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[This is an essay I wrote a while ago for my college work. It wasn't for a formal assignment, but instead just a practice piece that we were allowed to pick any topic for. So I decided to gush about SotC. I've been sitting on it for ages, thinking about posting it as a blog, and this month's "Bloggers Wanted" seemed like the perfect opportunity. Massive spoilers ahead.]
Shadow of the Colossus is an action adventure game originally released on the PS2 in 2006, and re-released for the PS3 in 2011. It was created by Team Ico, who are a first-party Sony game development studio.
Shadow of the Colossus is an action adventure game in which the player's primary task is to defeat a series of gigantic creatures called Colossi. This is done by climbing on their bodies and attacking their glowing weak points with a sword. The game features a grip metre, which slowly runs out the longer you hold on to a Colossus and perform various actions, and is also used as a gauge to show how much strength the player character is putting in to certain actions, such as a sword stab. When the grip metre runs out, the player character loses grip and can no longer hang on to the Colossi or whatever surface they may be holding on to.
The game uses unconventional controls for these systems. In order to hold on to something, the player must hold down the R1 shoulder button. This creates a tactile connection between the player and the game, because the player is required to mimic the player character’s actions to perform them. The player is also forced to make a risk/reward choice with how strong they choose their attack to be, because stronger attacks both take longer to perform, and take away more of the grip metre than weaker attacks. This makes the player have to choose between the apparently safer approach of conserving grip with weaker attacks, or risk losing grip by using stronger attacks. This creates a sense of tension to fights, and gives every action a feeling of consequence.
The game also has an open world structure, which comes in to gameplay before the actual confrontations with the Colossi. Players have to track down the creatures in a large open world, and navigate areas which are not simple to get through, such as twisting canyon floors or cliff faces.
The game world is also incredibly empty, but very deliberately so. The only interactive things in the environment are the player character's horse; the very few examples of small, harmless wildlife; the occasional fruit tree; and the Colossi themselves. This is a large factor in one of the most major the themes of the game: isolation. A topic which will be discussed in more depth later.
Much like the gameplay, the story of the game is very minimalist, with only few elements to it, but in a way that benefits the game. The story begins with a montage of the player character, a young man named Wander, journeying across the land on horseback, carrying the dead body of a girl of a similar age to himself, called Mono. He eventually makes his way to the Forbidden Land, and enters a large shrine where he places the girl's body on an alter. An ethereal, disembodied voice echoes through the tall halls of the shrine, and Wander engages this unseen presence in conversation. This voice reveals that it is Dormin, the mysterious being that Wander has been seeking, as he believes that it has the power to bring the girl back to life. Dormin confirms that it can achieve this, but Wander must pay a heavy price in return, to which he agrees. Dormin then tasks Wander with defeating each Colossi, which are described as beings made of light.
We are never told exactly who or what Dormin is, who Wander or Mono are, why Mono is dead, or why the land the game takes place in is “forbidden”. Little is known about the Colossi either at this point in the game.
As the game progresses, a masked character named Lord Emon is seen to be approaching the Forbidden Land on horseback with several similarly masked characters who appear to be soldiers of some sort. This man appears to have much knowledge about Dormin and the Forbidden Land, and at the end of the story, when he finally arrives, he attempts to foil Wander and Dormin's plan. Again, we are told little of who Lord Emon is and what his motivations are, but he does allege that Wander stole the sacred sword that he uses throughout the game to defeat the Colossi.
It is at this late point in the game, the finale, when the narrative culminate in to a series of events foreshadowed throughout the game. As Wander has been battling the Colossi, with each one he defeats, he has become more pale and sickly-looking, until at the end of the game his skin has lost all colour, his hair has turned black, his eyes look lifeless, and small horns can be seen growing out of his head. At first this seems like the price that Dormin said Wander would have to pay, but it is only the beginning of what Dormin actually spoke of. It is revealed that Lord Emon arrived too late, and that Dormin's plan has come in to fruition. Dormin then possesses Wander, turning him in to a giant, shadowy creature with large horns sprouting out of its head. Although it appears that Emon has failed, he quickly uses the sacred sword to cast a spell that banishes the physical form of Dormin, and then he and the soldiers flee the shrine.
