For the 2018 remake, see Shadow of the Colossus (2018 video game).
Shadow of the Colossus, released in Japan as Wander and the Colossus[a], is an action-adventure game developed by SIE Japan Studio and Team Ico, and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation 2. The game was released in North America and Japan in October 2005 and PAL regions in February 2006. It was directed by Fumito Ueda and developed at SCEI's International Production Studio 1, also known as Team Ico; the same development team responsible for the cult hit Ico, to which the game is considered a spiritual successor.
The game's storyline focuses on a young man named Wander who enters a forbidden land. Wander must travel across a vast expanse on horseback and defeat sixteen massive beings, known simply as colossi, in order to restore the life of a girl named Mono. The game is unusual within the action-adventure genre in that there are no towns or dungeons to explore, no characters with whom to interact, and no enemies to defeat other than the colossi.Shadow of the Colossus has been described as a puzzle game, as each colossus' weakness must be identified and exploited before it can be defeated.
Cited as an influential title in the video game industry and one of the greatest games of all time, Shadow of the Colossus is often regarded as an important example of video game as art due to its minimalist landscape designs, immersive gameplay and emotional journey. It received wide critical acclaim by the media and was met with strong sales compared to Ico, due in part to a larger marketing campaign. The soundtrack was also widely praised. The game won several awards for its audio, design, and overall quality. Shadow of the Colossus is also referenced numerous times in debates regarding the art quality and emotional perspectives of video games.
A remastered version for the PlayStation 3 was developed by Bluepoint Games and released alongside Ico as The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection in September 2011. It features high-definition (HD) graphics, content previously missing from the North American version, PlayStation Network Trophies, and 3D support. The HD version was released separately in Japan. A high-definition remake for the PlayStation 4 was released in February 2018.
Progression through Shadow of the Colossus occurs in cycles. Beginning at a central point in an expansive landscape, the player seeks out and defeats a colossus, and is then returned to the central point to repeat the process. To find each colossus, Wander may raise his sword while in a sunlit area to reflect beams of light, which will converge when the sword is pointed in the right direction of the next encounter. The journey to a colossus is seldom a straightforward matter: stretches of varied terrain often require that a detour be taken along the way. Most colossi are located in remote areas, such as atop cliffs or within ancient structures.
Once a colossus is found, the player must discover its weaknesses to defeat it. Each colossus dwells in a unique lair, and many colossi cannot be defeated without making use of the surrounding environment. Every colossus has at least one weak point, indicated by a glowing sigil that can be illuminated and identified by the sword's reflected light. Each colossus has areas covered with fur or protruding ledges, which Wander may use to grip and scale the colossus while it thrashes about in an attempt to dislodge him. While scaling a colossus, the player must act quickly, as Wander has a limited stamina gauge that decreases while he hangs onto the creature.
Wander and the colossi have life bars to indicate their remaining health. A colossus' health will decrease significantly when its weak points are attacked, while Wander can be harmed by a colossus' attacks or a fall from great height. Throughout the game, Wander is equipped with only a sword and a bow with arrows, but may obtain other weapons from completing the Time Attack trials.
While the colossi are the only enemies, there are natural animals in the environment. Only one species, however, has any effect on gameplay: eating the tail of a certain kind of lizard increases Wander's stamina gauge. Likewise, the player may find fruit that increases Wander's maximum health.
Wander's horse, Agro, plays a large role in the game. In addition to serving as a means of transportation, fighting from horseback is vital to defeating some of the colossi. There are, however, many environments that cannot be traversed by horse, and colossi often inhabit areas within deep water or beyond large obstacles that must be scaled. Agro cannot travel beyond these, and when separated from Wander by such obstacles, cannot participate in the following battle. Agro is referred to as a male in the English-language version of the game, though director Fumito Ueda said that he saw Wander's horse as female.
The environment must be used to the player's advantage more often as the game progresses. The first two battles take place on simple, large, flat areas of land, with the only goal being to discover how to scale the colossi and attack their weak points. However, the majority of the following fourteen battles require that some aspect of the battlefield be used.
Plot and setting
During Shadow of the Colossus, the player receives little information concerning the backstories of the characters and their relationships with one another. The game takes place in a fantasy setting, with most of the game's events occurring within a vast and unpopulated peninsula, known as the Forbidden Land, separated from the outside world by a mountain range to its north and sea to the south and east. The presence of ruins and other ancient structures indicate the area was once a settlement.
