From both a versus and a character standpoint, I think of Kratos as one of the most underestimated characters I have ever seen. I know many have a low opinion on the Ghost of Sparta, seeing him as merely a male power fantasy and nothing more. But give me a chance to sway your opinion, let me try and convince you that this character has perhaps more depth then given credit for.
Let me start with a point that perhaps seems obvious but that is not often considered fully nor understood the depth of: Kratos lives in a world of violence.
It is obvious that Kratos fights a lot but this goes deeper. Kratos is a Spartan and for all his life has trained to be nothing more than a Soldier. Everything he does is violent. He opens chests violently, he gets through obstacles by attacking them, he climbs walls by piecing them with his blades. The God of War Games are notorious as well for having sudden attacks in the series where you must quickly react and realize the threat and mash a button or instantly die. For instance, when a Colossus suddenly slams down trying to crush you, or when a Hippocampi claw tries to skewer you. These don’t occur inside normal combat, there occur during level traversing. For Kratos, everything is understand through the realm of combat and warfare. Every moment he expects to be in a kill-or-be-killed scenario.
Let me present another fact to you about Kratos. He NEVER does what he does for himself. Kratos only ever has 2 goals:
1: Protection/Service of his People
2: Vengeance for his People
He lives in an analog state of combat, of defense and of offense. Everything he does, he does because he’s fighting for a larger group of which he is a part of. When his wife states that he is going to war for himself, it is legitimately horrifying enough to him to appear as a nightmarish vision, and when the furies create a lifelike illusion of him attaining glory for Sparta he easily breaks out of the illusion, not caring for glory.
In fact Kratos does not have a high opinion of himself. One of the illusions that appears before him when the Furies are trying to stop him is an illusory version of himself who yells “I lost EVERYTHING because of you!” and when Pandora in God of War 3 says “I trust you” he responds, “You Shouldn’t”. Kratos thinks of himself as the Ghost of Sparta, the Monster who killed his family and only lives with himself because in his view he is fighting for the protection/vengeance of good people against even worse people then himself, often monsters.
This comes to ahead in God of War 3. At the beginning of the game Kratos says “My vengeance…ends here.” A statement that we as the audience think just refers to him defeating Zeus, but actually means far more at the end. During the game, he meets the Father and Daughter pair of Hephasteus and Pandora. Hephasteus pleads with Kratos to spare Pandora, comparing it to Kratos’s own daughter that he lost. Kratos comes to feel protective of Pandora as he did his daughter. This makes him realize that his people can mean more than just his family and his city but all people.
Then near the climax of the game, Pandora tries to sacrifice herself to free Pandora’s Box the weapon believed to be able to kill Zeus. Kratos holds her to stop her, not wanting her to die. Zeus yells at him “For once in your life don’t fail! Don’t fail her like you failed your family!”
This reminds Kratos of all the horrible things the Olympians have done to him and his family, how Ares’ manipulation cost him his family, how the meddling of Persephone and Helios cost him his change of being with his daughter in the afterlife, how they changed his mother into a monster, how they tortured his brother into a lunatic, all the nightmarish visions of his act that have haunted him for now around 25 years. And in one swoop he lets go of Pandora, symbolically finally letting go of his family and his own despair as he attacks Zeus brutally.
This ties into the climax and something which is very thematically close to the originally Greek Myth. We learn that Cronos tried to kill Zeus and became a tyrant because he feared him. And his father Uranus did the same to Cronos. And in fact Zeus became a tyrant and tried to kill Kratos because of his fear of him. The line of God-kings is cursed for this fate it seems, which is directly tied to Greek Mythology (Zeus did sentence Prometheus to endless torment for not telling him which of his children would threaten to overthrow him in Greek Myth for instance).
Kratos has the power of hope which would allow him to become the new God-King….and eventually the new tyrant. Kratos and Athena, another child of Zeus speak and Kratos speaks sadly of the loss of Pandora, saying it was his desire for revenge that killed her, realizing that it his second desire, his desire for vengeance that costs him his first desire, his desire to protect his people, now the whole of humanity.
Athena asks for the power, and Kratos knows that if any child of Zeus, him or Athena had the power, they would be as Zeus was and so says the beginning line “My vengeance ends here” before skewing himself with the Blade, as an attempt to finally end the cycle of fear and patricide. The power of hope leaves him to be possessed by all mankind.
And where is Kratos now? Despite his attempted killing of himself, Kratos is set to re-appear in a new Norse Mythology game. We don’t know much yet, but we have seen one notable thing in the trailer for it. At one point Kratos gets clearly angry at his son but then….calms himself and speaks coldly but with restraint. Kratos is clearly trying now to not be who his father was. He’s put away his past, represented by his father Zeus, and is trying to be a better man.
Kratos was a man, then a monster, then a god, then a monster again, and finally a man again. And he decided being a man was the best of them.