An outstanding port, even if the games themselves are less so.
Originally released on the PSP, The God of War: Origins Collections attempts to fill in some of the 'gaps' during series leading mass murderer Kratos' arc. But what was no doubt an impressive technical feat on the psp--giving players about what they'd expect from a God of War game just now containable within a pocket--when put against the franchise's console endeavours (including the original HD collection), it all feels a little flat in comparison. Ghost of Sparta most certainly has its moments, but Chains of Olympus is what could be considered God of War - Diet Edition.
So starting at the bottom, in more ways than one, we have Chains of Olympus. Regarded as a prequel, but it's not really pre-anything besides when Ares decided to inexplicably start hurling big globs of death and destruction everywhere. Kratos is still the Ghost of Sparta, his family is still dead, he still primarily relies on his Blades of Chaos that have been burned onto his skin, and overall, the story doesn't exactly pave new grounds for the long sought after 'backstory' of Kratos.
The only reason Chains of Olympus exists and functions as a 'prequel' is so they could churn out another by-the-numbers escapade lead by Kratos, but without tampering with the struggle between Kratos & Zeus during God of War 2 and God of War 3. That and so they could place a God of War game on the psp.
To follow through on how the story doesn't breach any new ground, the gameplay is also quintessential God of War, just only speaking for the bare basics. You use the same assortment of limited Blades of Chaos combos (including the ever reliable square, square, triangle), you'll gain orbs to level up your Blades, you'll earn a magic spell here and there, you'll face off against Minotaurs, Cyclops, Gorgons and so forth.
But there's nothing that really stands out. You only get two magic spells, and only one felt worth using and weaving into the combat encounters. Kratos' weaponry is significantly cut down too, this time with only a single alternate weapon (a comically large gauntlet) that trades in speed and finesse for power. I never found the gauntlet very fun to use, though, with its even smaller assortment of combos, and a series of sluggish attacks that never flowed very well. So once again, like most God of War games, I was falling back on utilising the same few combos with my Chaos Blades.
There's nothing particularly memorable about any of the set-pieces either; the opening scene as you stave off invading Persians, along with a giant lizard, sticks out somewhat. But besides that it's all very low key relatively speaking to any of the series console ilk. The story is weak as well, even by God of War standards. Even if this time around, Kratos is more so depicted as a 'good guy' of sorts, as he attempts to save Helios so daylight can be returned to Greece.
Regardless, the story is often left at the sidelines as Kratos travels through a small number of environments, killing anything that stands in his way. Oh, and of course there's yet even more divulging into Kratos' past concerning his family as well, which by this point feels more than worn out and like the game is trying to prove that it has a 'heart', and that there's some emotional depth to be found beneath all of the bloodshed, dismemberments and random Persian slave girl fucking.
The story has never needed to reach the quality of Shakespeare to help a God of War game achieve greatness, though, I know. But when the game's set-pieces can't elevate beyond killing an occasional Cyclops here and there, then you're left with what is, by comparison, a largely mediocre God of War game. The gameplay itself is still fine, if somewhat slower and less snappier than the console iterations. But there's nothing here you haven't seen already a dozen times over in other, better looking God of War games. And ironically considering the lack of variety and awe, I imagine Chains of Olympus' short length at only around 5 and a half hours (which was how it long it took for me during my first playthrough on normal mode) should probably be regarded as a plus.
Oh, and, while it shouldn't be held too harshly to the game's credit, Chains of Olympus doesn't really look all that great either. It doesn't look bad by any means, but even the original God of War Collection fairs better. Everything looks far too smooth and washed out (in both, not just Chains of Olympus), and the environments lack detail too. But hey, there's nothing that could have been done about that of course. I'm just judging from a console standpoint since these are both now console games after all. Kratos' character models at least looks alright all things considered, though his face looks a bit goofy; like his jaw is a bit too wide and his lips are kind of puffy. He doesn't exhibit the same mean grimace that he's known for in any case, and the close-ups in particular don't dish him any favours. His half-face on the main menu depicts him as looking more sleepy than angry.
Now the second helping of portable ports, The Ghost of Sparta, is a significant boost in just about everything that was lacking in Chains of Olympus. It still can't compete against its console-orientated brethren, but it's a solid step up from the drudgery that preceded it.
A lot of the same complaints still persist, however. There's yet again just the one alternate weapon (this time a spear & shield combo), and while it has its very specific uses, it doesn't fit into the usual combat scenarios beside throwing your unlimited supply of magical spears at archers who you couldn't attack otherwise. It doesn't have as many combos as the Blades of Athena, and it simply pales in overall effectiveness against the range and speed of the Blade's attacks. It definitely looks pretty awesome to wield, though.
The graphics still feature the same distinct lack of detail as well, and besides the notary change in colour, you'd be hard pressed to find much distinction between the environments. The story itself, while miles more engaging than in Chains of Olympus, isn't particularly strong and actually suffers for where it is placed during the God of War chronology.
Set between God of War and God of War 2, Ghost of Sparta is the one title in the series where Kratos is indefinitely the God of War. He hasn't yet been tricked to empty his payload of power into the Sword of Olympus during the beginning of God of War 2. Despite all this, Kratos once again starts at the bottom with minimal health, no magic, and his Blades of Athena he received from the lady herself, stuck at level 1. Since this was released post-God of War 3, it's at least implemented a few new alterations. Like the quick time event's button prompts being placed in appropriate placements of the screen based on which button is required to press (if it's triangle, it'll be placed near the top for example). Kratos can also go into a short sprint, and while he won't turn his prey into a battering ram much like in God of War 3, he'll be able to hurl whatever he's grabbed at another enemy - if you don't decide to wail on the thing until it's dead of course.