The region is only accessible via a small cleft in the mountains to the north, leading to a massive stone bridge. This bridge spans half the distance of the landscape and terminates at a large temple called the "Shrine of Worship" located at its center. It is, however, forbidden to enter the land, which is characterized by diverse geographical features, such as lakes, plateaus, canyons, caves, and deserts in addition to human-made structures.
The protagonist of the game is Wander (ワンダ,Wanda, voiced by Kenji Nojima), a young man whose goal is to resurrect a girl named Mono (モノ, voiced by Hitomi Nabatame). Little is known about Mono other than that she was a maiden who was somehow sacrificed because she was believed to have a cursed destiny. Wander and Mono were designed with long hair from the start of the design process, with Mono's long hair specifically as a contrast to Yorda of Ico, who has short hair. Assisting Wander in his quest to revive her is his loyal horse, Agro (アグロ,Aguro), who serves as his only ally in defeating the colossi. Wander also receives aid from an entity called Dormin (ドルミン,Dorumin, voiced by Kazuhiro Nakata and Kyōko Hikami). The story revolves around these characters but features a small supporting cast including Lord Emon (エモン, voiced by Naoki Bandō) and his men.
Speaking with two voices at once (one male and one female), Dormin is a mysterious, disembodied entity. In legends of the game's world, it is said that Dormin has the power to revive the dead; it is for this reason that Wander enters the forbidden land, seeking its assistance in reviving Mono. Dormin offers to revive her in exchange for Wander destroying the sixteen colossi. "Dormin", which spells "Nimrod" backwards, has been speculated to be a reference to the body of the biblical King Nimrod which was cut up and scattered.
Lord Emon is a shaman who narrates a vision in the game's introduction, vaguely explaining the origin of the land Wander has come to, and emphasizing that entry to this place is forbidden. He is portrayed as having extensive knowledge regarding the nature and containment of Dormin, and the ability to use powerful magic. He has a small group of warriors at his command, and is pursuing Wander to prevent the use of "the forbidden spell", the ritual involving the destruction of the sixteen colossi and the restoration of Dormin's power.
The colossi are armored, most often enormous creatures with forms ranging from various humanoids to predatory animals, and live in all manner of surroundings and environments, including beneath water and flying through the air. Their bodies are a fusion of organic and inorganic parts such as rock, earth, fur, and architectural elements, some of which are weathered or fractured. Some colossi are peaceful and will only attack when provoked, while others are aggressive and will attack on sight. Inhabiting specific locations in the forbidden land, they do not venture outside their own territory. Once slain they will remain where fallen, as a mound of earth and rock vaguely resembling the original colossus. A pillar of light marks the location of each colossus after they are defeated. The Latin names of the colossi, though featured throughout fan related media, are not official and are never referred to within the game.
The story of Shadow of the Colossus begins as Wander enters the forbidden land, traveling across the long bridge at its entrance on his horse, Agro. Unknown to the player, prior to entering the forbidden land Wander had stolen an ancient sword, which is the only weapon capable of slaying the colossi of the forbidden land. Led to the massive Shrine of Worship at the center of the region, Wander carries with him the body of a maiden named Mono. A moment later, several man-like shadowy creatures appear and prepare to attack Wander before he easily dismisses them with a wave of the ancient sword in his possession. After vanquishing the shadow creatures, the voice of the disembodied entity known as "Dormin" echoes from above, expressing surprise that Wander possesses the weapon. Wander requests that Dormin return Mono's soul to her body, to which Dormin states may be possible on the condition that Wander can destroy the sixteen idols lining the temple's hall by using the ancient sword to kill the sixteen colossi located throughout the land. Despite being warned by Dormin that he may have to pay a great price to revive Mono, Wander sets out to search the land for the colossi and destroy them.
What Wander does not know is that the colossi contain portions of Dormin's own essence that were scattered long ago to render the entity powerless. As Wander kills each colossus, a released fragment of Dormin enters his body. Over time, the signs of Wander's deterioration from the gathered essence become clearer—his skin becoming paler, his hair darker, and dark streaks growing across his face. After the death of the twelfth colossus, it is revealed to the player that Wander is being pursued by a group of warriors led by Emon. Urged to hurry with his task by Dormin, Wander soon heads off to defeat the sixteenth and final colossus. On the way to this confrontation, he travels on horseback across a long bridge which begins to collapse as he is halfway across. At the last second when it seems he will not make it, Wander is thrown to the other side by Agro before the horse falls into the distant river below.
