When the original God of War was released, it blew many a mind (myself included) with its bleak rendition of Greek Mythology, crazy-awesome set pieces, and over the top violence. When God of War II came out, it ratcheted everything up significantly with more varied (and jaw-dropping) environments, more weapon variety, more abilities, and of course more violence. God of War III brought Kratos to the Playstation 3, complete with some absolutely gorgeous visuals and viscera. The list goes on. However, I’ve always believed that the strongest God of War wasn’t even on consoles, but rather the little handheld that could: Playstation Portable.
God of War: Chains of Olympus has been – and continues to be – my top pick from the series for many reasons that I’ll touch on in a moment. First, I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already. You can snag it for your Vita or PSP from PSN, search for the original UMD disk for the PSP, or even try to find a copy of the God of War: Origins Collection for the PS3 (which includes remastered versions of both Chains of Olympus and the other PSP title, Ghost of Sparta) at your local game store. They’re all fine choices really, although I personally prefer being able to play it on the small screen whenever I want.
So, why is Chains of Olympus the best God of War? Wow, where do I even start?
1 – The Story
The plot for the God of War series has always been interesting at the very least, however Chains of Olympus managed to do something that none of the other games even seemed to attempt up to this point: humanize Kratos. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s a point in the game that involves the most gut-wrenching QTE the series has ever seen (or any game for that matter) – and there’s not a drop of blood in it. It’s a moment where Kratos drops the Angry Guy veneer just long enough for us to see that there really is a tortured soul underneath it all, and in that moment we actually feel sorry for the Spartan despite everything he’s done in the past or will do in the future. Pretty much every other game in the series merely touches upon the tragic nature of Kratos as a character, but Chains of Olympus makes us feel it.
2 – The Gameplay
Say what you will about the PSP’s lack of a second analog stick, but Chains of Olympus does just fine without the nubbin needed for the iconic dodge mechanic. In fact, it actually makes it better. Don’t get me wrong, the whole “right stick to dodge” thing works fine, but having to move a thumb away from the attack buttons in order to get out of the way of a nasty critter’s sharp thing creates an almost unnecessary delay. Being able to hold both shoulder buttons and use the left stick (nub, really) to dodge feels so much more fluid and responsive. The slightly more limited number of weapons and spells, while seeming like a drawback at first, is also fantastic. It effectively cuts out all the unnecessary bits and leaves players with a much more refined arsenal. I mean, why worry about which of half a dozen weapons to use in a given situation when you can simply pick from one or two well-balanced options? Also how freaking badass is the Gauntlet of Zeus?
3 – It’s Freaking Portable
Up until this week, there were really only two options for playing God of War on the go. And while the God of War Collection definitely adds to the selection, the port could’ve been a lot better. You can get the details from our review, but suffice it to say the first two games are still best experienced on a home console. Chains of Olympus was designed from the ground up to play on a handheld, and it comes from an era before that ridiculous rear touchpad the Vita’s sporting. Ghost of Sparta is also a viable option, but I still believe Chains of Olympus is the strongest of the two handheld titles.