Then when it seems that everything is over, and the shrine empty of all the chaos that filled it only a few moments ago, we see Mono wake up, and stand up from the alter. She hears a baby crying, and moves towards a pool of water where Dormin met its demise. She sees a newborn human lying in the pool, with small horns sprouting out of its head. The credits then roll as we see Mono carry the child up to the top of the shrine in to a secret, idyllic garden and caring for it.
Aesthetic and Theming
Shadow of the Colossus is often praised as a notable example of what games can achieve as an artistic medium, because of how all its elements work together to create an extremely strong tone, and themes of isolation, uncertainty and powerlessness.
For example, the game world itself is incredibly barren. As was mentioned earlier, there is little actually in the world, but it has a strikingly stark beauty to it. Colours are washed out, and the landscape is full of majestic, wide open spaces, and tall structures that make the player feel minuscule and alone in a vast, eerie, and long-forgotten land.
The Colossi mirror this feeling as well. Most of them are titanic, making Wander look insignificant next to them. Their visual design also makes them look like they are as old as time, as if they are a part of the landscape they inhabit. They usually appear to be made out of stone, cut with patterns similar to the architecture seen on the few crumbling buildings scattered throughout the land. They also have some areas covered in fur, which seem more like grass or moss, adding more to the feeling that they have existed for aeons.
The gameplay controls also emphasise this feeling of being overwhelmed by forces far beyond comprehension. The aforementioned grip metre adds a real sense of desperation to the fights, especially when you are close to losing grip while a Colossus is shaking violently to throw you off. The control scheme and animations add in to this too. Controls are relatively complex, with you needing to hold down a button to grasp on to things, and requiring you to charge up jumps and stabs. But it is not so complex as to be overly so. It manages to give you an intimate connection to the feeling of battling against such impossible odds, without making it feel clunky or unfair on the player. It also helps the player identify with Wander as a character. It makes you understand that even though he is not a skilled warrior, he feels unrelentingly driven in his cause.
The music of the game is another large contributing factor to the strength of the tone. Most of the experience of playing has no soundtrack at all, emphasising the sense of isolation and uncertainty, by prominently not giving you any kind of context to what you should be feeling as you journey across the Forbidden Land. But this absence of music also makes it all the more impactful when it does accompany the events of the game. For example it creates an extremely atmospheric feeling in the intro cutscene, setting the tone of the game to follow. It has a mysterious and almost otherworldly sound to it, using an echoing choir and unusual, exotic instruments. It also has a mournful, and almost tentative and delicate tone to it in some places. On the other hand, the music which accompanies the battles against the Colossi are large and dramatic, with an intensity of desperation, but also sweeping overtones emphasising the majesty of these enormous and timeless creatures.
The way the Colossi themselves act, and how the battles against them play out also contribute a lot towards the themes of uncertainty in the game. Although the battles are intense, feeling much like a “David and Goliath” struggle, set to stirring music, they are also very sad in a way. As you approach each Colossus, they always appear very peaceful. They almost never attack you until you provoke them, and when they do, it could be assumed that it is because you are invading their territory. Some of these creatures don't even fight back at all. And when you do defeat them, the music takes an unexpected turn in tone.
Normally the player would expect a triumphant fanfare at their victory, but in this game, it instead plays very mournful song, as a short cutscene shows the once majestic beast in its death throes. But then in the last few bars, the tone lightens. But still not to what you would expect. It evokes a sense of relief, as you defeat what seemed like an insurmountable foe, and take one step closer towards bringing Mono back to life, but at the same time leaving you questioning whether what you did was the right thing.
