Unpacking Shadow of the Colossus [Part 1 of 2]

This post contains spoilers! If you’ve not played this game and want to, check back after you’ve done just that. Meanwhile, there’s plenty else to do…like, watch Virtual Bastion on YouTube. This is also the first half of what turned out to be a very long article, so check back next Thursday for the second half.

As Shadow of the Colossus starts to load, which takes considerably longer than anticipated, I’m a little nervous. I’d heard so many good things about this game, and I wonder/worry if I’m bringing along any preconceived notions. But, truth be told, I don’t know a thing about the game expect that it involves giant creatures. No matter what I’ve heard, it’s hard for me to draw any…

My thoughts stop mid-sentence as the opening scene begins. I’m in awe of the gorgeous scenery that brings to mind a watercolor landscape. The music is stunningly atmospheric. I remember that I’m playing a PS2 game on a PS3, but the game looks timeless. As at home as it was then as it could be now. While gawking, I meet two characters, a young man and his horse. Traveling across various lands, they eventually arrive at a large temple. And I see now that there’s another character that the young man (I later learn that his name is Wander) has been carrying on his horse, a young girl (her name is Mono) who looks to be deceased.

A voice over begins, and I learn briefly of the creatures on this forbidden land that Wander has apparently entered — they are imbued with the power to bring the dead back to life.  The story continues, and Wander speaks with the disembodied voice of a being called Dormin. Indeed, Wander wants to resurrect Mono, and with a special sword that he possesses, Dormin informs him that it may be possible. Dormin directs Wander to defeat the colossi of the forbidden lands. The camera pans around the temple to reveal the idols – each time a colossus falls so too will an idol, bringing Wander one step closer to reclaiming Mono’s life. Dormin warns Wander that he may pay a steep price for these deeds, but Wander persists.  Dormin instructs Wander on how to find the colossi using his sword, and the game begins. I received a few more bits of info on the game’s controls, and soon I’m off on my horse (named Agro) heading towards the spot where it seems the first colossus lies in wait. I randomly wonder if Agro be with me throughout the whole game.

I mount my horse and reach the first colossi, and wow…it’s large, alright. I note that it looks bear-like. Furry with various patches of armor. I watch it walk around as the ghostly Dormin provides further instructions how to defeat it. The scenario is a little strange, though. As I approach the colossus, it seems completely uninterested in me. But I figure that must be something I have to use to my advantage, and I set about to bring the beast down by climbing it to find various spots to hit with my sword. It takes me awhile to get used to the controls, so the battle takes an eternity (or that’s what it feels like). I find myself getting a little perturbed when the colossus shakes Wander off and I have to start my climb again. When I strike the final blow, I feel absolutely elated. I had done it! I had beaten my first colossus! Wander (painfully?) absorbs what I imagine is the creatures’ “essence” that’s needed for Mono and is transported back to the main temple. The first idol falls. Wander wakes and Agro waits. Time to find the next monster.

With a decent handle on the controls, I manage to defeat the next few colossi without too much trial and error. In fact, I note that controlling Agro during my rides to reach the monsters is much more difficult than battling with the giants themselves, as the horse certainly seems to have a mind of its own. With each new battle, I find myself captivated by the unique look of each colossus. But I remain quite single-minded – Wander’s (my) job is to destroy colossi, not admire their beauty. With each colossus comes a new puzzle in figuring out how to defeat it. The fourth one, a large horse-like creature proves oddly frustrating. It doesn’t want to attack me at all. Instead, I find that it houses the weakness of curiosity, and I use that to my advantage as I hide in scattered caves and lure it towards me. Aha! What a sneaky fighter Wander is!

Despite my success, after the fourth colossi, I find myself confused. I understand Wander’s goal well enough – take down colossi to save Mono – but…is that really it? I feel like that’s just too simple and that I must be missing something. My compulsion to continue dies down a bit. So I give the game a break, and play something else for a couple sessions.

I pump out a blog post concerning some of my hesitations, and with support from the community, I feel a bit better about progressing further. With a renewed spirit, I go back to the game. I swiftly defeat the next few colossi. In fact, I find one of them, the seventh monster, a giant eel in a lake, to be unusually easy. I applaud myself. I’m really getting pretty good at this! Wander will have Mono back in no time!  But the good feelings don’t last long. The ninth and tenth colossi almost prove to be my undoing.

As with all the colossi so far, the ninth colossus (a large turtle-like creature) and the tenth colossus (a dragon that lives in the sand) have little interest in fighting. At least the ninth colossus, upon seeing Wander, attacks with lightning bolts. That makes the beast seem more aggressive, and Wander’s need to destroy it more worthy. But both battles required quite a lot of active luring and pursuit on Wander’s part. I spend several sessions of “play” with each colossi. I eventually manage to get past the ninth creature – such an adrenaline rush after it, too! – but the tenth makes me flat-out angry in a couple ways. One in my lack of deftness with Agro, as maneuvering around on horseback with a bow and arrow proves vital in the fight. And two, getting the colossi to pay any attention to me in the first place was incredibly difficult. Before too long, I had become not only upset at the creature but at Agro as well. Why won’t this stupid horse go where I want it??! I’m the one in control! I blatantly seethed as I wrung the life out of my controller during one heated round of play. The colossus eventually fell to my sword, but I was tired and mad. Maybe Shadow of the Colossus was not the game for me. I just didn’t have the skills or the patience. Stupid game!, I riled.

I take a second, longer break from the game, and I seriously consider giving up. In the moment, I hated the idea of playing it. I eventually decide that no, I can’t give up. There aren’t that many colossi left, after all; I’m over halfway done, and it would be a shame to leave at this point. So back to the game I go.

[To be continued…]

Lede image by Flickr user Charlie NZ (CC BY 2.0)


  1. bobaandgames says:

    I actually liked that Agro responded…well…like a real horse. He doesn’t turn real-time with your input but instead you see the main character pull on his reins, and then Agro will turn somewhat. The frustration with the controls I think adds to the effect that you’re not a super human, but just a normal human. It’s like how the creators of Resident Evil once said that the games got less scary once the controls were more responsive and intuitive (RE4) lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      To be perfectly blunt, my gut reaction to your comment is “But I don’t want to BE a normal human in a game!” From that stubbornness is borne my frustration, not only with Agro but with Wander, as well. A game like Shadow of the Colussus makes me face the (unfortunate?) fact I’ve become spoiled by responsive and intuitive controls in games. 🙂 But I see this only in hindsight. I have to admit that didn’t think of this while I was playing the game – I just thought that I was a terrible player. There’s some solace in knowing that the developers where going for a more real experience than not, my lack of hand-eye coordination notwithstanding. I do understand much better now why the game is so special to so many.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    The time I spent with Shadow of the Colossus a few months back can be summed up in one word: conflicted. Most other words escape me now, so here’s part one of my experience with the game, which you’ll find over on Virtual Bastion.


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