Unpacking Shadow of the Colossus [Part 2 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 the second half of what turned out to be a very long article, so click here to read the first half.


The next colossi proves…peculiar. It’s the smallest one Wander’s met so far; he nearly stands eye-to-eye with it. And it looks and moves like a large cat. TL;DR the battle leaves a bad taste. This colossi is more interested in Wander generally, and makes more attack moves, it seems, but I also discover that it’s scared of fire. “Scared” being the key word there, because up until now, I never saw any of the colossi in that light – being scared of Wander? With torches in Wander’s hand, I’m able to push the beast away from Wander. As I do, it paws back at him, much as a frightened cat does when it’s back into a corner. It genuinely does not like what’s happening. (Then again, none of the beasts enjoyed being attacked. However, this time I see and feel that unhappiness at eye level.) But again, I have to meet my goal – destroy all colossi. Which I do with this one, but I feel empty afterwards. There’s no internal celebration. For the first time, I question Wander’s actions. Is he really the good guy here?

The game moves forward, and after a short bur revealing scene in which several people on horseback, including one wearing a mask that’s shown at the start of the game, are shown nearing the main temple – perhaps they are going after Wander? — I eventually and unfortunately, find myself in another bad place with the thirteenth colossus, a large flying beast that occasionally buries itself in its sandy wasteland. Never once does the creature actively attack; and when attacked, it essentially runs away (in a manner of speaking). This colossus simply flies around, while Wander, on Agro, has to be maneuvered underneath it to hit with an arrow large sacks on its undercarriage that keep it afloat.  Once the colossus is brought lower to the ground, Wander must ride close to it to jump onto one of its wings, which he then climbs to find the magic spots to hit. If the tenth colossi proved difficult for me, this one is even worse. As I fail over and over and over again, I once again come to despise the game I’m playing. I hate the colossus for making me do all the hard work. I hate Agro for not being easier to control. I hate Wander for being so flighty with aiming. I leave the game again thinking that I’d not ever return.

Another prolonged break ensues. I manage to convince myself, if reluctantly, that I need to finish Shadow of the Colossus. I set all other games aside and decide one day that I’m not getting up until I complete the game.

I do not look forward to meeting that thirteenth colossus again. Just seeing it there flying all peacefully made my stomach churn. But I set off on Agro nonetheless. In time, the flying monster falls. I feel tears of relief well up…at least, I think the relief is the right word? I’m purely exhausted after the battle, and I pause for a few moments in the main temple, and for the first time, I notice that Wander looks pale and bruised. No doubt this process is taking its toll on him.

I fight through my bleariness to defeat the fourteenth and fifteenth monsters of the game. Their puzzles are challenging, and they result in two of the more interesting battles of the game. The joy I had once felt after defeating colossi turned ambiguous. I was glad to progress, but at what cost? Wander looked terrible and had killed yet again. What was there to celebrate, really?

On the way to the sixteenth and final colossi, Agro meets a surprising and terrible fate. I am so taken aback the first time happens that I reload the game, thinking that I must have missed a button press somewhere, but…no. As Wander rides Agro across a narrow bridge, it collapses underneath the horse. And I see something in my reloaded game that I didn’t see the first time – Agro actively kicks Wander off his back to safety. Agro falls. I am…devastated. As Wander stands on solid ground waiting for me to make something happen, I feel myself getting upset. My eyes gloss over, my stomach churns. This last fight better be worth it, is all my mind says, because I literally do not know if I have any fight left.

The final colossus is, naturally, the most difficult. I’m physically and mentally wiped after playing for so long, but I simply can’t stop. Just getting up to the bolt-shooting beast across a no-man’s land field is the worst part of the fight. Once I reach him, it’s all I can do to stay calm. I have one goal. I see nothing but a thing to be defeated. I barely take notice of any of details of the colossus and only know that I must climb all the way up to its head. After several attempts and near-falls, I strike…the…final…blow.

I put my controller down and then drop my head into my hands. They hurt after fiercely grasping the controller for so long. (Goodness how my knuckles hurt!) I miss a little bit of the monsters’ final moments, and when I look up, I’m greeted by that that band of men on horseback riding up to the temple. The last idol falls, and it seems that something is wrong. Wander is transported back to the temple, and now the awful change In his appearance is utterly obvious. The men attack, and the leader reveals that Wander was little more than a tool in Dormin’s plan to free himself. Wander is overtaken by the demon, and he becomes a colossus himself. The men fight back, but I’m still in control of the beastly Wander/Dormin, thought I can’t do much except pound the ground. (Most of the colossi didn’t do much more than that, either, I remember.)

The men escape the temple, while the leader takes the special sword that Wander had stolen and drops it into the center of the temple, where it releases the power to capture and quell Wander/Dormin. Slowly the creature re-transforms back into Wander, but he is only drawn in. The temple is them disconnected from the outside world.