And although the Colossi are described as beings of light, in these last few bars something odd happens to the just fallen corpses of the creatures. Their bodies become enveloped in an inky blackness, and then tendrils of the darkness shoot out from the corpse, which inevitably strike towards Wander, making him fall momentarily unconscious. It makes it appear that perhaps these Colossi were harbouring some kind of evil power after all, and that darkness is now harboured within Wander, causing his physical changed through the game.
All of these elements come together to perfectly compliment each other in a way that only games can do. It's not just the exceptionally strong visual design and soundtrack, but also the environment of the game, and the interactions you have within it, that work as one to create a phenomenally powerful experience, which immerses the player in itself. It envelops you in a world which makes you feel small and insignificant, and lost figuratively and emotionally. It's disarming in its beauty and its genius, and was rightfully praised as a watershed moment in the maturation of the medium.
Hello Destructoid. I apologise for this being such a short post, but I require your assitance with something.
I am currently doing a game design course at college. As part of my coursework, I am conducting survey on people's opinions about certain game developers. I would be very grateful if anyone who has a spare ten minutes or so would complete it. It's completely anonymous too. Your answers to some questions may mean you can't answer others, but it would be appreciated if you could fill out as much as possible. The link to the survey is here:
Thanks in advance.
And as an aside, I have been thinking about posting a new proper length blog recently. Yet another one about the racing game genre. But because of my college work I've been a bit busy lately. I'm not sure if I will get around to it though, since it's rather ranty in nature, and I might decide it's not worth it in the end. I've also been thinking about posting something unrelated that I wrote several months ago which was never intended to be a blog, so I'm not sure it's really suited to be one.
I've been playing Hyrule Warriors recently, and I've been having a blast with it. I've actually found it much more enjoyable than I was expecting I would, especially given that I've never played any entry in the Warriors franchise before. The only game of the same genre I've played was the original Ninety Nine Nights back in the early days of the Xbox 360. Although I was always pretty confident that I would find Hyrule Warriors fun, I found it to be a significantly different experience from what I was lead to believe based on the usual spiel you hear about these games.
It's the cliché you always hear when it comes to games like this. The idea that there's nothing to them, and it's just pressing the same button over and over for hours on end against weak enemies who just stand there. I was expecting that to a certain extent, yet also hopeful from the pre-release footage shown. I can enjoy a good dumb action game if it does what it does with enough polish, even if it can't really measure up to the deepest and most comprehensive examples of the genre.
What I found was actually quite a different experience from that, and while that commonly painted image of these games was true to a certain extent, to boil the game down to that is completely missing the whole point of the experience. For one thing, the fundamental combat mechanics are more than just mashing a single button against defenceless foes. Each weapon has about a dozen combos, which each have a reasonably different effect to them, and two types of special attack. While none of this is particularly deep or hard to pull off, it does give the combat enough variety to make it feel like different situations do call for you to use different types of moves. It also helps that almost every single one is very fun to execute.
And when it comes to enemies, it's quite inaccurate to say that the only ones come up against simply stand there and pose no threat. While about 95% of the enemies you come across are like that, it doesn't matter at all. The real challenge in the combat comes from the higher level enemies. Mostly these are bosses and more powerful enemies from other Zelda games. These guys have more devastating attacks, and require you to be smarter about how you approach them. If you just blindly mash at them, then you'll probably be met with constant blocks, or leave yourself open to punishing attacks. You have to wait for openings to use the familiar Zelda items to defeat them, such as using the bow to stun Gohma at the right moment, or using the hookshot to pull aeralfos out of the sky. Going up against other major story characters also require you to keep on your toes too. These are the characters who you can unlock and play as through the game, so they behave like you do, and are similarly powerful. If you don't pick your moments and make sure to avoid attacks, you can die pretty quickly to them. These more challenging enemies come up several times in each mission, so they are hardly a rare sight.
