Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
29 April 2006
Hollow of the Colossus
Several sequences in Shadow of the Colossus are unforgettable, forever playing out in my mind like the first time a zombie dog leapt through the window in Resident Evil. While I treasure those moments, I simultaneously declare that Shadow of the Colossus failed to engage me in the story it wanted to tell. The experience that I made as I played was far more important, and I wish they'd left their story out altogether.

A game is at the top of its form when it evokes complex emotions. Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies is just such a game. Yes, it's a string of aerial combat missions, but its story provides perfectly pitched context. As I destroyed my nemesis, the enemy pilot known as Number 13, I knew it could end no other way. Yet the game had forced me to see him as an equal, as a pilot of like mettle, as a human. As they say, in another place and another time, we might have been friends.

Shadow of the Colossus appears to be another such game. It is a sequence of combat missions against impossibly large colossi, just as AC04 was a sequence of dogfights. Each colossus is different, and each you can reason how to best with just your sword, your arrows, and your horse. Without context, however, it really is just a sequence of boss battles (as others have noted).

For hours I battled colossi, watching infinitesimal bits of story trickle out. Then the game sucker punched me emotionally. Bravo. I can appreciate that accomplishment, but the shock also brought a moment of clarity: the game was not what it seemed.

[Note: I'm now going to give away the plot of the game. Stop reading now, if that bothers you.]

Shadow of the Colossus was telling one story and I was hearing another. All along I'd figured I was a David, mistaken for Hercules, sent to perform 16 labors, 16 assassinations, all to raise from the dead a woman for whom I'd risk everything. As it turns out, that woman mattered not at all to me.

My companion on each mission was Agro, my faithful horse. On my first mission, he sped me across the vast plain, and faithfully returned to me at its conclusion. On the second, and the third, and every other, he stayed as near my side as possible, although never in the way. When I needed his speed in a battle against a colossus, he complied without fear. When I was in a hurry and took shortcuts he could not, he would find a way past a cliff or around a mesa and fly to my side without being asked.

As I raced to my battle with the final colossus, I needed his speed one more time. A huge, unstable bridge over a chasm stood between me and the last battleground. With his speed, I could cross the bridge before it collapsed, and as we neared the other side -- I do not know precisely what happened -- I ended up on stable ground and he fell to his death.

At that moment, I realized that -- as a player -- I didn't care a whit for that dead girl. Only Agro mattered, the only living thing I'd known the whole game long. His death evoked a rage which fueled my showdown with the final colossus. I didn't care whether it raised the girl from the dead or not. I just wanted to destroy something.

And I did destroy the final colossus. There was a long sequence at the end that's really not very enlightening. Yes, the girl was resurrected. No, I didn't care. What mattered to me was that I'd lost my horse.

And that's my point: the game would be more with less. I already made my own experience as I played, tackling the colossi and exploring the world with my horse. If you take away every bit of the contrived story about the girl, just leave the battles and Agro's faithful companionship, the game gets a lot better.
--Matt Matthews at 01:00
Comment [ 6 ]

Comments on this post:

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By Anonymous Anonymous, at 30 April, 2006 11:58  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger cgm, at 30 April, 2006 17:46  

I hate to spoil it for everyone, but the horse lives.

By Blogger cgm, at 30 April, 2006 17:49  


By Anonymous Shrike, at 01 May, 2006 07:53  

i think the dissonance between the player's emotions and wander's emotions were part of the point of shadow of the colossus, and agro's death and the killing of the colossi are extensions of that idea.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 04 May, 2006 19:08  

I felt the same way when Argo died. I don't think a game had ever made me so pissed and so sad at once.

When argo died, i couldn't wait to take down that last collosi.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 19 May, 2006 17:33  

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