After a long rest, I commenced my journey down on Rise of the Argonauts’ paths, hoping to be invaded by a Mythological Greece resembling the one in Homer’s legends. I could almost see myself riding Pegasus, teasing the gods and trying to win them over. But I never got to find the rich intrigues of Antiquity. Instead, I found… Hollywood.
In theory, Rise of the Argonauts still follows the story of the heroes that went searching for the Golden Fleece on the Argo, just that it does it in a “300” fashion. It’s as if the writers had created the plot several centuries before Christ was born and an American director comes along with some last-minute modifications in order to make the story more appealing to the uneducated contemporary public.
No, no, what’s that young bucket of zits doing here searching for the Golden Fleece in his effort to reign over Iolcus? The thirst for power doesn’t quite resonate with our impeccable system of values. Let’s have a Jason bearing Marlon Brando’s chin and a Spartan six-pack. Oh, and make him king from the get-go, he needs to have an imposing stature. Code red! We’re missing our happy end love story! Throw Medea to the fishes and come up with something more like Orpheus and Eurydice. Yes, Alceme sounds just fine. On second thought, better keep Medea though. Make her a secondary character, cause witches tend to be popular these days. The struggle between good and evil isn’t evident, you say? Find a less known goddess and have her worshipped by some fanatics. Google it, for Zeus’ sake!
And so, a story which promised numerous sudden plot changes and which could be the starting point for a thorough exploration of mythological Greece, a story that followed the life of a profound character, has been turned into the slimy love story. Alceme dies on her wedding day, struck not by Cupid’s arrows, but by those of a Blacktongue fanatic. These guys apparently worshipped Hecate and were blindly trying to fulfill an evil prophecy. It doesn’t matter that originally, Hecate was a harmless Thracian goddess which protected the safety of homes. Does it sound exotic? Yes it does.
The ram that bears the Golden Fleece is alien to the Greek legends too. It hadn’t been created by Poseidon while having fun with the nymphs, but it’s rather the spawn of one of the Titans, which wanted to boast with the perfection of its creation. The Ram stands above man, as a symbol of the universal equilibrium of power in the natural world. And the Oracle at Delphi looks very much like the creepy girl in The Ring, instead of a wise seer.
The Argonauts themselves are just a good example of what the developers could have come up with if they had had the chance to rewrite ancient history. Atlanta feels at home in the setting, but Hercules bears his Latin name (it’s Heracles in Greek) and Pan and Achilles are out of their natural context.
As harsh as I may seem, I still think the legend mix in Rise of the Argonauts bodes well for the game. The legendary heroes don’t lose their appeal, even if they are stripped of their substance. Hercules, with his small chicken head and muscular body, represents the faithful friend that would sacrifice his life for a noble cause at any time. Pan is a dreamy poet of a satyr, trying to discover the lyrical part of any happening. Atalanta is fast to get hot under the collar, especially when teased by the invincible ladies man, Achilles.
The conversations between the Argonauts are usually fun, especially when they involve Pan explaining politics to the quick-to-get-bored Hercules. Even Jason’s foes have this unique air about them. Medusa is lost in contemplating her own beauty, the huge Manticore is paralyzing with fear. And the tough word fight Jason has with Blacktongue members sprinkles a bit of drama upon the scenes.
But I still feel pity for all the confused teens out there, whose only sources of culture remain the addictive games they play. I’m not talking about our local “geniuses”, but rather about highly technological people that mistake country names for fabrics. They would at least deserve to know that not everything can be simplified to love stories and buffed up muscles. Unfortunately, even Wikipedia is too many clicks away.
The rough blend of characters brings yet another disadvantage: the universe that Homer described loses its identity. The ancient world Jason hangs out in is only protected by four minor gods, as if the whole Mount Olympus had been thrown away to the dumpster and only Apollo, Hermes, Athena and Ares had survived the recycling process (Zeus, who reigns over the other gods, is also mentioned in Jason’s monologues on destiny). And although the legends remind us of nosy gods that like to mess up human lives, the ones in Rise of the Argonauts are much too reserved. They are rather icons you could look up to, than cheeky spirits you must hunt out of your life.
Because we are talking about only five gods, Jason will end up visiting the same number of locations in the ancient Greek land, each protected by divine providence. Faithful to old moral fables, the game has us running around doing errands for those too busy and bored to do them themselves. Because the journey between such places is made through a simple click and loading screen, you can’t shake off the feeling that the Argo (and thus the whole Greek setting) is more of a reason to remind us of some cliché story than the means of shaping up a long lost universe, sitting uncertainly at the border between myth and reality.