As I take a large breath, the view goes back into the temple, showing Mono’s awakening. It’s a scene both touching and terrible, considering Wander’s fate. As she starts to move around, I hear something familiar…

It’s Agro. Limping up the steps and over to Mono is Agro, whom I was sure had perished.  It’s a scene so poignant that I can’t help but weep. The credits continue, and despite everything, the men hope that Wander finds peace. In the meantime, Mono and Agro discover a baby in the temple – likely the embodiment of Wander, I suppose. The trio make their way up an out of the temple to a secluded, grassy nook where they convene for a moment with the local wildlife. It’s incredibly touching, though, I begin to feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. For one, I was so very angry at Agro for so much of the game. Losing the horse and then witness its return was just too much, too emotional, unexpectedly emotional, at that. Also, I was so sure that Wander was doing the right thing, at least until the game’s later stages. It then dawns on me that Mono and Agro and the baby have to live in a world devoid of the colossi. While Wander’s quest resulted in what he wanted – the resurrection of Mono – it came at nothing less than a terrible price, just as Dormin had warned.


Good versus evil, right versus wrong, devilish verses angelic. However you want to phrase it, Shadow of the Colossus questions it and makes you, the player, question it as well. What seems black and white at first, slowly turns gray, and there no avoiding it. I see now why this particular game tops many a “favorites” list. I’m not yet far enough removed from the game to be able to view it rationally. Though I know for sure that it would affect my top most emotional game moments, but I cant say that the experience was wholly enjoyable.  In fact, I dare say that I reached levels of anger with this game that I’ve not reached with any game since the original Assassin’s Creed. But this anger was different, fueled by a mixture of incompetence (why can’t I control Agro to save my life?!), confusion (why is Wander doing all this killing, really?), and self-loathing (this killing seems needless, and I don’t like it, but I have do to it). Only time will tell if or how I’ll carry Shadow of the Colossus into future gaming experiences, but I can’t imagine it not coloring my point of view at least a little. If I didn’t “get” Shadow of the Colossus then, I certainly do now.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. ❤ this write-up of your experiences, and I could go on endlessly about Shadow of the Colossus. It really is such an emotional game. And did you notice the baby had horns, like the "cursed" boy in Ico??

    Liked by 2 people

    1. cary says:

      So I did see that the baby had horns, but I thought it was just a reference to what Wander had become. I’ve never played Ico, but I understand that the games are somehow connected. Not sure it’ll end up on my “to play” list, but someday, maybe. 🙂 Maybe I’ll just have to check out a few videos in the meantime.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a good representation of what he’s become, especially since there is that “innocence” that has been tainted (for want of a better word) by Dormin. Mmhm, such a good game!! 🙂

        Gosh, I never seem satisfied, do I? “Play Shadow of the Colossus, it’s amazing” and now “You just finished Shadow of the Colossus? Did you play this other random game released by the same company??” haha

        Liked by 1 person

      2. cary says:

        But that’s just the kind of enthusiasm that makes gaming such a brilliant hobby. Sure, you might say the same of books, movies, and such (“you read x book by x author? Oh! You should try this…!) but that same feeling is a bit more special with games. Lord, I’m not describing it well at all, but I think as gamers, we get it. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I got’cha 🙂 Haha

        So…if you ever ask me for a book recommendation, you’ll already know what to expect!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Imtiaz Ahmed says:

    great write up. I felt like this was written from the perspective of Wander almost, it sounded like near the end you were just as worn out as he was. If you haven’t checked it out, Athena Veta wrote an awesome post talking about SotC on how you aren’t really the hero. It’s a real neat piece and you touched on alot of the stuff she talked about there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. cary says:

      It was actually Athena’s post that, in part, inspired me to finally work through SotC! 🙂 Y’know, while I was playing, I never really thought of seeing the world through Wander’s eyes, but you’re right. Though it wasn’t obviously telegraphed, he did appear as exhausted as I felt by the end of things. Huh. Chalk another one up to the game’s developers for that degree of subtleness. Honestly, the more I think about the game, the more amazing it becomes.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Imtiaz Ahmed says:

        yea there are so many subtle things that show how much thought and care was put into it

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Just wanted to add – as you say Imtiaz and Cary, this is a subtle game. I can’t remember how many colossi I had defeated before I realized Wander’s face was becoming more and more scarred!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    Following up from last week, this is part 2 of my summary of my first-time experience with Shadow of the Colossus. To ride the roller coaster of emotions, click on over to Virtual Bastion for the full article.

    Like

  4. So glad you decided to stick with Shadow of the Colossus, Cary! Enjoyed your two-part write-up.

    It’s a game that hooks you slowly. It messes with your expectations as a gamer. We’re so used to being the hero – saving the day, beating the bad guys – that we don’t expect to *be* the villain.

    I touched on the game’s theme in my own retrospective: https://deconstructingvideogames.com/2016/02/20/shadow-of-the-colossus-retrospective/

    Shadow of the Colossus is brilliant because it tells the story of a deal with the devil, and forces you to live with the decision.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Thanks for the kind words! I’ll have to head over to read your article at some point. (Bookmarked – check!)

      Even now, months after completing the game, I still get very emotional thinking about it. It truly was unlike any other game I’ve ever played, or even just known about. The process of getting through it was rather brutal, but I suppose that the best learning experiences are often preceded by pain. In a manner, that describes the game. But I think you summed it up best with “it tells the story of a deal with the devil, and forces you to live with the decision.” Unlike with lots of games today where you can go back and change your choices for the better, SotC makes you follow through with Wander’s bold, ferocious, and unapologetic fate.

      Liked by 1 person

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