Soon after, Wander goes on to defeat the final colossus as Emon's company arrives in the Shrine of Worship to witness the last temple idol crumble. Wander appears back in the temple soon after, the signs of his corruption readily apparent: his skin is clammy, his eyes are milky, and a pair of tiny horns has sprouted from his head. Emon orders his warriors to kill the "possessed" man as he approaches Mono and finally falls once stabbed through the heart by one of Emon's men. However, a newly whole Dormin takes control of Wander's body and transforms into a shadowy giant. While his men flee, Lord Emon casts the ancient sword into a small pool at the back of the temple's hall to evoke a whirlwind of light that consumes Dormin and Wander, sealing Dormin within the temple once again. After fleeing with the bridge connecting to the temple collapsing behind them, forever isolating the forbidden land from the rest of the world, Emon expresses hope that Wander may be able to atone for his crimes should he have survived. Back in the temple, Mono awakens and finds Agro limping into the temple with an injured hind leg. Mono follows Agro to the pool into which Wander and Dormin were pulled by Emon's spell, finding a male infant with tiny horns on his head. She takes the child with her, following the horse to higher levels of the Shrine of Worship, and arrives at a secret garden within the shrine as the game ends.
Connections to Ico
Shadow of the Colossus is considered both a spiritual successor and prequel to Ico. For several months during and after the game's release, the game's director and lead designer, Fumito Ueda, maintained that the game's status as a prequel was simply his personal take on the game and not necessarily its canon nature, as he largely intended for players to decide the specifics of the story for themselves, but he confirmed the two do have a connection. Moreover, the shadowy figures which appear in the Shrine of Worship are connected to the shadows which the player must fight in Ico. Both games feature "horned" characters for protagonists (Wander sprouts horns at the end of the game). The Queen's Sword from Ico is also available as a bonus unlockable item. Both games also use unique fictional languages.
With a team of thirty-five people, Shadow of the Colossus began development in 2002 under the project name Nico (a portmanteau of "Next Ico") and was intended to be a sequel to Ico. An early technology demo for the project shown at the DICE Summit in 2003 depicted a group of masked, horned boys riding horses while attacking and defeating a colossus. However, Fumito Ueda expressed that, at the time, it was simpler to reuse the character design of Ico's protagonist, and that he never explicitly desired a sequel to Ico. Japanese pre-orders of Shadow of the Colossus later included a bonus DVD with the concept video, a trailer describing Nico's plot, and an introduction the development team states they wanted to use in Shadow of the Colossus.
Ueda and producer Kenji Kaido held their team to a high standard throughout production. An admitted perfectionist, Ueda felt that only one or two out of 500 artists who applied to work on Shadow of the Colossus met his criteria, and often demanded thorough changes in design until it matched his vision. For his part, Kaido challenged the programmers to meet the concept of realistic physics in relation to the movement of the colossi and the subsequent effect this movement would have for Wander, both in terms of how he might be displaced and how he may be able to use this movement to his advantage. For instance, if a colossus were to shake, Kaido wanted Wander's position to shift realistically in response. Additionally, if a colossus' limb was currently horizontal, Kaido wanted the player to be able to run across the limb as though it were any other flat surface. He referred to these two concepts as "player dynamics and reactions" and "organic collision deformation". The realistic physics engine produced as a result required that faster colossi had to be smaller as well.
Ueda wished the game to have a unique presentation and change how both players and developers perceived the idea of what bosses should be in video games. To achieve this, he ensured that the game's only enemies would be the sixteen colossi, that they could only be approached one at a time, and that they would have various behavior patterns. Though limiting the presence of enemies to only bosses was partly intended to differentiate the game from others, Ueda also expressed that it was to ensure that the programmers' focus was entirely on the colossi so that their quality would be as high as possible. In accordance with this focus upon the colossi—and his preference for simple controls—he intended that one button on the game controller be used solely for targeting the colossi during battles. Ueda cited The Legend of Zelda as an influence on the boss design, referring to the bosses as "inverted Zelda dungeons."
A theme of companionship between the player and an AI-controlled partner was a concern for Ueda. In Ico, this theme was presented through the protagonist and the character Yorda, whom the player was required to work with and protect while navigating the game's environments. Similarly, a key element in Shadow of the Colossus is the relationship between Wander and his horse, Agro. Intended to be a realistic representation of a horse, Agro will occasionally ignore commands. In Ueda's words, "a real horse ... doesn't always obey. It's not like a car or a motorcycle, it won't always turn when you say 'turn!'" However, he has admitted that the team had to seek a balance in how often Agro did not respond to commands so as to not sacrifice playability in the pursuit of realism.