But even that is far from the whole story about how the gameplay pans out. For one thing, there's the reason why the abundance of weak enemies doesn't matter. They aren't there to pose a challenge. They're there to make you feel powerful. To create this sense that you are an unstoppable force in battle, able to tear through thousands of opponents with no problem, because that's exactly what you are. It's catharsis. A power trip. It also makes the enemies that do pose a threat to you feel more significant as a result.
Battles are far more than simply combat as well, especially once you play some of the harder missions in the game. You can't just tear through everything in your path, making a beeline for your objective. There's quite a lot of managing the battlefield too. You have to make sure your home base, or sometimes certain comrades, don't fall to the enemy. This can sometimes be a lot harder than it sounds. You need to be tactful about how you move across the level, and what you choose to do. You need to capture keeps around your home base, to create a barrier to raid parties, and to have more control over the battlefield as a whole. In some missions capturing more keeps means an enemy boss will be weakened too. Sometimes even the time that you capture a keep can be crucial. If you're stuck in a long boss fight while your base is getting taken over, you can fail a mission right at the last moment. It creates a quasi-metagame of controlling the level and judging what threats to deal with, and when.
That's not to say the reputation of this type of game is completely false though. Most of the time, combat is fairly mindless. While it's far from “press A until you win”, it's got nothing on something like Bayonetta. Although it's got enough going on to be engaging, and bosses add a decent amount of variation, it's still what I like to think of as a “podcast game”. Something ideal to play while listening to something else in the background. I find that it's still just as fun without that, but the game doesn't require particularly intense focus most of the time.
But even so, I've been kind of shocked at how undersold the game was by some. I know it has some differences from the usual Warriors formula, and I've even heard some fans of the series say that this is the best it's ever been. But I've also heard fans openly admit that these games are everything that their reputation would have us believe, and that there's no defending them. In the case of Hyrule Warriors at least, that is completely untrue.
Today I went to the first game convention I've ever been to. I went to Eurogamer, and it was really fun. And I played a bunch of games! Here's what I thought of them!
First thing I played was Bayonetta 2. As was the case with pretty much every game I played, I only got a short time with it and it wasn't in the best environment, given the loud, chaotic show floor. I played the section commonly seen in previews where you fight off enemies while on the back of a fighter plane flying through a city. It's definitely Bayonetta all right. Played nice and smooth, with great feeling, dazzling combat, as expected. It's a lot brighter and more colourful than the first game. It did look kind of pixelated though, in terms of resolution, but I think that was probably just because I had to stand really close to a big TV.
After that I had a go on Monster Hunter 4. First I jumped in to an already ongoing fight against some weird armoured crab thing, using a sword and shield. I'm not really familiar with that weapon's move set, so I wasn't really sure what I was doing. I also just kept bouncing off the shell of this crab monster anyway, even at full weapon sharpness, so I don't know what was going on there. But before I finished that, I was ushered on to a new hunt with some other people, where I got to pick my own weapon. Went for the longsword, and we went up against this odd shark/inflating frog thing. Very strange creature. It was a land creature, living in the desert, but looked like a shark with legs and it fired really powerful water jets. Occasionally it did a move where it would inflate its whole body and then bounce up in the air and land on people, and sometimes roll around too. The people at the booth were talking about how you could jump on enemies and hold on to them and attack, SotC style. But as with everything in Monster Hunter, it sounded really complex, and I was trying to focus on not dying.
Next I played Bloodborne. It's Dark Souls, but faster. It feels very similar, but movement is faster, control response is faster (Although still not as immediately responsive as say, Bayonetta. It still has that kind of deliberate, committed feel to it that the Souls games have), dodging is way faster, and fighting in general is faster. Looks great too, and I like how more aggressive it makes you with the lack of shield and the health regeneration mechanic. The enemies also have rather entertaining voice overs. I kept hearing very silly cockney accents telling me "I'm gonna smash you brain!" And the game still has no problem brutally blind-siding you when you're not careful too. I was doing relatively well, until I came to a group of enemies standing around a burning tree. I was doing all right taking them all on, until I got a bit too greedy and walked forward too far, and was one-shot killed by some enemy using a gun I didn't see.
