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Despite its lukewarm success even in Japan, Ico was a highly respected and influential title, and Sony had the insight to realize that they had an incredible director on their hands. So Ueda pitched a game called "Nico" to Sony, which was greenlighted without hesitation. The word Nico is a combination of "Ico" and "Ni", the Japanese word for "two." Early videos showed several horned boys, much like the ones in Ico, riding horses and taking down huge monsters. Eventually, the horned boys were removed in favor of a single warrior, and thus the game became known in Japan as Wander to Kyozō ("Wander and the Giant Statues") and elsewhere as Shadow of the Colossus.
Over the next three years, Ueda and his best friend, Kenji Kaido, would direct their team of programmers and artists to finish a project which can only be called one of the most epic undertakings in video game history, a game of literally colossal proportions. For 3 long years, Ueda's team slaved over this game, directing them to show a level of attention to detail more fine-tuned than almost any title you can think of. Finally, in 2005, the product was completed. This time, Sony would market the game properly, and it worked. Nearly half of the copies of Wander to Kyozō produced in Japan were pre-ordered before they even hit the shelves, and almost 80% of the entire shipment was gone within two days. Before people even played it, Shadow of the Colossus was a much greater financial success than Ico, but is it successful as a game? There is no simple way to answer that question. It all depends on what you're looking for in your games, or perhaps what you didn't even realize you were looking for until you've played it.
Shadow of the Colossus deters many of its critics right off the bat with its premise; the game essentially consists of nothing more than a succession of 16 boss fights. Yes, that's it. There are no regular enemies in this game, just 16 gargantuan bosses with nothing but open, barren land in between them. And therein lies the game's genius. It is not immediately apparent whether or not Shadow of the Colossus has any relations to Ico, but there are definitely indications that they share the same world by the use of subtle echos. Anyway, the player takes the role of a teenager known only as Wander. As the game opens, Wander carries his deceased beloved into a forbidden land across a massive bridge on his trusty horse, Agro. This land is not protected by a great wall or gate, it is not sealed or guarded in any way. The people tread not a step toward it out of sheer fright; fore they know what lurks there. The colossi? No. Something even more terrifying.
Wander brings his dead beloved to a massive altar in the center of the forbidden land. Placing her on the altar, he looks up and hears the twisted, disembodied voice of the being known as Dormin. Taking a few pointers from Faust, Wander offers to do whatever the being requests. In return, all he asks is that his loved one be returned to life. Dormin offers his services, but only if Wander can perform one simple task; kill the 16 colossi that lurk all over the forbidden land. Dormin also explains that he cannot promise that he will be powerful enough to revive his dead lover. Wander, without even the slightest bit of hesitation, agrees, and it is that reckless determination, that dangerous sense of obsession and inability to let go, that makes Wander such an amazing character.
Right out of the bull pin, Shadow of the Colossus separates its critics and its admirers. The critics, see the story as something under-developed, unexplored, lacking in dialog, and having virtually no structure. The admirers see the genius of what Ueda is trying to accomplish with this story. He manages to say more with only about 12 lines of gibberish fictional dialog than all the games in the world have said with 60+ hours of text-box scrolling. If other games are novels, Shadow of the Colossus is a poem. Its ideas and expressions aren't spelled out for you. They're subtle.
So now you've been given your mission. You hop up on your huge stallion and you ride out of the altar, and before you can even begin to care about what you're supposed to be doing, the game hits you with its incredible beauty. Shadow of the Colossus is beautiful in ways most games will never achieve. One could talk ad-nauseam about how it has choppy drawing in certain areas, how its framerate falls occasionally, how certain elements of Wander's polygonal model are jagged - but that would be undermining a much more important and profound sense of beauty. Shadow of the Colossus is simply a work of art in motion. The texturing, the design of the world and the creatures that live there, the level of detail, and its overall expansiveness are simply breathtaking. It is hard to look at this game and not be taken aback.