All elements of the game—including audio, gameplay and visuals—were used to achieve an atmosphere of a "lonely hero", which Ueda considered important in the development of the game. Lighting, in particular, was used to establish a dark, fearsome setting for the forbidden land, while the protagonist's sword would provide a means of navigation that was "direct and only expressible visually". Like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus uses a distinct style of lighting. The game's engine uses elements such as desaturated colors, motion blur and partial high dynamic range rendering, with a heavy emphasis on bloom lighting.
A PlayStation 3 remastered version of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus was announced at Tokyo Game Show 2010 and released in September 2011. Developed by Bluepoint Games, both were improved graphically to take advantage of the PlayStation 3's hardware and HDTVs, with numerous other improvements implemented.
The PAL version of the game was released in February 2006. Much like the PAL release for Ico, the game came in cardboard packaging displaying various pieces of artwork from the game, and contained four art cards.
The game also came with a "making of" documentary, a trailer for Ico and a gallery of concept art, accessible from the game's main menu. Sony Computer Entertainment also re-released Ico in PAL territories at the time of Shadow of the Colossus's release, both to promote the game through Ico's reputation, and to allow players who did not buy Ico during its original limited release to "complete their collections".
Some confusion has arisen in PAL regions concerning the official name of the protagonist primarily because of the manual's usage of "Wanda", while the North American manual and the game itself uses the name "Wander". In fact, the Japanese version of the game spells the name "Wander" as ワンダ (Wanda), which is also the common transliteration of the English name "Wanda", hence the mistake in the manual.
While the game has an extensive orchestral soundtrack, the music is only heard during cut scenes and colossus encounters, while time spent at the Shrine of Worship and traversing the landscape is silent save for the sounds made by the protagonist, his horse and their surroundings. The open nature of the game world and lack of life, coupled with this limited use of music, aids in establishing an atmosphere of solitude, similar to that of Ico.
On December 7, 2005, a soundtrack album containing music from the game was released only in Japan, titled Wander and the Colossus Original Soundtrack: Roar of the Earth(Japanese: ワンダと巨像 オリジナル サウンドトラック大地の咆哮,Hepburn: Wanda to Kyozō Original Soundtrack: Daichi no Hōkō). There are currently no announced plans to release the album in other territories. The game's score was composed by Kow Otani, whose previous video game work included the soundtracks to the PlayStation 2 flight simulator Sky Odyssey and the PlayStation shooter Philosoma. He has also worked on several of the 1990s-era Gamera films, as well as a variety of anime. Roar of the Earth won the award for "Soundtrack of the Year" in the US-based video game magazineElectronic Gaming Monthly.
Main article: Shadow of the Colossus (2018 video game)
Sony announced a remake of Shadow of the Colossus for the PlayStation 4 during their Electronic Entertainment Expo 2017 press conference. It was released on February 6, 2018. The remake is led by Bluepoint, who developed the earlier PlayStation 3 remaster. The developers remade all the game's assets from the ground up, but the game retains the same gameplay from the original title along with the introduction of a new control scheme. Ueda had since left Sony, but provided a list of recommended changes to Bluepoint for the remake; he stated that he does not believe many of them will be implemented, nor would they add any of the colossi that had been cut from the original game.
Shadow of the Colossus's commercial reception was positive, with sales of 140,000 copies in its first week at retail in Japan, reaching number one in the charts. Almost 80% of the initial Japanese shipment was sold within two days. These figures compare favorably with Ico, which was well received by critics but failed to sell a significant number of units. The game was placed on Sony's list of Greatest Hits titles on August 6, 2006.
Unlike Ico, Shadow of the Colossus received far more exposure, due in part to Sony putting its weight behind a massive advertising campaign. It was advertised in game magazines, on television and on the internet, including a viral marketing campaign launched in October 2005. The site posted links to several websites claiming that the remains of five giants resembling certain colossi had been discovered in various parts of the world. The website has since been taken down. Some speculate that Ico's sales figures could have been improved if similar advertising efforts were made before its release.
