God Of War Ragnarök’s Director Fought To Keep Its Most Unexpected And Cartoonish Character
God of War Ragnarök is a world full of scowling gods and monsters butting heads as they each work toward their best interests. The nine realms are dark and dangerous, but through all of that shines a beam of unexpected light, and I am not talking about Brok, the dwarf who seems incapable of finishing a sentence without including some kind of vulgarity before meeting the period at the end. I am talking about Ratatoskr, the eyepatch-wearing squirrel who watches over Yggdrasil, the world tree that holds the realms in place.
Ratatoskr technically appeared in God of War (2018), but he was less of a character and more of an ability. Atreus could summon the translucent blue squirrel to bring health items and sometimes hacksilver. In God of War Ragnarök, Ratatoskr is a physical, non-translucent character with dialogue, requests, and an introductory cutscene. He is also, arguably, the most unexpected character in the game.
Ratatoskr introduces himself to Kratos and Atreus like a cute, animated Disney sidekick. He climbs on top of Kratos, who might as well be a tree, rifles through his belongings like Yoda in Return of the Jedi, and leaps to Atreus where he stands perched on his arm to explain who he is. He’s weird as hell and aesthetically out of place. There are plenty of animals in God of War Ragnarök, good and evil, but Ratatoskr is the only one who wears clothes and speaks in perfect English (or whatever language you’re playing in). He has plenty of jokes, but is not quite comic relief. Ratatoskr is odd and unexpected, and that’s exactly how Ragnarök director Eric Williams wanted him to be.
“I wanted this character in the game,” Williams told us during a recent interview. “I wanted him to do these things and everyone was like, ‘We have to cut this. We have too many characters.’ And I was like, ‘No! He’s staying in the game.’” Ratatoskr is among the many reasons Ragnarök is considered the funniest entry in the God of War franchise. Williams wanted the game to have moments of levity to help offset the otherwise dark tone and it’s why he put his foot down to make sure Ratatoskr stayed.
“That scene where he shows up? That was the one everybody was like, ‘Okay, are we going too far?’” Williams says. “Even the music director was like, ‘I don't even know what to do with the music here. This is so far away from God of War. We don't even have music written that will help this along!’ They had to go back and piece some stuff together for it because it was so foreign to what God of War is.” Williams wanted to make sure the person portraying Ratatoskr would be able to deliver a comedic performance, and he knew exactly who he wanted early on.
SungWon Cho is a talented voice actor who has appeared in dozens of games and animated TV shows, but he may be best known on the internet for his short-form sketches poking fun at very specific elements of nerd culture. “I wanted SungWon to voice him,” Williams says. “One of our writers, Anthony Burch, said, ‘I know SungWon,’ and I was like, ‘Dude – call him.’” Cho came in and learned about the character and Williams asked him if he was interested in writing for Ratatoskr as well, to which Cho agreed.
Speaking with Cho over e-mail about the role, he said he was brought in before the game was announced and wasn’t even sure what he was potentially signing up for. “I walked into the meeting room not knowing what to expect, and Eric went, ‘So I think you can guess what game we want you for,’” Cho writes. “I responded, ‘I have no idea," and he sorta nodded his head toward the projector in the room with a big God of War background, and I just went, ‘......Oh.’"
Unlike most players, he wasn’t too surprised by the look and plan for Ratatoskr. “Conceptually, I wasn't too thrown off in the beginning, but maybe that's because I've voiced a lot of talking animals in my career,” Cho writes.
In terms of writing the character, Cho worked on Ratatoskr from the very beginning. “I was given full reign to come up with the real Ratatoskr's personality and voice,” Cho writes. “Before I joined the writing team, Ratatoskr's personality was actually much more like Bitter's in the first game, rude and sassy, but I thought it'd be more fun to have the real Ratatoskr be more of an eager-to-please, not entirely trustworthy type who literally ejects aspects of his personality he finds bothersome. I remember pitching him as almost like a car salesman who wants you to like him so he can sell you more cars.”