Shadow of the Colossus has some of the most brilliant visual and conceptual design of any game ever. Every nook and cranny is just bursting with detail. Every locale is unique, and no motif is used for more than one area. The forbidden land is as varied and alive as the Earth itself. Not alive in the sense that it has animals romping about it. Alive in the sense that it gives a feeling of being in a living, breathing world. The game is full of lush forests that break occasionally with mystifying glades. Crystalline brooks cut swathes through the grasslands. Every wrinkle in every sand dune is etched with painstaking detail. Every piece of rubble is weathered properly, chizzled with ancient runes and epitaphs, conveying a wonderful sense of history lost forever.
After marveling at the surroundings for a few moments, Wander presses on with his journey on horseback. Agro is probably the most incredibly designed element of the game, and that's saying a lot. Your horse is all you have in this world. Ueda wanted the player to feel completely isolated and alone. And indeed, this sense of desolation is very profound and gives the game its incredible melancholy atmosphere. But you always have Agro, and as long as you have Agro, nothing bad can happen. Agro is an adorable and faithful stallion. You can gallop with him at full speed as much as you want and he will not tire. When you take a break, Agro will run off to the nearest water source and drink, but as soon as you call him, he will return to your side. You can dive headlong over a cliff and with a slight bit of reluctance, he will fall and he will hurt himself, and limp for a few steps before regaining his composure, still eager as ever to see his master's desire fulfilled. Agro's performance in this sense is so realistic and so captivating (partially because it was motion captured entirely using a real horse) that he transcends being a mere beast - he feels like a full fledged character.
Wander's relationship with Agro is one of the most beautifully played out aspects of the game. It is a relationship that is quite sadly stronger and more profound than most relationships you will find between any two human characters in any RPG, despite the fact that there are never any words exchanged between them. If you think character development equals lots of text boxes, voice acting or backstory, guess again.
Now, let's get into the meat of the game; the colossi. As Wander rides across the plains, he raises his sword. When the sunlight strikes the blade, it creates a beam guiding him to his target. The beam can be difficult to follow, as it only shows the general direction of the colossus, not citing any specific directions. The map also does not give any specific details about the terrain. It is an actual, hand-drawn map, the kind you would carry with you on an adventure like this. So yes, you actually have to *gasp* look in order to find many of the colossi. And looking for them is half the fun. Finding a colossus isn't merely a matter of riding to a certain point on the map. In many instances, you will have to part ways with Agro and do some Prince of Persia-style (or, if you will, Ico-style) ledge-hopping and platforming. This actually works out for the best, because Agro's presence in a colossus battle is somewhat reassuring and encouraging, whereas without him, the battle is much more bleak and taxing.
Once the destination is reached, the fun begins. Everything is quiet. The area looks like it hasn't even seen a tumbleweed blow by in centuries. But suddenly, the ground beneath your feet comes alive. The earth is up heaved. The rocks stur, the trees sway and the birds in the area flee. A massive creature towers above you. Suddenly, you feel insignificant. You stare up at this incredible, ominous deity as it looks down at you with a hint of curiousity trailed by malice. Many players probably sat back in their chair and took a moment to absorb all this, then took control of their emotions and said "My god... how?" That is the split second where Shadow of the Colossus ceases being a game and becomes an experience.
Critics have said the battles in Shadow of the Colossus can be summed up as a matter of climbing up a colossus and stabbing it, just as the battles in most RPGs can be summed up as pressing a single button a whole lot and watching a lot of animations, or the battles in God of War or Ninja Gaiden can be summed up as hitting the attack button as fast as you can. Why oversimplify this game's combat when any game can be simplified in such a manner? Shadow of the Colossus' battles are no less complex than any action/adventure game out there, but the lack of hectic button mashing and 30 hit combos gives the illusion that it lacks sophistication.