Shadow of the Colossus received critical acclaim, with an average critic score of 91% at GameRankings, making it the 11th-highest rated game of 2005. These include the Japanese magazine Famitsu, who rated the game 37/40, the UK-based Edge, who awarded an 8/10, and Electronic Gaming Monthly, who granted 8.8/10.GameSpot's review gave it an 8.7, commenting that "the game's aesthetic presentation is unparalleled, by any standard", while multimedia website IGN hailed the game as "an amazing experience" and "an absolute must-have title", rating it 9.7/10.GameSpy described it as "possibly the most innovative and visually arresting game of the year for the PS2". A retrospective Edge article described the game as "a fiction of unquestionable thematic richness, of riveting emotional power, whose fundamental artistic qualities are completely fused with its interactivity." Dave Ciccoricco, a literature lecturer at the University of Otago, praised the game for its use of long cutscenes and stretches of riding to make the player engage in self-reflection and feel immersed in the game world.
Many reviewers consider the game's soundtrack to be one of its greatest aspects. In addition to Electronic Gaming Monthly's award of "Soundtrack of the Year", GameSpot commented that the musical score conveyed, and often intensified, the mood of any given situation, while it was described as "one of the finest game soundtracks ever" by a reviewer from Eurogamer.
However, the game has been criticised for its erratic frame rate, which is usually smooth while traversing the landscape, but often slows down in fast-paced situations, such as colossus battles. Concern was also expressed about the game's camera, which was described by GameSpy as being "as much of an opponent as the Colossi", "manag[ing] to re-center itself at the worst and most inopportune times". Reviewers are often mixed about Agro's AI and controls; while gaming website Thunderbolt insists the realism of Agro's movement and behaviour "create[s] a videogame experience unlike any other",Edge commented that the controls were "clumsy, crude, and unpredictable". Other critics like Game Revolution and GameSpot felt the game was too short (average playthrough time estimated 6 to 8 hours), with little replay value given the puzzle elements to each colossus battle.
Shadow of the Colossus has received several awards, including recognition for "Best Character Design", "Best Game Design", "Best Visual Arts" and "Game of the Year", as well as one of three "Innovation Awards" at the 2006 Game Developers Choice Awards. At the 2006 DICE Summit, the game won the award for "Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction" at the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, while it received one of two "Special Rookie Awards" at the Famitsu Awards 2005. It was nominated for "Best Original Music", "Best Artistic Graphics" and "Best PS2 Game", yet also "Most Aggravating Frame Rate" in GameSpot's awards for 2005, while it won "Best Adventure Game" and "Best Artistic Design" in IGN's Best of 2005 awards, who cited Agro as the best sidekick in the history of video games. Two years after its release IGN listed Shadow as the fourth greatest PlayStation 2 game of all time. Games Radar awarded it Best Game of the Year 2006 (being released in the UK in early 2006, later than the US), and appears in the site's "The 100 best games ever" list at number ten. The game's ending was selected as the fourth greatest moment in gaming by the editors of GamePro in July 2006. The readers of PlayStation Official Magazine voted it the 8th greatest PlayStation title ever released.Destructoid named the game #1 in their list of the top 50 video games of the decade. IGN named Shadow of the Colossus the best game of 2005, and the second best game of the decade, behind Half-Life 2. In 2012, Complex magazine named Shadow of the Colossus the second-best PlayStation 2 game of all time, behind God of War II. In 2015, the game placed 4th on USgamer's The 15 Best Games Since 2000 list.
In other media
The game plays a significant role in the 2007 Mike Binder film Reign Over Me as one of the ways Adam Sandler's character copes with his primary struggle – with aspects of the game mirroring the tragedy that befell Sandler's character; Shadow of the Colossus falling giants mirroring the crashing towers of the September 11 attacks in which his wife and children died, and the game's lead character trying to resurrect his deceased love are two of the main themes which strike a similarity. Sandler is said to have ad libbed a detailed description of the control scheme in a scene with Don Cheadle, who plays his old friend. Both actors are said to have become experts at the game during the filming.
In April 2009, it was reported that Sony Pictures would adapt Shadow of the Colossus into a film. Kevin Misher, producer of The Scorpion King, The Interpreter and the recent attempted remake of Dune, negotiated to produce. It was announced that Fumito Ueda, the game's creator, would be involved in the film's production. On May 23, 2012, it was reported that Chronicle director Josh Trank would be directing the film adaptation.Seth Lochhead was due to write the film. In September 2014, Variety reported that Mama director Andrés Muschietti would direct the film after Trank dropped out due to his commitment to one of the upcoming Star Wars spin-off movies.