Then after that I played The Crew. Honestly, that was a pretty big let-down. Well, I want to give it the benefit of the doubt, but it did not come across well in the demo I played. Controls were terribly laggy. It took way too long for cars to respond to steering input, and they continued on turning well after I has stopped pushing the stick too. Really disappointing. But I think that might have just been a problem with the build I played. I've seen a lot of footage of the game, and heard people talk about it, and I've never heard of this problem before. Also, I did notice the game was hitching up sometimes when I was waiting in line watching other people play. But regardless, I feel like my decision not to pre-order this game that I made a while ago was probably a good decision after that experience. I did it for other reasons before, but now I have one from actually playing the game.
Also, before I had a go on The Crew, I took a look over some people's shoulders who were playing Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. I never really liked the original game as much as I wanted to, so I was interested to see how this new one has been improved. Since I didn't actually play it, I can't say anything on gameplay, but it terms of graphics, I couldn't really tell any difference. Maybe it was a bit sharper and generally running better, but the game looked more or less exactly the same as the original. Definitely not comparable to what was done to spruce up Tomb Raider, and even that was only a marginal change. It didn't look like an 8th gen. game.
Later on I went back to Nintendo and played Splatoon. That was pretty fun, but controlled in quite an odd way. Shooting ink feels really good, with the rapid fire pops of the ink guns. The visuals are nice and bright too, although on a technical level they didn't seem like anything particularly noteworthy. But the strange thing was how you look around in the game. You can look right and left with the right stick, but you can't look up or down. For that, you have to tilt the gamepad. You can also look left and right with that too, but I preferred to stick with the, err, stick until I needed to actually look up or down. But that wasn't common, given how accuracy doesn't really matter in the game. Mechanics were really super simple too. All you have are your machine gun, a grenade-type throwable, and a bazooka power-up you get every so often. And there's the squid stuff too of course. So it seems the depth of this game isn't to be found in the actual combat between players, or variety of weapons, because there is none. It'll be down more to movement and control of space. It's quite deceptive in that sense. You jump in, you splat all the walls, and that kind of feels like that's all there is, but I'm sure there's way more to it if you come at it with a different mindset to the usual team-based shooter.
Then not long before the end of the day I had a go on Project Cars. Honestly, I was really surprised with how impressed I was with that game from the tiny bit I played. I've been wanting to like this game ever since it was first announced, but never really found anything to find appealing in it. But after actually playing it, I have to say the driving feel felt really good. Very intuitive with a good sense of visual feedback, etc., but I also felt like I had a really good sense of fine control over the game, even with all the driver aids turned on as I was forced to do in the demo. Feathering the throttle on the Dualshock 4 felt great, and the real-time telemetry readout the game gives you was a really nice visual cue as well. Very stylish looking HUD too, but still very functional. With all the aids turned on, the game felt surprisingly arcadey too. I was expecting it to feel quite a bit more hardcore, even in that state. It might have had something to do with the car I was driving, but I think this is a sim which people who don't usually play them will still be able to get on with well and find fun in. It's worth looking at if you like to play Forza casually, or maybe you like Project Gotham or the Grid games.
But talking about the Dualshock 4, after playing Bloodborne and Project Cars with it, I might even say that it's a superior controller to the Xbox One's pad. Those triggers are really seriously good. All the buttons are great actually, and the sticks feel so much better weighted.
Also, as I was lining up for Bayonetta, something pretty cool happened. I wore a Mega64 shirt to the show, and just as I got in line, Eric Baudour from Mega64 walked past and complimented my shirt! That certainly was a surprise.