Cho proposed Ratatoskr’s additional personalities and was given a framework for what information needed to be delivered to the player, but from there he had free reign to develop and write for the character as he pleased. “Ratatoskr's introduction scene was entirely unchanged from how I wrote it, and I think it was pretty key in establishing the character's personality/tone,” Cho writes. “After I left the writing team and months later went in to record lines, I did notice that some of my dialogue was still in, some had been changed, and there were also new lines, but I was impressed at how it all fit very well into the personality I had established for the character.”
Cho also provided motion capture for Ratatoskr, which was functionally much different from the rest of the cast who who play characters that radically vary in height, but are otherwise all human beings. “It was a fascinating experience. A lot of people think I literally climbed up on Christopher Judge's shoulders or something, which would be absurd on its own, but I feel like the actual process was even more bewildering,” Cho writes. “Basically, I was provided a set of bars in front of me and a big platform I could sit on behind me. I then watched the actors in real-time as a puppeteer moved a plush Ratatoskr around Chris's body, performed the lines live, and had to do the climbing motions while standing. If I sat on a character's shoulder, I would take a seat on the platform behind me. If I had to climb up something, I could use the bars in front of me to ‘pull’ myself up.” Cho basically watched the puppet version of his character and performed the scenes from the perspective of the puppet. “Definitely one of the strangest but most entertaining acting experiences I've had,” Cho writes.
and now that God of War: Ragnarok's out, here's the obligatory goofy motion-capture photos of me suited up to perform Ratatoskr, it's a very attractive look, i know, thank you @SonySantaMonica pic.twitter.com/cgBT2rcnYc— SungWon Cho (@ProZD) November 9, 2022
“[SungWon is] super deadpan. The whole time I didn't know if he was happy or mad or sad or whatever,” Williams says. “He finally tells us, ‘I'm just like this all the time. Inside my head, I'm doing backflips.’”
Ratatoskr did have lines of dialogue and a voice in the first game, provided by Troy Baker (Joel from The Last of Us and dozens of other games), but for the sequel they wanted to change up the character. In the context of the game, Ratatoskr has separated and broken his personalities out of his body, which explains why he could exist in the first game as a spectral entity with a different voice.
“I had already had this idea that we would make it like Inside Out where he's got all the personalities – but we’ll keep Troy [Baker] so that he's got this one that he’s like, ‘He's not even part of me,’” Williams says. “Troy found out and he's like, ‘Oh, this is great. I can't wait to do this again.’ So the two of them became the five squirrels.”
Originally, Williams and the team toyed with having different voice actors for every squirrel, but ended up leaning on Cho to mix up the performances. “From what I was told, I was chosen because they thought I could pull off vastly different personalities, and because they wanted someone with a comedic background not only for performance but also for writing the dialogue,” Cho writes.
As is to be expected with just about any creative endeavor, not everything planned for Ratatoskr made it into the final game. “They asked me to write a ‘rap battle’ in the style of the Norse activity of flyting, which is essentially a contest of throwing insults at each other,” Cho writes, in regards to Ratatoskr content that didn’t make the final cut. “It was between Ratatoskr and Brok, and I was pretty happy with how it turned out, but a lot of things have to get cut for time (or maybe silliness).”
The ultimate verdict is still out on Ratatoskr. Time will tell if he’s a beloved addition to God of War’s large cast, but early feedback has been welcoming and positive. It helps that players have learned if you ring his bell enough, the typically stoic squirrel will lash out and be the only character to showcase more anger than old Kratos. “If you're going to bring in a giant talking squirrel and have him talk to Kratos, I think he's going to feel cartoony no matter what you do,” Cho writes. “While I wanted him to be a very fun, almost larger than life character, I still wanted to make sure his personality and motivations had real earnestness to them. As far as writing him went, I wanted him to feel real and not just a silly little throwaway character.”