- ^ワンダと巨像 (Wanda to Kyozō) in Japanese
- ^IGN site staff, ed. (2006). "IGN: Shadow of the Colossus". IGN. Retrieved July 29, 2006.
- ^Reed, Kristan. "The Bluffer's Guide To PS2 Cult Classics". Eurogamer.net. Retrieved April 12, 2007.
- ^ abcPlayStation.com Australia site staff. "NICO: the game that never was". PlayStation.com Australia. Archived from the original on August 29, 2006. Retrieved July 30, 2006.
- ^of Famitsū, ed. (2006). Wander to Kyozō Kōshiki Kōryaku & Setteibon Inishie no Chi Kitan (in Japanese). Enterbrain. p. 140.
- ^ abcMcNamara, Andy & Berghammer, Billy (2006). "Colossal Creation: The Kenji Kaido and Fumito Ueda Interview". Game Informer. Archived from the original on September 3, 2006. Retrieved July 9, 2006.
- ^ abcKohler, Chris (March 9, 2006). "Behind the Shadow: Fumito Ueda". Wired News. Archived from the original on June 29, 2006. Retrieved July 9, 2006.
- ^ abcdefghijklShoemaker, Brad (October 17, 2005). "Shadow of the Colossus for PlayStation 2 Review". GameSpot. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
- ^ abcdeReed, Kristan (2005). "Review – Shadow of the Colossus". Euro Gamer. Retrieved July 21, 2006.
- ^"Okay, kids, play on my lawn". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on August 11, 2010.
- ^Shuman, Sid (September 15, 2010). "Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection hits PS3 Spring 2011 with 3D". SCEA. Retrieved September 16, 2010.
- ^ abcdDunham, Jeremy (2005). "Pre-E3 2005: Shadow of the Colossus". IGN. Retrieved August 16, 2006.
- ^"Guides: Shadow of the Colossus Walkthrough". IGN. Archived from the original on August 13, 2012. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
- ^ abSulic, Ivan (2005). "A Colossus Falls". IGN. Retrieved August 16, 2006.
- ^ abKohler, Chris (October 26, 2005). "Colossus Is Giant Leap for Games". Wired News. Archived from the original on June 18, 2006. Retrieved July 17, 2006.
- ^Dunham, Jeremy (2005). "E3 2005: Shadow of the Colossus Update". IGN. Retrieved August 16, 2006.
- ^"Shadow of the Colossus Guide". IGN. Archived from the original on August 13, 2012. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
- ^Shadow of the Colossus instruction book. Sony Computer Entertainment, 2005. pp. 14–16.
- ^ abcGantayat, Anoop (2005). "Wanda and Colossus". IGN. Retrieved August 16, 2006.
- ^Sony Computer Entertainment. Shadow of the Colossus. (Sony Computer Entertainment). PlayStation 2. (October 18, 2005) "Kick the side of the horse to make him run by using X."
- ^of Famitsū, ed. (2006). Wander to Kyozō Kōshiki Kōryaku & Setteibon Inishie no Chi Kitan (in Japanese). Enterbrain. p. 202.
- ^ abcdeRoper, Chris (2005). "Shadow of the Colossus Review". IGN. Retrieved July 21, 2006. Page 2.
- ^ abcMcGarvey, Sterling (2005). "Shadow of the Colossus Review". GameSpy. Retrieved August 17, 2006.
- ^Daultrey, Stephen (2004). "An epic called Wanda: Sony's "awesome" PS2 works uncovered". Computer and Videogames]. Retrieved August 17, 2006.
- ^Roper, Chris (2005). "Shadow of the Colossus Review". IGN. Retrieved July 21, 2006. Page 3.
- ^Scott, Alan Marriott (2005). "Shadow of the Colossus Preview". G4. Archived from the original on January 4, 2006. Retrieved August 16, 2006.
- ^Hayes, Jonahthan (2005). "Larger than Life – New York Magazine Video Game Review". New York Arts & Events
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Spoiler warning – this essay will discuss plot points, including Shadow of the Colossus’ ending.
Shadow of the Colossus begins ominously. After a stunning introductory sequence, the protagonist Wander reaches a massive ornate bridge leading to a shrine, a pile of stone spires that resembles the Tower of Babel:
Inside, we see that he has brought with him the lifeless body of a woman named Mono. Wander gently carries her from his horse to an altar:
There he seeks the aid of Dormin, a being seemingly made of light, explaining to him/her (Dormin is voiced by both male and female actors) that Mono “was sacrificed for she has a cursed fate. Please, I need you to bring back her soul….”
