Musings, ruminations, thoughts and discussions on life & living, music, religion, politics, love, philosophy, and all other eccentricities of this sort.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Shadow of the Colossus

I absolutely adore Shadow of the Colossus, and would name it as one of my most favourite games ever. In celebration of the upcoming PS3 release of Ico & Shadow of the Colossus packaged as one game, I thought I’d write down my notes I made during playing this magnificent of games. I recall when I started it I experienced frustration, mainly at the camera and some of the controls: Agro, Wander’s horse for example. Then I came to appreciate Agro moves like a real horse and that I control Wander and not Agro. So I had to learn to use Wander to make Agro turn or gallop, and grew to like this.

As you may know, you have to climb onto each colossus in order to kill it. They have hair or fur in order to facilitate this, but the effect made me realise that Wander had taken on the quest of murdering gigantic living creatures. Sure, they look made of stone — but they have HAIR! They live. Perhaps they would have lived for thousands of years if he hadn’t killed them. And all for what? To bring back a dead woman who won’t even live a hundred years? So he failed her the first time in some way, I assume, and now wanted to make amends. Not heroic as much as anguished, desperate and regretful.

Also, how did he know that the voice hadn’t used him to destroy its enemies without giving him anything in return? Perhaps she wouldn’t come back to life. It felt so malignant, especially when Wander revived in the temple each time only to hear Dormin’s voice intone: “Thy next foe is…”

I also noticed that after each colossus’s death, an extra shadow appeared to look at Wander as he lay there on the floor of the temple. After the first one a single shadow looked at him, then two, then three. So the colossi’s souls or spirits as black shadows look down on Wander as he lies there about to embark on a quest to kill more of these unique creatures.

The way each colossus toppled and fell in slow motion with the distant camera shot and achingly beautiful music really got to me. My sense of elation after my first kill quickly ended up replaced with a feeling of… wrongness. A sort of nausea that I’d killed something whose territory I’d invaded.

The game has made me think deeply about the morality of killing game characters far more than randomly shooting innocent NPCs in Half– Life, for example. It feels awful to do that, despite the triumph of managing it, and yet the game FORCES me to do it. Without it I have nothing to play except wandering around and riding Agro while standing. Devious…

By the time my Wander murdered 12 of the colossi he looked very haggard. I suspect all those black tendrils entering him took their toll. I also found myself growing more & more attached to Agro. What a lovely horse! So superbly animated, so realistic in its behaviour, so caring of me, coming to my side all the time. Very sweet. I liked the fact as well that you could pet Agro if you pressed Circle while standing next to it empty–handed. I loved riding around standing up, and you could even ride hanging off the side of the saddle! Hard to manipulate Agro’s direction like this but lots of fun. Even discovering I could control which side of the saddle I dismounted from gave me some delight.

At one point, after quitting my game, I let my console lay idle. Suddenly the game treated me to a beautiful cutscene of Agro going into a gallop and exploring the area on her own (I like to think of Agro as female, Black Beauty, etc. etc.)! And, as with all the cutscenes, I could control the camera during this. I then realised that she didn’t simply gallop around, she actually showed me where to go next. Awesome.

Also I discovered, purely by accident while leaping from Agro while riding at full speed standing up, that if you hold down R1 in the air and the Attack button Wander does a Link–style downward thrust with lots of force. It does tonnes of damage on a colossus if you hit a weak spot with it. Seems like an ordinary fully–charged sword strike!

I then reached a point, however, where the game grew more and more… burdensome, I suppose. Emotionally strenuous. I felt like a proper villain. Although certain I did it for the right reasons (to bring back a dead love, though the game has not made clear whether a lover, a sister, an unrequited love, whatever), it felt worse and worse with each colossus. Part of it came from the colossi growing more powerful and attacking me with projectiles. The 11th, though small, proved extremely dangerous. I honestly thought I’d die because it would knock me over, putting me into stun animation. As soon as I recovered and got up it would knock me over again, giving me no chance to get away. Repeatedly. The shit.

You know what made it worse? As I travelled the vast landscape I saw these pillars of light reaching from the ground to the heavens. I’d never really noticed them before, and they put me in mind of other games, I can’t think which. Possibly Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. And then it hit me: those pillars of light emanated from the colossi themselves. The ones I’d slain. Almost like a guilty sign, a cry for help, “something evil keeps killing us”, I don’t know. But without setting off to each colossus and killing it I’d have no game. Like the game forced my hand and made me do this incredibly morally ambiguous thing. But I did have a choice. I could either carry on, or simply stop playing.

For a long time I stopped playing. I even restarted the game and simply rode around everywhere, exploring, saving at temple ruins in order to see the names of the areas (such as Half–Moon Canyon, for example, how evocative!). Then I went on to finish the game. And it took on an even greater meaning for me, and excited and delighted me to the point I couldn’t put it in words.

I suppose I want to say: Give it a go. You may not like it (I’ve read some very negative reviews and opinions of it, some even rather well–written), but if you want to experience something deep in this life that means something personal to you, then give it a go. You may like it. You may end up hating it. You may fall madly in love with it and enthuse about it at every opportunity. But you owe it to yourself to GIVE IT A GO.

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