Every battle in Shadow of the Colossus is a puzzle. The colossi aren't just giants that lumber around waiting for you to kill them. Most of them want to kill you just as much, and as the game progresses, they find more insidious ways to do so. To even begin scaling the colossus requires that you create an opening. This is done in a different way with every single battle, and some colossi give you several options to go about doing this. While the first two colossi are essentially training rounds, by the third fight, you're going to have to do some critical thinking.
The way these battles play out is truly mesmerizing. No game has ever been so epic in its confrontations. One could easily project Shadow of the Colossus onto a cinema screen and the audience would be absorbed by it as much as any epic fantasy film. Helping this along is the game's incredible camera. It may feel slow and too far removed at first, but the camera hovers the perfect length from Wander, showing him and all the terrain around him could possibly be concerned with. This is not a game that requires the camera to be tight. Your targets are huge, thus the camera should be properly adjusted to fit those targets.
Occasionally, the camera will break away from your control and go into a cinematic pan. This usually happens when a colossus is preparing to perform a certain key action that is required for you to create an opening, and works incredibly well considering that without the game taking control of the camera, you may not be able to see those opportunities when they arise. One superb example is in the 10th battle against a giant sandworm-type colossus. You must ride across a subterranean desert at high speed as the colossus swims through the sand, chasing you down. The camera pans back and gives you a startling shot of the colossus barreling down on you, at which point you must turn around backwards on Agro and land a shot in its eye. Of course, you can always pull the control back toward the player by manipulating the right analog stick, but this is usually detrimental to success. Also, by holding the R2 button, you can "lock on" to a colossus, which will keep it centered in your screen no matter which way you turn. With these functions utilized properly, the camera will never leave you in the dark about what's happening.
Some people also have trouble with the controls. While controlling Agro takes a bit of getting used to, you have to respect the fact that they wanted to make controlling Agro as realistic as possible. Those who have ever ridden a horse know that the way Wander manipulates Agro is exactly how you manipulate a real stallion. Rather than just jumping on his back and directing him as you would your hero, you must spur him to get him going. Once he breaks into a gallop, you'll have to manipulate the reigns in order to direct Agro. This does takes a bit of getting used to. There's a ton of different things you can do with Agro, and the level of depth they went into with the control scheme is incredible. Aside from merely riding Agro, you can turn around on him in full 360 degrees. You can arch from his back. You can make him stop dead in his tracks, and from a stop, you can make him instantly burst into a full-speed gallop. When you have no weapon equipped, you can even gently stroke Agro by pressing the attack button. The complex and more realistic control scheme helps in making Agro feel and look more like a real horse.
For the most part, the controls are responsive, tight, and you get amazing force feedback from the controller with every action. Once you've created an opening in the colossus, you must scale it to reach its weak points, denoted by glowing sigils which can be revealed at any time by pointing the sword at the colossus, assuming you have the opportunity to do so without being trampled. Functionality of climbing a colossus is simple and intuitive, but that doesn't suggest that the act of doing so is.
To scale a colossus, you merely must jump onto an area of its body covered in "hair" (this is actually dead grass, as colossi are spawned from the earth itself) and hold the R1 button, which makes Wander grab it. From this moment forth, you're running on borrowed time. You have a stamina meter which depletes as you hold on for dear life, the colossus writhing and bucking to try to throw you off. The struggle to reach a sigil is an epic one, but once you reach it, it's only a matter of time. At the sigil, you can raise your sword by holding the attack button. When you do so, a shockwave of light will radiate through your circular stamina meter. When that shockwave reaches the outer edge of the circle, it indicates that you will deal the maximum amount of damage to the colossus when you release the attack button. Doing so too soon or too late will result in merely a pin prick that will do miniscule damage and just piss the colossus off more. Executed timely, however, Wander will plunge the sword into the colossus, penetrating its rocky flesh and causing geysers of black, oily blood to spray from its wounds.
