

– Easily the strongest story in the God of War universe

– Several slow moments really add to the game

– Quite possibly the best game in the franchise

Cons

– Magic, as a whole, is underwhelming

– A few technical glitches pop up now and again

– Some of the enemies (the creepy burrowing death women) are really cheap

– They removed the great use of L1+Square from God of War III for some unknown reason

This is one damn good looking PSP game

The Long

At the time of writing, this is second most recent God of War release, with Ascension being the last title that isn’t a re-release. I played through both this and Ghost of Sparta several years after God of War III, the final installment in the trilogy leaving such a sour taste in my mouth it spread to the entire series. Going into Ghost of Sparta my expectations were moderate but not great. Chains of Olympus was a solid experience but really didn’t go out of its way to break the mold or do anything exceptional. Since this was from the same developers (Readyatdawn) I expected more of the same.

Boy, was I wrong.

This might not be the popular opinion, but I will say this right now: God of War: Ghost of Sparta is the best God of War. Hands down, no competition. Yes, even better than the absolutely fantastic first game. It does literally everything right, but what it especially does right is the story, which is the best little side-story in the whole franchise.

So let’s get on with it.

Taking the bull by the horns.

This is the only God of War story in the entire series where Kratos is doing something that is not in his own best interests. What I mean is that in every other game he’s either trying to murder someone, either to clear his conscience or just for revenge. In this game, however, which takes place between the events of God of War II and God of War III, he isn’t out for revenge at all. He’s out to save his brother.

Yes, Kratos has a brother, hinted at in the bonus features included with the first God of War. After a run-in with his mother who tells him his brother still lives, he finds his bro is trapped in the Realm of Death, which is not the underworld (way to branch out) but, in fact, a place sort of in-between which is ruled by Thanatos. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, don’t worry; he was an extremely minor god (even if he was the God of Death), really only mentioned once in passing in the Iliad and never playing front and center in any myths. But hey, this is technically game #5, so they’ve gotta be running out of stuff for Kratos to kill by now.

What entails at first seems to be just another God of War plot. Kratos is mad at the gods, who keep telling him to stop his quest to find his brother, which he of course ignores. However, for what limited story bits there are during the actual questing portions of this game, the ones we get (and especially the downright fantastic ending) are excellent.

Also, you sink Atlantis. Whoops.

Without going into spoiler territory, let me just say that having Kratos actually care for someone more than himself (the guilt he feels for allowing his brother Deimos to be taken in his place as a child) is absolutely staggering considering what they did with his character in the later games. Kratos continues to go out of his way, including getting violently beaten when he wouldn’t have to take it, for the sake of his brother. The final resolution and then boss is easily the most emotionally climactic scenes in the entire series, including my favorite scene from the end of God of War where Kratos’ voice actually cracks when he realizes how completely he failed his family.

The game also does well tying God of War and God of War II together, repconning the rather dramatic shift in character between those two games. There’s even an excellent scene after the credits that plays extremely well in tying it all together. Having a story revolving around Kratos’ family (even if it’s his mother and brother rather than the wife and child he murdered) was a brilliant turn. I actually felt his character had a depth, something I hadn’t felt since the first God of War. He is a broken man, who only knows violence as a means to help those he cares about, and is put into situations where that is not enough.

Suffice to say, I was genuinely emotional during the final scenes of this game, something the God of War franchise has been trying its damndest to avoid withe the character-butchering going on in God of War II and God of War III. As someone who demands more out of stories in his games, Ghost of Sparta is absolutely stellar. It isn’t Nier or anything, but it more than fulfills on the promises given for games of this type.

The little effects in this game are downright unbelievable.

Ghost of Sparta came out after God of War III, and it shows in the gameplay. Combos are faster and revised to better match their changes created in God of War III, which means this is mimicking the best combat-wise in the series. I’m all for that. Another awesome trick is the addition of fire blades. By pressing and holding R1, Kratos will drain a replenishing “fire” meter (which can be upgraded, etc.). This causes his standard weapons do deal more damage as well as burn enemies, and armored enemies can only be damaged with flame. It’s a cool addition that works well with the button layout.

This game also has some really handy magic…well, one of the spells anyway, a seeking swarm that steals life orbs from enemies (why would you use anything else?). You do get a lightning spell that requires you to aim it at enemies, as well as a hammer that freezes people (much like the Medusa head from the first two games), but honestly the lightning is only good for combos and the hammer comes too late in the game. Luckily, you can just upgrade your blades and fire and still have a grand ol’ time.

This game also has only one alternate weapon, and it’s pretty handy. You receive Kratos’ old Spartian gear (which is an awesome story moment, and is used for an even more awesome one near the end), which includes a powerful shield and a spear that’s unlimited free ranged attack. Again, it comes a bit too late in the game to be super useful, but it’s by far the best alternate weapon in the series.

The Eyes have it.

The perfect refinement of combat (with it’s cool touches) is set about a game that is perfectly paced. A whole slew of new enemies are around for you to kill (though some are lifted wholesale from Chains of Olympus), and you travel to some absolutely awesome (and awesome looking) locations. From the rainy city of Atlantis set in the ocean to the molton core upon which it sits, to a quiet moment back in his hometown of Sparta which might be one of the best God of War moments ever, to a snowy mountain ridge and the realm of Death himself, God of War: Ghost of Sparta does pacing absolutely right. Unlike God of War III, where I found myself getting bored as I’d progress, I had difficulty quitting Ghost of Sparta. This is pacing done right, and when matched with some immaculate combat you have a surefire winner, much like God of War I and II.

Don’t you worry, though. Kratos is still kind of a huge jerk.

This is one dang good looking PSP game, probably the best looking one on the system. It has a higher poly count than it’s also good looking predecessor, Chains of Olympus, but what really makes it shine is the improved lighting and effect. Torches cough sparks all over the floor, rainwater streams across marble, lava bubbles up and bursts from rivers; this is a really, really polished visual experience. I’d say it looks even better than God of War II, and that game was downright gorgeous.

Sound is also incredible throughout, with a wide variety of familiar tracks mixed with the same booming sound effects we’ve come to expect. The voice acting is, again, spot on, and is especially good considering the script is actually excellent this time.

I mean, come on; we’re taking about a God of War game here. Do I really have to say that the game looks and sounds fantastic? It’s par for the course for this series.

Jump, Kratos, jump!

God of War: Ghost of Sparta is the best God of War game yet. Not just because it’s absolutely beautiful, and not just because the combat has been refined to a light sheen. No, it’s because it actually has an excellent blend of gameplay and story that makes it so endearing to me. As I said in my God of War III review, even if these games didn’t have fantastic stories, they still needed to have an avatar that was relatable. Kratos was relatable in God of War, and was not in II and especially III. However, in Ghost of Sparta he’s more human than he’s ever been (weird, since he’s technically a god in this game). The blend of perfect pacing in both gameplay and story bits makes for an extremely memorable ride, and again…best final boss in the series, hands down.

I must congratulate Readyatdawn. At first I considered them the bastard child spinoff from the main studio, and now they’ve completely overshadowed them. Between the excellent writing in this and Chains of Olympus, they should totally be put in charge in all future God of War games.

An absolute must-play, especially for fans of the series. Five out of five stars. 

I can’t praise this game enough.

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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