I posted this about an hour ago, and upon inspection I realized that it didn't really fit the theme, so I hid it. But then again I spent 2 effing hours on it and damn it I shall post, this time with the convenient addition of the word NOT.
Longest title ever. Needless to say I was enthralled by this month's musing theme. Whomever was in charge of the subject had the decency to leave it relatively open-ended for that I was thankful, I had to do a write-up...
Then the indecision set in. My first thought was Big Boss, and though I consider his character arc to be one of the most impressive in games -it helps that he actually has one- I then realized that I don't necessarily relate to the man, possibly empathize (play portable ops, after you defeat the metal gear; you'd go mad too). I flirted with the possibility of an ironic Marcus Fenix work. Fail. I chose to contribute something that may actually be of worth...
To those of you who have not yet played this game, first of all shame on you, I'm going to keep it as spoiler-free as possible. You play as Wander, and wander is what you'll do </cheese>. After placing a deceased young woman (Mono) atop an altar of sorts, you (Wander) are prompted by an omnipresent disembodied voice who can apparently resurrect the dead, and it shall, if only you defeat sixteen colossi. As is the case with most games, you do not question it. Why would you? You have been given an objective, and you proceed.
Almost seamlessly the HUD appears and the game begins, Agro approaches and you ride away from the shrine. I, for one, was amazed at what I saw then: no overworld, no enemies, no random encounters, only a vast expanse for you to navigate with the help of an enchanted sword, a bow, and your horse, no more. This is where you get a feel for the game. Wander is not a knight sent to rescue this young girl, nor is he a "chosen one" on mission to save the world (thankfully, he isn't a space marine either). Wander is merely Wander, a young man with lackluster sword skills, a loyal yet fiendishly difficult to control horse, and most notably an awkward gait. A lot has been said about these character traits, and a lot of people were turned off, though I believe them to be the most endearing. The manner in which Wander and Agro control (and that is sloppily) seem to magnify the idea that Wander is not
Naked Snake, nor is he Cecil, nor is he Link for that matter, he is us
. Unless you actually are a Marine, a CIA operative, or Dark Knight turned Paladin you really shouldn't identify with your video game characters too much outside general themes and possibly philosophies. Otherwise, many (most?) gamers' connections with characters run along the lines of "he's a bad-ass" or "I like her story," in the latter case a character's story may touch you and you may have had a similar experience, but Wander is different in that he is so flawed (relative to other video game characters) that he actually seems human, and not even a strong one at that. I identified with Wander for his Human qualities not his abilities. Simply put: the controls in this game are bad and it makes the game better.
Now, I must say that Wander has almost no backstory. All we know is that he traveled to this forbidden realm to revive Mono. This makes it hard for one to describe his character. One could ascribe to him the "Gordon Freeman character model" and say that you are Wander, and it fits to a degree. Though I prefer him simply as Wander the insubstantial little man who will singlehandedly slay sixteen colossus. There are no valiant tales to tell about him, no tragic childhood to recount, nothing. All there is, is Wander and for some reason you care
Much of the criticism levied against the game is what also makes this game and its characters great. I believe Team Ico designed this game to promote one thing above all, that is introspection. The amount of ground you have to cover between colossi (most of which is just open area with nothing to interact with, save a lizard or two) puts the emphasis on you and what you are making Wander do, the feeling of isolation that this forbidden land instills is overwhelming, yet Wander looks on with stoical determination. Many cited the cyclical nature of the game's progression and thought it to be repetitive, which I believe to be to it's advantage, our poor Wander must traverse these lands over and over only to return to the shrine once more and do it all over; the mechanic reminds you why (the girl on the altar) Wander is in this forbidden land -it's not just a killing spree- and it never lets you forget why.
The entire game controls rather loosely with Wander ,whilst scaling these colossi, flailing about, attempting to stab and losing his grip, eternally trying to catch his breath. Five or so colossi in I could barely stand it any more I knew that Wander's quest was an ill-founded one, and I still played, for him. There is something about the wayward hero that warrants your sympathy, perhaps it's the fact he seems so vulnerable and is dwarfed not only be the colossi, but the land itself. The little voice present in most gamers cheers on the underdog and makes the underdog do terrible things.
You see, this game employs an underlying theme similar to that Bioshock
; as both the character and the gamer you are told what to do, and you will
do it. "A man chooses, a slave obeys" It's a trap of sorts, the only way to advance in the game is to obey, although to whom are you paying credence? Is the omnipresent voice a just one?
The colossi, as evidenced by every screenshot you've seen of this game, are beautiful and seeing them in motion you can't describe them as anything short of elegant, and upon defeating each colossus, there's an interesting dichotomy in the emotions you feel. There is of course the obligatory sense of relief and accomplishment that comes with almost every other boss battle in any other game. But, save a few exceptions (MGS3 and The Boss, for one) never have I felt guilt in game like I do whenever I slay a colossus. Team Ico, while they propel you into battle with a triumphal battle theme, they let you know as the colossus falls that you are to blame [cue the elegiac death music] and they make you watch it in slow motion. The amount of empathy that this game requires of you is taxing. The question to ask is who do you care more about, Wander or The Colossus?
I have no answer.
-Now, I've been writing this for the last couple of hours or so and I realized that this post reads more like a desperate appeal to get those who have not played this game to play it and less like the character sketch I wanted it to be. I've decided to post it anyway. The fact is the only way you can truly appreciate Wander is by playing as him.