It's not that simple, though. Most colossi have multiple sigils, and once you've damaged one enough, it will disappear and you'll have to find another one. But remember, your stamina gauge is constantly depleting while you're holding onto the colossus. If you don't have enough time to get from one sigil to another, you're either going to have to leap off and try again or find a spot on the colossus' body where you can bide your time. When all is said and done, the colossus topples over. Suddenly, a strange feeling washes over the player. Where normally one would feel triumphant over the defeat of an enemy, the game presents the death of a colossus as a tragic event, and for good reason, as is found out later in the game. As the colossus dies, it unleashes a black cloud, which wisps through the air and dives into Wander's body. Its effects are unknown, but Wander passes out and awakens some time later in the altar, where Dormin is ready to give him his next mission.
This happens sixteen times, and that is essentially the progression of the game. At certain intervals, you'll be treated with a somewhat vague cutscene, a recurring dream Wander has of his beloved waking. Wander never says he loves this girl or that he's sad she's gone. But the idea is made clear by his expressions. The expressions of Shadow of the Colossus are extremely powerful and do not require dialog or narrative to assist them. The voice acting is very full of feeling. It uses the same made-up, Panzer Dragoon-esque fictional language known from Ico. It provides an authentic feeling to the game's otherworldly setting.
The other sounds in the game are exceptional as well. The ambience is so incredible that having music play throughout the game constantly would ruin the atmosphere. Everything you'd hear in real life wilderness, you hear in Shadow of the Colossus. The breeze, the rustling of leaves in the tree canopy, the trickle of water in a cave, the scurry of tiny critters as Wander's carelessly conspicuous footsteps tread by. It is crystal clear, superb, and all encompassing.
The only time music does play in Shadow of the Colossus is during the cutscenes and the fights with the colossi. These pieces are some of the finest ever heard in any video game. The music is far less subtle than in Ico, and that's because Shadow of the Colossus is a far less subtle game. While Michiru Oshima's score worked wonders for Ico, SotC required something far more epic. For this, Kow Otani, who set the atmosphere for one of the most beloved anime of our time, Gundam Wing, directing the London Philharmonic Orchestra, was chosen to compose an epic, sweeping masterpiece of a score, the likes of which is completely capable of rivaling the likes of John Williams, Howard Shore, or any of Hollywood's greatest composers. It is a powerful, moving, profound and varied collection of bombastic melodies, and only a game like Shadow of the Colossus is worthy of such a score. It is quite simply one of the finest orchestral soundtrack in video games, to say the least.
The opening theme sets the tone, with its beautiful strings and haunting vocals. The colossus themes, while reused occasionally, never become tired. Starting out foreboding and visceral, once Wander has found his footing and begins to attack, the music changes toward the invoking and inspiring. It lulls players into a frenzy of adrenaline, and really makes them want to take the thing down. To evoke this kind of emotion in the player is a sure sign of the soundtrack's utter success at capturing the essence of the action. Shadow of the Colossus doesn't merely end when it ends, and oh what a spectacular, powerful, and poetic ending it is. After finishing the game, a hard mode is unlocked. You can also replay normal mode and play the Time Attack games that allow you to unlock a host of new equipment for Wander, and new colors for Agro. Also, hard mode is interesting because the sigil locations on all the colossi are different, or more have been added. Thus, Shadow of the Colossus doesn't get predictable in subsequent playthroughs. A first playthrough of the game is going to be somewhere between 8 and 12 hours. But by all means, do not simply play the game to fight the colossi. There is an incredible amount of time to be spent merely breathing in the environment. There are many well-hidden locations, paradises, lost shores and groves to be explored that serve no importance in your quest to find the colossi, but are quite an adventure to discover and beautiful to behold. You can also search for fruit and white-tailed lizards, which permanently raise your health and stamina, respectively.
