God of War Ragnarök is a world filled with sinister gods and monsters, butting heads while all working for their own good. The Nine Realms are dark and dangerous, but through it all shines a ray of unexpected light, and I’m not talking about Brok the dwarf, who seems unable to finish a sentence without inserting some sort of vulgarity before finally delivering the point hits . I speak of Ratatoskr, the eyepatched 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 imagines Kratos and Atreus as a cute animated Disney sidekick. He climbs Kratos, who might as well be a tree, rummaging through his belongings like Yoda Return of the Jedi, and jumps to Atreus, where he’s standing on his arm, to explain who he is. He’s hilarious as hell and aesthetically out of place. There are many 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). He has plenty of jokes, but isn’t entirely hilariously relieved. Ratatoskr is weird and unexpected, and that’s exactly how Ragnarök director Eric Williams wanted him to be.
“I wanted that character in the game,” Williams told us in a recent interview. “I wanted him to do those things and everyone was like, ‘We’ve got to cut that. We have too many characters.’ And I thought, ‘No! He stays in the game.’” Ratatoskr is one of the many reasons why Ragnarok is considered the funniest entry in the God of War series. Williams wanted the game to have moments of lightness to offset the otherwise dark tone, and so he went above and beyond to ensure Ratatoskr stayed.
“That scene where he appears? That was the point where everyone was like, ‘Okay, are we going too far?'” says Williams. “Even the music director said, ‘I don’t even know what to do with the music here. This is so far from God of War. We didn’t even write music to help us do that!’ They had to go back and put some stuff together because it was so alien to what God of War is.” Williams wanted to make sure the person portraying Ratatoskr would be able to pull off a comedic performance, and he knew early on exactly who he wanted.
SungWon Cho is a talented voice actor who has appeared in dozens of games and animated TV shows, but he’s perhaps best known online for his short sketches that poke fun at very specific elements of nerd culture. “I wanted SungWon to voice it,” says Williams. “One of our writers, Anthony Burch, said, ‘I know SungWon,’ and I said, ‘Dude, call him.'” Cho walked in and found out about the character, and Williams asked if he was interested in working for Ratatoskr to write also, which Cho agreed to.
Speaking to Cho about the role via email, he said he was hired prior to the game’s announcement and wasn’t even sure what he might be signing up for. “I walked into the briefing room not knowing what to expect and Eric said, ‘Well, I guess you can guess what game we want you in,'” writes Cho. “I said, ‘I have no idea,’ and he kind of nodded his head at the projector in the room with a big God of War background, and I just said, ‘…Oh.'”
Unlike most players, he wasn’t too surprised by the look and plan for Ratatoskr. “I wasn’t too daunted conceptually at first, but maybe that’s because I’ve voiced a lot of talking animals in my career,” writes Cho.
In terms of writing the character, Cho worked on Ratatoskr from the start. “I was given complete freedom to develop the personality and voice of the real Ratatoskr,” writes Cho. “Before I joined the writing team, Ratatoskr’s personality was actually a lot more like Bitter’s in the first game, rude and cheeky, but I thought it would be more fun if the real Ratatoskr was more of an eager-to-please, not entirely trustworthy guy who literally throws out aspects of his personality that bother him. I remember portraying him almost like a car salesman who wants you to like him so he can sell you more cars.”
Cho suggested Ratatoskr’s additional personalities and was given a framework for what information needed to be conveyed to the player, but from then on he was free to develop and write the character as he pleased. “Ratatoskr’s opening scene was completely unchanged from how I wrote it, and I think it was quite important in establishing the personality/tone of the character,” writes Cho. “After leaving the writing team and months later starting recording lines, I noticed that some of my dialogue was still there, some had been changed and there were new lines as well, but I was struck by how it all fitted together very well into the personality, that I had established for the character.”
Cho also provided motion capture for Ratatoskr, who is functionally very different from the rest of the cast, who play characters who vary radically in size but are otherwise all human. “It was a fascinating experience. A lot of people think I literally climbed onto Christopher Judge’s shoulders or something, which would be absurd in itself, but I think the actual process was even more confusing,” Cho writes. “Basically, I was provided with a set of poles in front of me and a large platform behind me to sit on. I then watched the actors in real time as a puppeteer moved a plush Ratatoskr around Chris’ body, performing the lines live and having to perform the climbing moves while standing. When sitting on a character’s shoulder, I would sit on the platform behind me. If I had to climb something, I could use the bars in front of me to pull myself up.” Cho was essentially watching the puppet version of his character and acting out the scenes from the puppet’s perspective. “Definitely one of the weirdest yet most entertaining acting experiences I’ve ever had,” writes Cho.
and now that god of war: ragnarok is out here are the obligatory silly motion capture photos of me outfitting for ratatoskr it’s a very attractive look i know thanks @SonySantaMonica pic.twitter.com/cgBT2rcnYc
— SungWon Cho (@ProZD) November 9, 2022
“[SungWon is] super dead. I didn’t know the whole time if he was happy or angry or sad or whatever,” says Williams. “He ends up telling us, ‘I’m like this all the time. In my head, I’m doing backflips.’”
Ratatoskr had dialogue lines and a voice provided by Troy Baker (Joel from The Last of Us and dozens of other games) in the first game, but for the sequel they wanted to change the character. In the game’s context, Ratatoskr has his personalities detached and ripped out of his body, which explains why he was able to exist as a spectral entity with a different voice in the first game.
“I had this idea that we would do it like this from the inside to the outside where he has all the personalities – but we keep Troy [Baker] so he has this one where he’s like, ‘He’s not even a part of me,'” says Williams. “Troy found out and was like, ‘Oh, that’s great. I can’t wait to do this again. So the two became the five squirrels.”
Initially, Williams and the team toyed with having different voice actors for each squirrel, but eventually relied on Cho to mix up the performances. “From what I was told, I was chosen because they felt I could portray very different personalities and because they wanted someone with a comedic background not only to act but also to write the dialogue,” writes Cho .
As can be expected with almost any creative endeavor, not everything that was 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 flying, which is essentially a competition where you insult one another,” Cho writes in reference to Ratatoskr content that doesn’t make it into the final version created . “It was between Ratatoskr and Brok and I was pretty happy with how it turned out, but a lot of things need cutting down on time (or maybe silliness).”
The final verdict on Ratatoskr is still pending. Time will tell if he’s a popular addition to God of War’s large cast, but early feedback has been welcoming and positive. It helps that players have learned that the typically stoic squirrel will strike and is the only character to show more anger than old Kratos if you ring his bell often enough. “If you bring a giant talking squirrel and have it talk to Kratos, I think it will feel like a comic no matter what you do,” writes Cho. “While I wanted him to be a very funny, almost larger-than-life character, I still wanted to make sure his personality and motivations were genuinely serious. When I wrote it, I wanted it to feel real and not just some silly little throwaway.”