Athena is the name of a Greek Goddess. According to ancient scholars (Wikipedia), Athena was the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, mathematics, salt water taffy, strength, war strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill. Possibly because of this litany of specialties, Athena seems to have wound up as the Ms. Marvel of the Greek Pantheon.
Think of the Marvel superheroes: Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, etc. Yes, if you follow their continuities to the letter, they get complicated, but each of these heroes are iconic, some up to the point that they’ve only been allowed one pair of purple pants for decades. Meanwhile, you have heroines like Ms. Marvel, who have led the Avengers, become space robots, fallen into super comas, and given birth to their own rapists (or… something?), all while wearing approximately 600 different costumes. Ms. Marvel is about as well defined as a Pollock portrait, and Athena is much in the same boat. Is she the Goddess of Wisdom… or War? Is she here to offer sage advice, or get those Spartans into another genocidal skirmish? Blonde or Brunette? Zeus is the god-damned god of gods, Athena… she’s a headache.
But these are modern times! No one believes in the ol’ Greek Pantheon any more than we sacrifice our lessers on ziggies. Nowadays we pick and choose what gods we want where, and if a multi-armed Hindu deity suddenly becomes a sexy ice princess, that’s fine by us. That’s right! Videogames define the gods of yore, so let’s look at how “Athena” has been portrayed in modern, digital times.
Athena (Arcade/NES) (1986/1987)
The game: Athena is a SNK game and the inspiration for today’s topic. It does its best to be a competent action platforming game, but falls short thanks to its “gimmick”, the ability to gain a menagerie of armor/weapon powerups. This could be a lot of fun, but, unfortunately, you spend most of your time mostly naked and vulnerable as heck, so a game over is likely incoming after you lose your first life. Gradius was not the system to copy into action games, guys.
The goddess: Athena is… not very regal. The plot of the game claims that Athena is a bored goddess, so she ventures out through the Door Which Shoudn’t Be Opened, and is immediately stripped of her powers/clothes. This leads to her iconic “just a bikini” look that probably gobbled up a few quarters just based on (anime) sex appeal. Eh, good work if you can get it.
Aside from maybe just using the name for no real reason, it seems that this interpretation of Athena relies heavily on her “virgin goddess” depiction, and dramatically plays up her naivety and childishness. She’s practically as naked as a (oddly well-endowed) baby! She’s also often pictured with a sword and shield (though a mace seems to be her best weapon in the game), which is close to classical Athena’s usual armaments.
Secret Shame: Most men spend all their time scoping out Athena’s exposed flesh, and never notice those cool winged sandals. Fashionable, and ideal for a jumping-based adventure.
Legacy of a Goddess: This Athena was seen again in both SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos and Neo Geo Battle Coliseum. In Chaos, she is defending (apparently Christian) Heaven from potential invaders, and in NGBC, she’s been banished from Heaven and must fight for good deed points to earn her way back upstairs. There isn’t a reason given for her banishment, but it probably has something to do with the crappy mobile game that tried to give her a mostly-naked maid sidekick.
Psycho Soldier (Arcade) (1987)
The game: Intended as a sequel to Athena, Psycho Soldier plays a lot more like Capcom’s SonSon… which was just shy of being a shoot ‘em up to begin with. Huh, guess SNK really wanted to make its own sexy Gradius. Whatever the inspiration, Psycho Soldier drops all the platforming elements of Athena and focuses exclusively on action and shooting psychic bolts to kill random Morlocks. At least the game has amazing/preposterous music.
The goddess: Athena Asamiya, the star of Psycho Soldier, is not intended to be the goddess Athena, but some kind of modern day reincarnation/resurrection. This grants her telekinetic powers because…. Phoenix Force? I don’t know. Despite looking like a reject from Project A-Ko (Psy-Ko?), she stays pretty modestly dressed, which is a significant step up from her Grecian ancestor. She also saves all of humanity from malicious mole people, which is slightly more valiant than getting bored and wandering through a forbidden door.
Secret Shame: Nobody remembers her heroic debut game, because…
Legacy of a Goddess: Athena Asamiya found her second life as a playable fighter in King of Fighters ’94, and has returned for every (probably?) game since. She’s been toned down slightly from psychic savior to psychic pop star (naturally), but she retains the bubbly and outgoing personality of her predecessor. She also occasionally summons Goddess Athena (and sometimes just her wardrobe), which should be enough to crush the American Sports Team.
The game: A tale of souls and swords eternally retold… but mostly told sometime around 1600 AD. Given the heavy influence of random Greek warriors running around the plot, you’d expect Athena to have a featured role, but…
The goddess: Sophitia looks an awful lot like many depictions of Athena (ya know, one of those blonde Mediterraneans), and she does pray to the goddess; however Hephaestus, the God of the Forge, is Sophitia’s primary patron deity. If you want Athena in the plot of Soulcalibur, you’re going to have to hit Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny, the PSP game that elevated Kratos to the roster. Kratos is not yet the God of War in this plot, and Athena charges him with finding Soul Edge to defeat Ares. Can’t these gods just get along!?