Now I understand that for the sake of video game design and balance, they couldn't of exactly fitted Kratos with all of his stuff right from the start for the sake of him being an actual God, but there is simply so little difference; it's frankly a massive misstep that they didn't attempt to broaden Kratos' moveset some more, or give him an added ability, or at least let the man actually start off with some magic. While it would seem droll given it's exactly how God of War 2 and 3 began, why not just do another abilitease? It would least give an explanation as to why 'Kratos - God of War' plays exactly like 'Kratos - The Mortal Ghost of Sparta'.
In fact for both this and Chains of Olympus, Kratos doesn't even have access to a 'super-mode'; no Rage of The Titans, or Fury of Olympus like in God of War 2 and God of War 3 respectively. But now I don't want to slam down on Ghost of Sparta completely, because I did enjoy playing through it for the most part--especially when put against Chains of Olympus. There's more boss battles (though still not as many as during God of War 2 & 3), more enemy variety, more magic spells--all of which actually serve a purpose--more costumes, and it's a little longer as well. There's not as many puzzles as you'd expect, and the scale still can't quite reach the heights that the console games hit no matter how many times it wants to pan out the camera as you're walking up a steep cliff-side, but under the context of where it stems from, Ghost of Sparta is much easier to forgive.
Ghost of Sparta does at least feature two notary mechanics not see in any other God of War game. First is Thera's Bane. Quite literally setting your Blades temporarily aflame, it allows you to add the element of fire to your Blade attacks, just by simply holding the R1 button while you attack. Coincidentally, there'll be enemies who will just so happen to only respond to when your blades are on fire. But frankly using it against just about anything is in your best interest. For starters, it'll naturally increase your overall damage output, and the way it looks as you're swinging your blades of fire around is highly satisfying and can near enough cover the entire screen; despite the rudimentary graphics, the Bane of Thera can still make for quite the fiery spectacle. It hardly changes the entire dynamic of combat, though it's still a neat addition, and I was just glad to play around with something that wasn't better designed in the console iterations.
The other is what they've called The Temple of Zeus. Unlocked after you complete the game, when I first entered, the Krypt from the more modern Mortal Kombat games quickly sprung to mind. Located within, as you wander around as Kratos, are small globes with hidden unlockables, each one costing a varying amount of the same red orbs you'd use to upgrade your weapons and magic abilities.
It's a neat idea and could have potentially introduced a new incentive for replay value, but the fact that it's red orbs you use almost defeats the purpose. Instead of playing through again to possibly earn a different sort of currency maybe, or at least attempting to play differently in favour of this theoretical additional currency, I would just head into the Arena mode--a mode that allows you to create your own combat scenarios within a small circular arena, including adjusting your own health/magic--and just spam against a series of infinitely respawning enemies until I had enough. I could always play through the story again on the same difficulty, but it'd be quicker to just stick to the Arena. And I would play through again on a higher difficulty for the same purpose, bludgeoning two birds with one hammer, but Ghost of Sparta continues the strange tradition of not featuring a 'proper' New Game+, once again only allowing you to carry forth your buffed up Kratos into the same or lesser difficulties. If you do decide to play through on a harder difficulty, your current orb count is of course nullified. As such, it's almost like they're pressing you to spam the Arena until you've bought everything before you actually go and tackle a higher difficulty.
Another problem is a lot the rewards aren't particularly meaningful nor exciting. Most of them are just more enemies or stages to add into the Arena. Though should you buy all of them, there's an additional bonus you'll unlock which is... admittedly rather extraordinary. I just wish Zeus' Temple featured a lot more stuff in the vein of that to find within.
Even though the graphics won't exactly set your eyes on fire (not matter how fast you swing your Thera's Bane infused blades), speaking for whatever is happening under the hood, it continues to keep a steady 60 frames through rain or shine, or even lava. Nothing notary to report concerning glitches or bugs either, making for two more examples of how damn well these games consistently play. No matter the quality of the games themselves may be, there's no denying that Bluepoint have done an exemplary job porting these portables to the PS3.
Chains of Olympus' sole existence was to deliver a similar sort of gameplay experience that God of War fans have come to expect, just on a portable platform. And as such, when played on the same console with the entirety of the original trilogy available, it feels largely pointless and has nothing to help it stand out amongst the ever growing crowd of God of War games.
Ghost of Sparta at least helps deviate some, and even if it still falters because of its origin, it makes for a surprisingly enjoyable campaign. But when it comes down to it, I still felt like I could just be playing the other God of Wars and would be getting more out of it in just about every respect. As psp games, these two would have no doubt been phenomenal; as what you could say are meant to be perceived as HD ps2 games, they simply can't compare. For fans of the franchise that cannot get enough of square, square, triangle'ing their way through blood and naked Gorgon boobs, there's plenty of that to be found here. For anyone else who's looking for something new and exciting in their God of War, the HD Origins Collections can safely be ignored. Unfortunately, opening these two up for a console perspective is a detriment they simply couldn't quite stand up against.