Shadow of the Colossus. It is not always that we get the chance to admire such a masterpiece, and while sales weren't exactly bad, they weren't amazing either. However, the critically acclaimed game sold enough units to convince Sony that it deserved a second chance.
Now I've wanted to talk about this game for quite a while, and with the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus collection coming out today in North America, it seems like the timing is perfect. Unfortunately, I haven't played Ico (yet), so I can't really talk about it. I have, however, played quite a bit of Shadow of the Colossus, so we'll be focusing on that. If you're here to know if the collection is worth the purchase, it is. If you want to know more about the game, I warn you, the best part of SotC is experiencing it yourself, immaculate from others' experiences, so I would be spoiling the game for you. This is a love letter from an aspiring game designer to what he believes is truly the greatest game of all time.
The altar where your loved one lies, inside an enormous temple.
Where do I even begin? The graphics? Sound? Gameplay? No, those concepts are too raw to begin describing the game. I'll start with the story, and build up from it.
You are Wander, a young lad who lost his loved one. In order to bring her back from the dead, he traverses to the forbidden land and seeks the help of a divine deity. The deity tells Wander that in order to bring his loved one back, he will have to destroy the 16 idols in the room, each of which represent a different Colossus. It also warns him that the price to bring his loved one back will be extremely high. Wander shrugs the warning, and so the game begins.
Shadow of the Colossus is a love story, of what limits can a man go for his loved one, but it is, most importantly, the tale of David and Goliath. The battle between raw strength against wit. While the game is story-heavy, it is told subtly, faintly, almost easy to ignore, but you know it's there, and it engages you, it gives you strength for the next challenge.
One of the most memorable battles is against Phalanx, where you must chase
the giant desert dragon with your horse and climb on the Colossus' wing.
Each Colossus is an entirely different challenge, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Armed only with your magic sword (that serves both as a compass and a tool to spot the weak points), a bow and arrow and your trusty horse Agro, you must find a way to climb onto the Colossus all the way to its weak points and stab them.
The visuals are beautiful and incredibly detailed. The Colossus' fur is eerily realistic, and you'll often find an arrow you threw long ago still stuck on its skin. But the most important part about the visuals is the atmosphere. Shadow of the Colossus has a very hazy atmosphere, which allows for a great light play. The sceneries where you fight the Colossi are mellow, with the architecture of the ruins bringing an air of despair and sadness.
A personal favorite of mine, you have to run on top of Gaius' sword after he misses you.
To go with the atmospheric ambient, you have the amazing soundtrack, which goes from mellow, to desperate, to a victorious theme once you finally reach the colossus, giving you courage (or, as the song name says, reviving your power). And when you finally take down the colossus, you would think you would get some sort of celebration fanfare, right? Wrong.
What follows is an incredibly sad scene of the Colossus falling to its death as an equally sad song plays. The sense of guilt is instantaneous. The creature never asked for this fight, but you came to it, with the sole purpose of murdering it, and you succeeded. To end the scene, the Colossus' vital energy "flies" out of it in the form of black tentacles and stab you in the chest, leaving you unconscious. You always have a feeling that it is probably not a good thing (most players just try to run away as fast as possible to see how long they can last before it reaches them), but you don't know until it's too late. During your unconscious moment, you hear your loved one's voice, and when you wake up, you are back in the temple, surrounded by the shadowy creatures, each one representing one Colossus you've killed. The more keen players might also notice that for each Colossus you kill, a dove appears near the altar where your loved one lays.
But it's not only of gargantuan creature murder that this game is about. To defeat the Colossi, you must first reach them. They are all scattered in an enormous world that you can explore at will, and that's where half of SotC's geniality is. The game isn't afraid to give you time to relax and admire its beauty. Across the world you'll find deserts, canyons, waterfalls, beaches, forests, ancient buildings and much more. The mesmerizing landscapes help you forget the task that is ahead and lets you enjoy peace, if only for some moments. This enormous world is also filled with temples where you can save your game, white-tailed lizards (which you can eat the tail from to raise your stamina) and fructiferous trees, where you can knock the fruits down and eat them for a health boost. There are also many other small creatures, like turtles, birds of various kinds and regular lizards, but those are all harmless and there just for the setting.
Some of the places you accidentally find are stunning.
Shadow of the Colossus is also a game about your own personal experience, like I've mentioned above. It plays with emotions in a way no other game has. Joy, admiration, sadness, fear, courage, triumph, guilt, those are all things you will feel as you play through it. The first time you see a Colossus, that humongous creature at least thirty times your size walk by you, is something that you will not forget easily.
To tell a personal story, I am very afraid of dark, deep waters. The idea of swimming without being able to see what awaits you below frightens me. And I was stunned for at least five minutes at the top of a tower, looking at the lake below, with some creature swimming in it. You couldn't see what it was, but you could see it was there, and it was big. Eventually, I would have to drop down. It was that or quitting. But I had gone too far to quit now. And I jumped. My adrenaline was high the entire battle, as I latched myself on the Colossus and it dragged me down, trying to drown me. Other water creatures would appear later, but while they still gave me that feel in my gut, I was able to overcome it much more easily the second time. This is only an example from me, but if you get your scare meter up when you're being chased (the Jurassic Park syndrome), or if you're afraid of heights, you'll understand what I mean as you play the game yourself.
You have to agree with me, throwing myself to that isn't exactly a good idea.
I could go on and on about it, but I'll stop here, because I know some of you who haven't played it will read this, and because I have already spoken quite a lot. Is Shadow of the Colossus for everyone? No, but then again art never is. Has it been topped? From a technical perspective, some of the graphics might feel dated, but I don't know a person alive who isn't stunned by the game. Should you at least try it? Definitely. Shadow of the Colossus is a unique experience, one that you will never see similar anywhere, no matter how much others try to mimic it.
note: yes i am aware that both the girl and the deity have names, i chose not to bring them up.