What more is there to say about Shadow of the Colossus? This game has left an impression on many players like no other. Like any work of art, it has its critics. The fact of the matter is, Shadow of the Colossus is unique and wonderful and all that, but it is certainly not for everyone. It has the potential to rub people the wrong way, especially those whom approach it with certain predispositions toward action-packed games or games with heavy narratives, and especially people who approach with specific expectations. It's certainly best to approach this title with an open mind and a clean slate. For some, Shadow of the Colossus will be an obtuse and abrasive mess. For many others, however, this could be one of the greatest gaming experiences ever and an unforgettable masterpiece.
Valus, the Minotaur
The star colossus of the game, featured on the cover. A fairly "standard" looking golem creature, but still quite a sight to behold. This guy is fairly simple to defeat, as he's meant mostly to be a trial run, teaching you the basics of tackling a colossus how to find its sigils.
Quadratus, the Bull
Another popularly featured colossus. This one, as its name implies, appears to be a giant bull. Doesn't do much in the way of trying to kill you, but this is another training round. This colossus fight teaches you how to bring a colossus down so that you can reach its otherwise unreachable "grassy" parts.
Gaius, the Earth Knight
This is the first true battle in the game, and it's going to take some figuring out. Gaius is one of the most impressive colossi, towering at least 1000 feet in the air atop a giant, disc-shaped arena. He wields a sword in his left arm and tries to crush you with it, rending through the earth like a hot knife through butter and kicking up massive amounts of dirt and gravel to block your view even if you manage to survive.
Phaedra, the Prime Equestrian
(Equus Bellator Apex)
This thing can take forever to figure out, and it is quite satisfying once it goes down. Phaedra is a tough nut to crack and is also one of the most vicious colossi in the game, stamping wildly if you go anywhere near it. This is the first battle where you're allowed to have Agro with you.
Avion, the Delta Phoenix
This is one of the most incredible battles in the game. Avion swoops down out of the air and you have to hold onto it for dear life as it tears through the sky. Stabbing it makes it go into a barrell roll so you need to be well prepared to deal with this by conserving your stamina.
Hydrus, the Sea Dragon
You're going to have to get a little wet for this one. Hydrus is one of the tougher colossi in the game, requiring you to hitch a ride on its scales and hold on tight as it dives under water. You wont be able to move toward its sigil until it resurfaces, and it only surfaces for a few seconds. It also has electrified tendrils towards its head that you must stay away from.
Basaran, the Echoing Storm
A giant turtle that wanders the charred wastelands amongst the geysers. This huge creature fires powerful energy bolts at you that'll create quite a big shockwave. Quite a difficult colossus to figure out.
Celosia, the Flame Guardian
This little guy is hardly colossal, but is extremely dangerous none the less. It'll hunt you down and swipe at you with its claws. Dormin chymes in to let you know that it fears the flames in which it guards. Could it be a hint?
Pelagia, the Great Basilisk
This is one of the biggest colossi in the game. You'll have to be really crafty to figure this one out, and it could take quite awhile. This colossus has my favorite environment, taking up residence in a lake atop a huge waterfall in a very remote region of the forbidden land.
Phalanx, the Drifter
Phalanx is quite possibly the most impressive colossus in the game. Though mostly harmless, it is by far the biggest and one of the most majestic sights you will ever see in a video game. Bringing this one down feels very wrong and gives a little hint that perhaps Wander's campaign isn't exactly the most admirable.
Cenobia, the Luster of Destruction
Same build as Celosia, but bulkier and far more vicious. Cenobia immediately chases you down and tries to kill you. You'll have to make very good use of the terrain to keep this rampaging beast off of you, and one wrong move can cost you your life.
Argus, the Sentinal
Same build as I and VI, but much harder to bring down. This guy could have the most complex and obscure method of defeat out of all the colossi in the game, except perhaps the last.
Malus, the Grand Gigas
The final colossus. Just the trip to get to him is taxing. The fight itself is exhausting and seems nearly impossible, nigh ridiculous at first. Though stationary, this colossus is still extremely intimidating and the epic battle with him will leave a lasting impression long after the game is over.
Nico Beta Screenshots
Unused Beta Colossi
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