During the September Ubisoft Forward event, more information regarding Immortals: Fenyx Rising, including a December 3 cross-gen release, and gameplay was revealed. It looked great. Since I love stories and particularly the ones that play on mythology and folklore, the worldbuilding of Fenyx Rising made a big impression on me. The fact that it also seemed to take a Breath of the Wild-style art direction is attention-grabbing as well. Still, due to the heavy focus on Greek mythology, it’s a good time to look at the way that mythology and folklore have been used in games in the past, and more specifically when they’ve been used most effectively.
Now there are tons of games that use aspects of mythology in their design, whether it’s creatures or story elements. And while I could focus on those, it really wouldn’t be doing much of a service. Not when there are so many great games that are entirely based on mythologies and the great epics across different world cultures.
We’ve got tons of things based on Greek mythology, most notably being God of War and Kid Icarus, with Pit being a mixed play on Eros, god of love, and Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. Even Assassin’s Creed Odyssey played heavily with the mythology, since quite a bit of the game was loosely based around Herodotus’s Histories. And the Histories weren’t afraid to include myths and legends into the stories. Since the Histories happen to also cover the lost continent of Atlantis, it would also be a good idea to bring up the point&click adventure game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Apotheon was an interesting game that took cues from art seen Grecian pottery and murals. Aside from the art, there’s just a great deal to draw from and latch onto with Greek mythology. The gods and monsters are iconic and usually very well defined.
We’ve also seen plays on Norse mythology. Most recently, we saw it with Hellblade: Senua’s Saga and 2018’s God of War as well as the recently announced God of War: Ragnarok. We’ve also seen it in the Banner Saga trilogy, Valkyrie Profile games, and, less popularly, Too Human. We’ll also see theThe world of the Norse can be a contentious and inhospitable world, which is part of the reason why the Norse myths have been getting more popular as of late. Bridging across multiple different styles of storytelling, from whodunnits to epic war pieces to dark horror stories, it’s no wonder that Norse mythology is starting to get drawn from for more games. There’s just so many ways to interpret that world that it’s almost irresistible.
Outside of the obvious of Greek and Norse mythology, we’ve also different forms. The Witcher series is drenched in Slavic mythology and folklore, which is part of what leads to its charm. It also helps that The Witcher series was full of dynamic characters in a beautiful dark fantasy world. Never Alone played with indigenous Alaskan folklore. Until Dawn, once you got to the twist of actual monsters being in those hills, ended up being a huge play on the Native American folktales of the Wendigo. Darksiders is entirely a play on the Book of Revelation from the New Testament. Dante’s Inferno took cues from God of War while being inspired more by Dante’s Inferno and the Divine Comedy. Okami pulls from Japanese mythology, as does Fatal Frame and Siren. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and recently announced Black Myth: Wukong both draw from Journey to the West, arguably one of the most popular epic novels to come out of China.
Now the question is this. Why do we return to myths? The things listed mentioned here barely even scratch the surface. Now, this is just a guess on my end, but it boils down to a couple of things. One of the biggest is the characters. Even if the story itself isn’t familiar, the characters, the monsters, and the gods are. It is almost like a code for the type of story that you might be in for, even though some tropes might be overturned, and expectations can always be subverted. The type of myth also lends itself to different types of settings and art designs for those settings. While flawed as a final product, one of the best things about Too Human was the realization of place. Coupled with that, while there are common story threads across cultures, the values are at least differently defined, if not blatantly different. Drawing from mythology is a great way to try to understand cultures that aren’t our own. We can always read the stories, but let’s face it. One of the best ways to understand someone is to step into their shoes. A well-designed game with a compelling story causes exactly that.