Secret Shame: Athena technically is only mentioned in the American version of the website for the game, because Broken Destiny doesn’t have a proper “arcade/story” mode, and the only explanation for “Kratos is here” is provided in auxiliary materials. In the Japanese plot, Kratos is accidentally transported through time, and is so over this whole god squabble thing.
Legacy of a Goddess: Maybe we should look at that Kratos guy for this one…
God of War (Series)(2005)
The game: a very, very angry man decides to get revenge on the God of War by killing absolutely everything in his immediate area (which “his”? It doesn’t matter). Prepare to fight every last man, god, and puppy across all of Ancient Greece to eventually claim the title of Biggest Asshole on the Planet.
The goddess: Athena is the one nice god(dess) in pretty much all of the God of War universe. Her chronological introduction to Kratos was when the Ghost of Sparta was a young boy, when she spared the kid’s life (though, admittedly, did assist in killing his brother). She then aids (and occasionally narrates) Kratos’s quest to slay Ares, and even gives the guy a spiffy new set of blades when he inevitably succeeds. She eventually is killed by Kratos (as all things must be) while she attempts to defend her (their) father, Zeus. But don’t worry! She returns as a ghost to aid Kratos yet again, and this time claims Zeus must be killed, because, I dunno, a box or something. She eventually super-dies when Kratos refuses to hand the last remnants of hope over to his capricious sister.
Secret Shame: Athena might have a lousy end in the franchise, but 90% of the time she’s the most helpful person in what is essentially a Frank Miller universe. It’s a wonder she wasn’t just a random (incestuous) lay for our testosterone fueled protagonist. That said, she still seems to exist exclusively for the benefit of the leading man, and even goes the distance and dies as a cautionary tale and a reason for the hero to go Super Saiyan. But, hey, at least she isn’t naked all the time.
Legacy of a Goddess: The God of War franchise is apparently never ending, so who knows what the future will bring for the series’ usual collaborator.
Persona 3 (Playstation 2) (2006)
The game: Like Final Fantasy, the Shin Megami Tensei series employs a kitchen sink approach to mythology. Occasionally, this means a really interesting interpretation of a well-known mythological figure and actually forces a thoughtful player to consider a millennia old mainstay in a completely new light. And sometimes you get a penis riding a chariot. The Persona series is a spin-off of SMT proper, and the recent titles feature anime high school students exploiting gods and demons as “personas” primarily for combat reasons. Persona 3 is the one where everyone is suicidal. Especially the dog.
The goddess: Athena appears in a number of SMT games, but she’s probably most “featured” in Persona 3 as Aigis’s persona. For those of you that missed P3, Aigis is a robot teenager that wishes to know of this thing you humans call… wuv? She seems to have a vaguely Greek motif from stem to stern (that even extends to her eventual sisters…), so it only makes sense that Athena appears as her pet goddess. Initially, Aigis’s persona is a mere generic Grecian statue, but when she learns to see herself not as a mass-produced bot but a unique snowflake, Palladion officially ascends to godhood. “Athena” doesn’t really have a personality (like all Personas in Persona), but Aigis seems to fit that Athena-esque role of “smart but naïve” that is more and more prevalent.
Secret Shame: Athena was ditched almost immediately for Orpheus when Aigis had a chance to star in her own featured game. Luckily, Athena was reclaimed in time for her fighting game debut, so we get another reason for Persona X King of Fighters.
Legacy of a Goddess: “Athena” is likely to return in future Persona/SMT games. Hell, Aigis is also likely to return in… What’s next? Maybe some kind of Persona-themed version of Bubble Bobble? That sounds likely.
Herc’s Adventures (Playstation/Saturn) (1997)
The game: An irreverent Lucasarts action-adventure starring Herc, Atlanta, and Jason (of the Argonauts) venturing through the wilds of ancient Greece (and, inexplicably, the arctic of Macedonia) to defeat Hades, God of the Underworld. Actually… Hades might be a giant robot created by aliens. Uh, spoilers. Most of the game is based on venturing from ancient city to ancient city and beseeching their patron deities for keys in exchange for heroic quests, like cow delivery. The patron goddess of Athens is…
The goddess: Athena, here portrayed as the straight up goddess of war (as Ares decided to stick to Xena: Warrior Princess) has a major beef with Medusa, and demands to have her head on a pike. This Athena is once again rocking the sword and shield combo, though her toga is a little more XL than some of the other deities in this article. Don’t worry, Athena’s normally svelte figure can take a game off, as it seems to be visual style that most of the gods in Herc’s Adventures are a bit on the chubby side. Poseidon has manboobs for days.
Secret Shame: Herc’s Athena is one-upped by the nearby Cassandra, who possesses the uncanny ability to summon a rain of pizzas.
