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God of War: Kratos with Flaming Blades of Athena

Player Select
by Poe Ghostal

I've never played God of War or its sequels, but I know an awesome action figure when I see it.

Ask any Marvel figure collector about the first super-articulated figure, and chances are they'll tell you about Blade with Anti-Vampire Weapons, a.k.a. "Trenchcoat Blade." His 16 points of articulation - including articulated toes - were a revelation in 1998 and led to the super-articulation seen in Spider-Man Classics and later Marvel Legends.

Similarly, when NECA's Kratos hit stores two years ago, collectors of NECA's highly-detailed figures were surprised to discover hinged elbows, swivel biceps and balljointed ankles. NECA has used greater articulation on many of its videogame figures since, from Gears of War to Bionic Commando to Resident Evil (though sadly, not on their movie-based figures, such as Conan the Barbarian).

NECA has released three different versions of Kratos, all based on the second game, God of War II: "Golden Fleece" Kratos (which comes with Medusa's head); "Ares Armor" Kratos; and the subject of this review, Kratos with the Flaming Blades of Athena. I chose this Kratos for two reasons: since he's bare of armor he's the most basic, iconic version of the character, and the flaming blade accessories looked awesome.

Kratos comes in the narrow clamshell packaging used for most of NECA's Player Select line. The graphics are a bit dull, and the back shows a simply cross-sell for the other figures (though it does helpfully point out that the heads and weapons are interchangeable).

NECA has largely inherited the McFarlane mantle for highly detailed sculpting, and Kratos is yet another example of that. But what's important to remember is that unlike, say, Conan, there is no real-life person to base the figure's sculpt on - you only have the game's graphics and marketing art to work with (although on that score, Kratos is much better off than Simon Belmont).

All of this is my way of saying I'm impressed by how much character there is in Kratos's sculpt, particularly his face. I keep thinking it reminds me of someone, and sometimes it does, but I think ultimately it just looks like Kratos. Jason Frailey's excellent sculpting extends to the rest of the figure. Each link of the chains around his forearms and calves has been painstakingly rendered.

I could be wrong, but I think the Kratos I picked up comes from a more recent re-release of the figures. The plastic used to make Kratos is solid without being brittle. The hands are a bit more rubbery, and they pop on and off easily - which you'll be thankful for when you're working with the Flaming Blades.

But the paintwork is where this figure really shines. NECA was having a bit of trouble with their paint applications a few years back, but these days things are looking sharp. The look and texture of the skin is very well executed: it looks and feels like rough, unpolished marble. The red stripe along his face and chest is sharp and clean. The face has a little slop, particularly around the mouth, but it's a lot more noticeable in the close-up photo than in person. The dirty bronze paint used for the greaves, gauntlets and belt is perfectly applied. The leather skirt (what? you come up with a better name for it) is a bit drab, but accurate to the game.

Kratos has a balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel/hinge ankles, balljointed wrists, swivel biceps, swivel waist, swivel thighs, hinged elbows, hinged knees and a V-crotch. I hate V-crotches on principle. Like on Simon Belmont, Kratos' V-crotch is somewhat mediated by the mid-thigh swivel, but it bums me out when a figure can't take a wider or narrower stance.

The other thing to take into account is the strength of the arm joints when holding the Flaming Blades. The shoulders are nice and tight, but the elbow joints pose a problem: my figure's left elbow is tight enough to hold the Blades in any position, but the right one is looser and can't hold the blade in a high, behind-the-back pose for very long.

As mentioned, I chose this Kratos for the Flaming Blades. The idea is that the two small swords are attached to Kratos's arms via the chains around his gauntlets, and that when he swings the blades by the chains they burn with flames. Look closely and you'll see the sculpted chains along the leading edge of the flames.

The flames themselves are made from translucent orange plastic that actually somewhat resembles real fire. They're light enough that Kratos can hold them in most positions without falling over, as long as you use the included display stand. They attach to Kratos's wrists via a pair of small pegs that plug into his gauntlets (and the holes are so well hidden, you'll be searching for them every time). There are plugs on both sides of the flames, which is a very nice touch that allows for limitless posing options. Most importantly, the two Blades can be detached from the Flames and held separately.

I was sure I would have broken at least one of the pegs on the flame accessories by now, or that the one or two falls he's taken from my desk would have broken, or at least chipped, the seemingly delicate blades. Believe it or not, neither has happened. I'm sure the flames would break fairly easily if you were trying to do it, but so far they're holding.

[Edit: and as soon as I say that, I'm proven wrong. I picked him up tonight and suddenly three of the eight wrist-pegs broke. This was after days of being manhandled with no incident, so I don't know what happened there.]

Had this figure including something better than a V-crotch (at least a Mo2K-style hip joint) and an ab crunch, I'd have nominated it for Toy of the Year. As it is, those two minor nitpicks only dock it a little.

Simply put, NECA upped its game with Kratos, and they've followed suit with many of their videogame-based figures since. It's just a shame we didn't get this blend of sculpt and articulation on the Dread Pirate Roberts, Conan, or Harry Potter.

-- 12/23/09

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