Initially skeptical – this godlike voice at first claims “Souls that are once lost cannot be reclaimed… Is that not the law of mortals?” – Dormin agrees to the request, if in exchange Wander will complete a trial to kill the sixteen colossi that inhabit these Forbidden Lands:
Dormin: But heed this, the price you pay may be heavy indeed.
Wander: It doesn’t matter.
Dormin: Very well…
A fateful decision.
Shadow of the Colossus defies categorization and expectation. The 2005 game from Fumito Ueda’s Team Ico has all the elements of a big budget title, with graphics that stretched the PlayStation 2 to its limit, and a stunning orchestral score. But there are no dungeons to crawl, no side quests to tackle. What is this game about?
Distilled down, Shadow of the Colossus can be described as a series of epic boss battles, combining elements of platforming and puzzling. Finding the colossi in this massive game world is relatively straightforward – your Ancient Sword focuses light, pointing the way to the next encounter, and you travel across this serene world on your horse, Agro.
Live by the Sword
The colossi are a technical wonder – giants of stone and fur that are both inscrutable and vulnerable – and Team Ico’s imagination and sense of scale is on display through marathon confrontations: a bird of prey that barrel rolls through the skies in an effort to throw you from its wings; a sleeping knight that mistakenly shatters its stone sword; a writhing eel that is rendered defenseless once you hack away at its electrified antennae.
Though they are tense and visceral (you’ll grip the right shoulder button tightly to grab and cling onto the giants), the battles with the colossi are not the only memories from Shadow of the Colossus that will stick with the player.
In between these clashes, the developers afford you breathing space to reflect on your actions. Riding through beautifully envisioned autumn forests, windy canyons, and blasted deserts – in these isolated, meditative environments your mind will draw back to the colossi you have defeated.
As the broken stone bodies pile up there is a growing realization that these colossi are innocent; that there is something detestable about your violent actions. And you are not just a witness, nor even an accomplice – you are the perpetrator.
Video games are all about control, and Shadow of the Colossus takes full advantage, conveying a feeling of disproportionate power as you charge up attacks and drive your sword into unprotected limbs and skulls. The player feels the colossi roar in pain.
No other medium can so well convey this horrible feeling. These gentle giants are sympathetic, pitiable. Though some can retaliate, their movements are typically lumbering. Once you have clambered onto their massive bodies and uncovered the weak points concealed between armored plating, they are largely helpless, reduced to shaking and writhing in a desperate effort to dislodge the player.
Team Ico lay bare the full impact of your attacks. In the battle with Argus, a well-timed blow to your enemy’s arm will cause the colossus to drop its stone knife, clutching at its wounded limb in agony. The effect is human and jarring:
Argus tends to his wounds.
Artistically, Shadow of the Colossus reveals the toll of battle in subtle ways. Mournful music accompanies every defeat of a colossus. Team Ico have created a score that is beautiful, eerie, and tragic all at once.
The rapidly decaying corpses of the colossi shoot out tendrils that infect Wander:
Shadowy human figures – corresponding to the number of colossi killed – stand in silent judgment around the unconscious Wander. White doves – also equal in number to the fallen colossi – gather at Mono’s altar. And the intricate stone statues that stand for the colossi shatter after each battle, leaving the shrine in ruins.
I can’t remember at what point in the game I realized that Wander’s face was rotting. The decay happens insidiously. Every win takes something away from you.
By the end, Wander’s tunic is tattered, dirty, and he looks as though poison is powering through his veins. His battle scars are evidence of a deeper corruption.
Video games have an issue with violence. Games built around the concept of shooting, killing, destroying are ubiquitous. How many games have we played as the “good guy”, and how many enemy characters have we felt justified in killing?
Consider Assassin’s Creed – big budget blockbuster spectacle infused with a post-colonial, multicultural viewpoint. In a refreshing turn, with Assassin’s Creed we are on the side of history’s downtrodden, in eras where violent imperialism is strongly criticized. But in these games, as in scores of others, the body counts amassed by the player are so staggering that it undercuts much of the point.
Death of Quadratus, Shadow of the Colossus’ second boss.
If it’s hard to empathize with a trained assassin, then it’s nearly impossible with Wander. Enemies in other games are cannon fodder, they are disposable. In Shadow of the Colossus, you are impacted by each creature. The developers do not let the player turn away from the destruction they’re inflicting.
