Video Game Logic: Shadow of the Colossus
Columns / April 20, 2015
Genre: Third-Person Action-Adventure
Release: (PS2) October 2005 (PS3) September 2011 (PS4) 2014
Platforms: PS2, PS3 and PS4: PlayStation Now (streaming)
Writer’s Note: Shadow of the Colossus was played on PS4’s streaming service PlayStation Now and requires a fast internet connection to be played optimally without any lag.
Every industry has its influential outliers that set the course for future endeavors, and for the medium of video games Shadow of the Colossus is definitely one of those. Nearly 10 years old now, the game doesn’t stand on the shoulders of giants—in this case, it is the giant.
The game is a bare-bones structure upon which a fantastical mythology is hung. This is also where the difficulty in discussing the game arises, as spoilers may detract from the experience of playing the game first-hand. The plot follows the protagonist, a young man named Wander, who enters a shrine in a land forbidden to mortals carrying a deceased girl, Mono, in hopes of resurrecting her from the dead with the help of Dormin, an unearthly entity who first tasks him with defeating sixteen enormous creatures (colossi) who inhabit the plains.
With an almost non-existent backstory, players are immediately thrust into an immersive world and given just enough to care about the story without it feeling time-consuming. For those whom patience is not a virtue, the almost 15-minute extended opening setup may seem unbearable—but the remaining, seemingly endless hours of gameplay are well worth the wait. Again, this is one of those unique game experiences where the action is purposeful within a relatively simplistic quest that players have to see through to the end.
In many ways, the game is a throwback to childhood fairytales, but without the western tradition of the prince simply bringing the princess back from the dead with a kiss. In glorious Japanese folklore fashion, the game brings a maturity to the lengths that a clichéd protagonist must go to in order to save the one he loves. The most shocking aspect is how the game manages to accomplish so much with such little dialogue, especially during the long periods of time when players must ride across an expansive landscapes on horseback where the only sound is the dirt kicked up from your trusted companion’s hooves.
The atmosphere this achieves is one of both isolation and despair, particularly during the sixteen different boss fights that provide a sense of scale unmatched by many video games. This is largely due to the art direction, sound design and sweeping orchestral score of these confrontations, which provide the backdrop for players to really figure out how to navigate the puzzle-like gameplay. The sense of accomplishment that comes from defeating the colossi, some as big as skyscrapers, is quite indescribable, especially when the difficulty increases with each successive boss.
While this Sony-exclusive, re-mastered version includes high-definition graphics in 1080p, 3D support and PlayStation Network trophies, whatever version or system you choose to play it on, it’s a game that must play through to the end. It’s a game for anyone who’s ever wanted to experience a poignant, interactive action-adventure puzzle in a form that truly brings childhood dreams of monster hunting to life. “But heed this, the price you pay may be heavy indeed.”