Legacy of a Goddess: Sorry, Herc’s Adventures must have been a major bomb, because we never saw this pantheon ever again. Or maybe it’s on account of anything that even looked like an adventure game got scuttled into the garbage for a decade or so. Either way, I doubt we’ll see this Goddess of War ever again.
Lunar: The Silver Star (Sega CD) (1992)
The game: Take a magical tour of the moon in this JRPG that sees Alex of Burg fight his way through the Hero’s Journey. Dragons, floating islands, and (depending on the version) a bevy of fart jokes will propel you on your way to defeat a malevolent magical emperor. No, not magical… wait… I think I got that right the first time.
The goddess: A long time ago on a planet very far away (or you’re standing on it), the demon Zophar (not Zohar) rose to destroy humanity. Goddess Althena (an extra L changes nothing) rose to defeat Zophar… but kinda accidentally destroyed all of Earth in the process. But it’s cool! Althena ushered the whole of (surviving) humanity up and onto the moon, and used her magical powers to make it verdant and only populated by a few horrific monsters. And, because she’s a right alright lass, she also granted humanity magical powers, presumably to make everything square with the whole “destroyed your planet” thing.
Secret Shame: Althena was also technically in Lunar: Dragon Song, and everyone involved in that game should be ashamed.
Legacy of a Goddess: Althena decided to live as a mortal during the events of Lunar: The Silver Star (or right before it, depending on the version), and then she fell in love with some musician. Then she… died. No reincarnation, no return to goddesshood, just bones and maggots. Kind of have to admire that kind of commitment, but makes it hard to return for a sequel.
Kid Icarus (series) (1987)
The game: Kid Icarus is a Nintendo franchise that takes place somewhere just left of actual Greek Mythology. Like how Link wouldn’t seem too out of place being conscripted in ferrying the One Ring across the countryside, Pit faces all sorts of elements of Greek Mythology, but isn’t necessarily a bonafide part of it. All the same, it’s his job to fight his way from underworld to Angel Land and defeat Medusa, the mortal enemy of…
The goddess: Lady Palutena, Goddess of Light. Okay, yes, not the same name here, but Palutena is pretty much Athena. Athena is a goddess of wisdom, is generally pictured with a spear (a staff here) and shield, and is known for having a rather tumultuous relationship with Medusa. Also, much like some other random spellings in the original Kid Icarus (Hiya, Hewdraw), “Palutena” could easily be an interpretation “Pallas Athena”. I mean, we did get Zeus in the original…
Regardless of name origins, this Athena is wise and beautiful… and incidentally kind of a ditz. She’s not so great at getting names right (that may explain Hewdraw), and has a tendency to completely flake out when fantasizing about mythical omelets. That said, while she obviously uses Pit as her heroic proxy in Kid Icarus proper, Smash Bros. has proven she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, and seems to enjoy the rush of war.
Secret Shame: She once granted sentience to her dinner, and created an army of unruly vegetables. Kind of hard to believe that this sets up a Punie-Chan crossover.
Legacy of a Goddess: The odds are good we’ll see Palutena again, if only because Sakurai seems to have a fondness for his adopted goddess. She also wedged herself into the Japanese title for Kid Icarus, so we’re likely to at least get a reference to her divineness.
Athena: Summary of a Goddess
So what does this all mean? Sorry, but it seems like videogames can’t get their Athenas together, either. She’s always got a sword and shield… except when she’s unarmed. She’s a goddess of wisdom… except when she’s a complete nitwit. She’s a goddess of war… except when she spends all her time spouting off platitudes about pacifism. And now she can have gold, black, or green hair? That’s it, videogames don’t help anything. Go make your own goddess.
FGC #161 Athena
- System: NES, Arcade, and now available as a “mini” on the Playstation 3. That would be the arcade version, incidentally.
- Number of players: Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the mobile version to get a traveling companion for Athena. Only one player here.
- Favorite Weapon: There is the ball and chain, and then there’s everything else. The whole “must break dirt to proceed” thing is a giant pain with nearly every other weapon, yet the mace allows for instant rock destruction, and kills a lot of monsters in a single blow. Reminds me of another game…
- Salt in the wound: There is an “ultimate” powerup of gold armor and a sword that shoots beams of death… but it also drains your own precious health. This isn’t too much of a trouble if you have infinite credits in an arcade game, but it’s downright sadistic on the NES.
- Did you know? In Homer’s Iliad, Odysseus gives thanks to “Athena Spoilgatherer”. I’m assuming this means that Athena is downright rotten when she sees a movie before you.
- Would I play again? Oh, I never got to mention how terrible Athena for NES is, did I? It’s bad. It’s really bad. The end.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… X-Men for the Sega Genesis! We’ve had Spider-Man and the X-Men, and Karate-Man and the X-Men, but this is the first we’re getting just X-Men! Please look forward to it!