At game’s end, the body count stands at sixteen. These killings carry weight. Shadow of the Colossus conveys the guilt and shame associated with pointless violence better than anything else I’ve played.
The Human Monster
And then there’s the ending. Soldiers led by a shaman named Lord Emon arrive on horseback too late to prevent the fall of the last colossus. Returned to the shrine, Wander, now appearing possessed, pale and scarred, and with horns sprouting from his head, stumbles towards Mono in his final moments.
Before ordering Wander killed, Emon states:
I don’t believe this… So it was you after all. Have you any idea what you’ve done?! Not only did you steal the sword and trespass upon this cursed land, you used the forbidden spell as well…
To be reduced to such a sight…
You were only being used. Eradicate the source of the evil.
Meeting the same fate as the colossi you destroyed, you are run through with a sword – and like the colossi, Wander sprays out black blood, his body moldering rapidly.
Dormin’s warning at the beginning is fulfilled. Revealing that his body had been “severed… into sixteen segments for an eternity in order to seal away Our power“, Dormin exacts his payment – possessing Wander’s body, transforming into a horned colossus.
You are the colossus. The consequences of your actions are brought into relief by Team Ico’s ingenious design, as the developers flip the gameplay around on you. You are returned control of Wander/Dormin, and as Emon’s soldiers fire arrows you understand what those sixteen giants suffered. As a colossus, you are not nimble enough to dodge the arrows, not quick enough to land any attacks.
Nietsche’s aphorism in a literal sense then, but the analogy does not fit exactly. The colossi were never the real monsters, and the abyss (in the form of Dormin, or Wander’s own selfish aims) stared into the protagonist at the game’s beginning.
As the soldiers escape, Emon throws the Ancient Sword into a pool of water at the heart of the shrine, creating a portal of light that strips Wander of his colossus form and envelops him.
But Dormin was not completely false. Making good on his end of the bargain, Mono is resurrected, along with Agro, who had bravely sacrificed herself to save Wander before the final battle. As Mono returns to life, the evocative music from the introduction sequence reprises, brilliantly bringing the story around. The credits roll and we see each colossal corpse in turn, now fossilized, now part of this strange landscape.
Resurrection of the body.
Lord Emon looks back towards the shrine, cut off forever from the outside world:
Poor ungodly soul… Now, no man shall ever trespass upon this place again. Should you be alive… If it’s even possible to continue to exist in these sealed lands… one day, perhaps you will make atonement for what you’ve done.
Mono finds Wander, now a baby with horns, the third part of the trinity to be resurrected. Together with Agro, they climb to a garden at the top of the shrine. We see their final scenes in this beautiful place, accompanied by a fawn and doves, and the most optimistic music heard throughout the game (the score accompanying this sequence is titled “Hope”).
A first reading of the game’s ending may see Mono, unaware of her surroundings, and caring for a demonic child with horns, trapped for eternity in an empty temple and an empty world. But a second reading reveals a chance for redemption. Maybe Emon’s prayers and the pool of water have cleansed Wander, and there can be absolution in this strange world.
What was Wander’s sacrifice for? Was this the selfishness of an obsessed outsider trying to prove his worth, or the selfless act of a man attempting to save the soul of his wife, no matter the cost to his own?
Shadow of the Colossus haunts the player with questions – about the ambiguity of Wander and Mono’s relationship; about the god or devil Dormin in his prison; the future for Mono and the child; and how this world links to the team’s earlier Ico (2001).
In the end, you will finish the game full of regret over your actions, and what amounted to an empty series of senseless, pointless attacks.
Shadow of the Colossus confirms its status as a modern classic in the finale, driving home with the same force as the sword that you have wielded to great destruction.
Team Ico achieved something here unlike any other game I can think of. A unique, artistic, even spiritual, vision of sacrifice and corruption, Shadow of the Colossus is a rich allegory of a deal with the devil that sets the player up for a long fall. With Dormin’s warning to Wander, the player knows from the start there will be no happy ending – a tragedy in the truest sense.
As Wander, you are cast as the tragic hero, with all the conflicting emotions that come with taking the wrong path. Shadow of the Colossus will leave you thinking on your actions, even more so with a second playthrough, but this is a desolate journey worth taking.
Originally released on PlayStation 2 in 2005, Shadow of the Colossus was remastered in HD and released for PlayStation 3 in a bundle along with Ico in 2011.