God of War Ragarok is the favorite to win Best Story at The Game Awards. That’s no big surprise—gaming still feels its way through this new era of narrative focus, still reliant on stoic characters reluctantly confronting emotional arcs. While gaming’s storytelling at a triple-A level could stand to be a little more creative and expansive, God of War Ragnarok is considered our pinnacle. It follows in the footsteps of God of War (2018), which was similarly emotionally driven and built around moments designed to tug at your heartstrings. Shadow the Hedgehog could, and if there was any justice in the world, would be next in line for a narrative inquiry.
This isn’t a crap post, nor is it just a desperate churning of a title that includes both Ragnarok and Frontiers upon release. It’s unlikely, granted, but I still think so. For all you whippersnappers out there, the reason we’re calling it God of War (2018) is because it’s not the first God of War game. Originally, God of War was a very different game. Instead of a slow and soulful action-RPG punctuated by occasional extreme violence and puzzle-solving, God of War was a furiously frenetic hack n slash with so much edge you had to wear special protective gloves to put it in the PS2. Dripping with mid-00s angst and mindless rebellion, it pumped up the blood and gore to the limit, savoring the forbidden fruits as the juices ran down its chin, mixing with the salty, coppery red of its entrails.
God of War was not alone in this regard. Just as it is one of the kings of sad dad narrative adventures these days, it was Edgelord Almighty when it first appeared on the scene. Many other games from the era have completely disappeared, but God of War has been given the chance to grow into something more modern and mature. While it tackled mature themes and rather tragic storytelling for the time, God of War’s identity was primarily concerned with boobs and blood, but it was given an opportunity to evolve. Shadow the Hedgehog should be given the same chance.
Shadow was born from the same design philosophies that first gave us Kratos. Shadow was designed as a more ’00s-ready version of Sonic, a counterculture emo positioned against the friendlier mascotry of Sonic in the ’90s. It included dark missions where you could work for the bad guys, and even gave Shadow a gun. It was a level-based platformer like most Sonic games at the time, but threw in a bunch of mature elements with a desperation to be cool. This desperation was felt by players, and while Shadow became something of a cult hit and the character was welcomed as a fresh part of the wider Sonic mythos, the game itself has been consigned to history, despite less successful sales.
Shadow and Kratos feel very similar in that regard. Both were tailored to be very of their era, and both were a collection of various edgy tropes in the hope that something would stick. The original God of War games had narratives, but they were typical of 00s video games. Everything was melodramatic and over the top, nothing landed or was given any weight, and every battle was pushed aside for Kratos to make a bunch of cool kills or have endless misogynistic sex with women offered as trophies. God of War isn’t the kind of game that needed a narrative-heavy reboot.
While some have retroactively suggested that the game was always a deep and meaningful introspection of violence, the fact is that it was mostly a “turn off your brain and have fun” kind of time. It worked well enough, and some actually prefer the action-packed nature of the original games, but there’s very little in the God of War mythos to suggest it needed to be elevated to the emotionally resonant stories we have now. Similarly, Shadow the Hedgehog feels like a silly emo spin-off to Sonic, but in the right hands it could have a lot more depth.
Before 2018’s reboot, it was Shadow who had grown more since his debut than Kratos, who had largely treaded blood-filled waters. Shadow, through its ongoing connection to wider Sonic properties, has been constantly evolving and growing. He just needs another chance to show the world what he can do.
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