REVIEW: ‘Raising Kratos’ Chronicles the Growth of Kratos and his Creative Team

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Raising Kratos

Raising Kratos is the behind the scenes Sony Interactive Entertainment documentary that follows the development of God of War, released a little over a year ago on April 20, 2018. God of War revisited the classic PlayStation franchise as a soft reboot. While the game holds major awards including Game of the Year accolades from organizations such as the Game Awards and BAFTA, the production was rocky and challenging, to say the least.

The original God of War series, which began in 2005, as the documentary explains was revolutionary. The games prided themselves on being hyper-violent action-packed epics with incredible cinematic storylines. In fact, Kratos is one of the most well-known video games characters of all time, at least according to Raising Kratos, and is a staple within PlayStation’s line-up of exclusives.

That being said, the franchise has had a few bumps in the road, particularly God of War: Ascension. The game got mixed reviews and left the studio, Sony Santa Monica, disheartened. Following the game, most of the game’s audience was done with the character despite his previous popularity.

Knowing the next project would have to be different, the idea of a reboot was pitched with original director Cory Barlog back at the helm. Barlog, now a husband and father, envisioned a new Kratos on a different path and with a different perspective, much like his own, shaped by how his life has changed. According to Scott Rhode, Game Development Head of Worldwide Studios – America, the idea wasn’t to make “bigger, better, and the same, but bigger, better, and different.”

Raising Kratos shows the drastic changes the game went through prior to its final state. A major change and one that stuck was giving Kratos a son. A lot of the documentary focuses on the team, including Barlog’s family, and how many of them had babies during production and even have children with them at work some days. The documentary also touches and the difficulty the game production can have on people’s home life as crunch continues to be a divisive topic within the industry.

Many shots of the film have Barlog’s son running around the studio as the team works. Considering the game’s narrative, the team’s own closeness with their families is immensely important. Christopher Judge, the voice and motion capture actor for Kratos, during an emotional interview during the documentary and nearly in tears said this role was an apology to his children.

He went on to explain that as an actor he has missed a lot of time with his children and similar to his character felt like he missed 10 years of his child’s life when he was working on a television series. That sentiment was similar with a lot of the development team including Shannon Studstill, Head of Santa Monica Studio. During a similar interview, she avoided the question altogether and also became teary-eyed.

Kratos’ journey with Arteus and learning to be a father is something many of the development were learning themselves. Their art reflected their realities in a lot of ways. Arteus, Kratos’ son, is an important part of the game and Barlog’s direction with child actor Sunny Suljic was extremely touching to watch. As a director, Barlog was extremely patient in explaining his vision of the scenes.

The documentary focuses a lot on the filming of the first E3 trailer and gameplay walkthrough where we see Arteus make his first kill. Watching Barlog direct Suljic through those complicated emotions of Arteus taking his mother’s knife and hunting a deer for the first time with a father he barely knows impressive. He helps Suljuc tap into a lot of emotion within his acting which can difficult for child actors.

Video games are hard to shoot. Unlike a lot of movies or TV shows, a lot of the actors and props are not there. In addition, there is no makeup or even costumes to help an actor get into character. Instead, actors have to rely on and trust their own talent, intuition, and their directors.

Raising Kratos

Barlog is a fantastic game director and he addresses some of concerns the previous series had including the ultra-violence and sexism, the latter of which I have had an issue with. Barlog speaks about how this is also the first game where the driving force for Kratos’ isn’t revenge.

Additionally, at one point during an internal presentation about the game, Barlog mentions that Arteus’ role is to teach Kratos how to be human. Players of God of War know how vastly different the character is from previous iterations of the series, he has matured and grown, something I noted in my playthrough as well and written about. 

The spirit of Raising Kratos is that the God of War franchise has grown with the development team, the studio, and the gamers. The documentary mostly follows Barlog, but also interviews other major members of  Sony Santa Monica’s team during the ups and downs of production. And as the documentary explains, there were some big downs, like Sony Santa Monica canceling an original IP and laying off team members. Here, it becomes clear that the studio was banking on God of War to pull them out of a serious slump.

Making a video game is hard and making one of the scale of God of War is even harder. Specifically, God of War has no camera cuts, it is a narrative experience. This is clear as many of its actors point out that auditioning for the game was on the same caliber as auditioning for a television show or movie. Beyond direction, the development team put countless hours of research and time into creating what many, myself included, would consider a masterpiece.

Documentaries like this show how draining making a game is on those involved. Developers are human beings and often in a world of Twitter, Reddit AMAs, and YouTube trailers gamers tend to forget that. While it is obvious this skews in favor of PlayStation and Sony, since this is a Sony studio and produced the company, it does offer a fair amount of transparency into a lot of the difficulties and mental exhaustion developers can experience.

Overall, Raising Kratos is a great documentary for fans of God of War and anyone interested in the ins and out of the gaming industry in general.

Raising Kratos is streaming free now on PlayStation’s YouTube channel.


Raising Kratos
  • 8.5/10
    Raising Kratos - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Overall, Raising Kratos is a great documentary for fans of God of War and anyone interested in the ins and out of the gaming industry in general.

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