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The Memory Card .12: Wander's brave friend

11:24 AM on 08.16.2007 // Chad Concelmo

The theme of friendship is entirely prevalent, though commonly unnoticed, in the world of videogames. From Ratchet & Clank, to the entire epic casts of Final Fantasy, having two (or more) characters work together to reach a similar goal is almost becoming common practice.

Utilizing multiple characters on-screen (some separately playable, some controlled as one cohesive unit) is an extremely clever way for game designers to disguise deeper gameplay mechanics and present things like a broader story and more complex character interactions.

While most of these virtual friendships are somewhat shallow and only added for aesthetic purposes (as much as I love Daxter, his inclusion doesn’t really change the gameplay at all), once and a while an on-screen relationship comes along that is surprisingly meaningful and completely vital to everything you experience in the game.

One of the most original, heartfelt, and crucial relationships ever seen in a game is that of Wander and his horse Agro in Shadow of the Colossus for the PlayStation 2. Although no words are ever uttered between the two of them, they possess a friendship unlike any ever seen in the history of videogames.

Hit the jump to find out more about this everlasting bond and experience the heart wrenching moment that tears it all apart.

The Set-Up

If you have never played Shadow of the Colossus, please turn off your computer right now (I won’t be offended), grab a PlayStation 2 (with the game, of course), and be prepared to experience one of the greatest games to come out in the last decade. To put it mildly, Shadow is a true masterpiece and unlike anything you will ever play.

In the game, you play as Wander, a mysterious man given the seemingly impossible task of destroying sixteen Colossi that will supposedly save the life of the woman he loves.

Accompanying him on his journey is Agro, Wander’s horse and best friend in the world.

Not only is Agro used as an easy way to navigate the huge world, he is vital in many instances, assisting you in defeating some of the towering beasts and also playing the role of your only companion in the eerily lonesome world around you.

Shadow of the Colossus may be the only game in history to produce such a remarkable feeling of isolation while playing it. It is because of this that you become even more bonded and close to your horse companion. Having no one else to talk to or interact with is a surreal feeling (especially in the usually overpopulated world of videogames) and makes each moment Wander spends with his horse all the more important.

While Agro is not used during every Colossus battle, he is always there by your side, helping in any way he can to make sure your journey is victorious.

After defeating fifteen of the sixteen Colossi, Wander and Agro appear more bonded than ever, both exhausted and beaten from the epic battles they fought through.

Before heading off to fight the final Colossus, Wander stands at the foot of his love’s tomb and bids her farewell. He then mounts his noble steed, holds his sword above his head, and follows its blinding light towards the final confrontation.

Not knowing what will happen once the last Colossus is defeated, Wander just hopes that everything he has accomplished up to that point was not done in vain.

As a huge door opens in front of them (using the power of the fifteen fallen Colossi), Wander and Agro slowly make there way into the final area of the game. It is on the other side of this door, and right before meeting the sixteenth Colossus, when the next Memory Card moment occurs: Agro’s tragic fall.

The Moment

The final area of the game is a drab wasteland of ruined buildings and destroyed flora. Wander and Agro slowly make there way through, not even wasting time to notice the destruction and sadness all around them.

After making their way to the top of a high wall, the duo is presented with a long, unfinished bridge that leads to an old temple, the resting place of the final Colossus.

Like always, Agro shows no fear and immediately runs across the bridge, determined to help his friend Wander accomplish his greatest task yet.

As the two are crossing, the weathered bridge starts to collapse behind them. Immediately, Agro speeds up, trying with all his might to make it to the end of the constantly disappearing path beneath him.

A little more than halfway over the crumbling bridge, Agro realizes that he is not going to make it. Using a form of bravery not even found in most humans, the selfless horse bucks and tosses Wander in the air.

With a thud, Wander lands safely on the other side of the bridge, just in time to see his loyal Agro fall hundreds of feet into the chasm below.

Agro’s final whinny still ringing in his ears, Wander stands up, more determined than ever to defeat the final Colossus, save the woman he loves, and avenge his one and only courageous friend.

After a brief moment of silence, Wander journeys forth into the temple to experience his greatest battle yet, all alone for the first time.

You can experience the entire heartbreaking moment here, but, animal lovers, brace yourself:

The Impact

Hold on, let me pull myself together before I continue on …

The moment when Agro falls to his supposed death (I won’t ruin what happens at the end for those who haven’t played the game) hit me pretty hard the first time I played Shadow of the Colossus.

Agro is a completely innocent creature that is nothing but loyal and kind to your character throughout the entire game. He is always by Wander’s side, constantly helping him without ever hesitating (even running to you whenever you call his name).

When you run up to the unfinished bridge, heading to the final Colossus, you don’t even think twice about something tragic happening to you, let alone your beloved Agro. The game, up to that point, does not present any life-threatening challenges outside of fighting the towering Colossi (Agro is so smart that he prevents you from jumping off of cliffs or leaping into dangerous situations).

Although horribly tragic, the fact that the bridge sequence comes out of nowhere is one of the many reasons Shadow of the Colossus is such a masterpiece.

Just like in real life, things just kind of happen to you as you play the game, and you are forced to react accordingly. Shadow never holds your hand or points you in the right direction (well, besides your sword literally pointing you in the right direction, but that is explained within the structure of the story). Instead, the game presents a world full of as much mystery, blind exploration, and unexpected tragedy as our own.

I loved Epona in all of the Zelda games, but I never felt the same kind of bond with that horse as I did with Agro. Maybe it is the fact that Agro is the only other friendly creature you encounter in the whole game? Maybe it is because Agro is so much more than just a mode of transportation? Whatever the reason, by the time you get to the very end of the game you care for Agro as much (if not more) than you do for main character Wander.

Watching it unfold before my eyes for the first time, as the bridge collapsed and Agro was gone, it literally took me a few seconds to comprehend what had just happened.

Did the horse I had been riding the entire game (and completely bonded with) just fall to its death, leaving me all alone? Seriously, did that really just happen? Yes, yes it did. And even though it is such a sad thing to witness, somehow the moment feels right and perfect for propelling that part of the story forward. Yet another reason Shadow of the Colossus transcends most other videogames of its type: every beat in the game feels completely true to life.

I know I say it a lot in this series, but watch the video again if you have to and pay attention to the amazing direction in the scene (I am on a one man pilgrimage to show videogame directors the respect they most definitely deserve). Like most games, even the slightest shift in something as seemingly unimportant as music or camera angles can completely change the overall tone and/or meaning of a sequence.

Notice how there is no music once the bridge starts collapsing. Adding to the game’s realism (relatively speaking, of course), this creative choice surprises your senses and makes the moment all the more unexpected. If music (which is almost non-existent through the entire game) started playing as you reached the bridge, the player would most likely prepare themselves for something out of the ordinary.

To add a final punch to the emotional event that is already happening, the game designers decided to fade in some soft, ghostly music right as Agro lets out his final whinny before plummeting into the river far below (it’s as if the whinny becomes the music – a stunningly beautiful choice, in my opinion).

Man, the sound of that whinny still gets stuck in my head today. It is a totally tragic, completely wordless cry that shoots right to my heart each and every time I hear it.

Shadow of the Colossus is quite simply one of my favorite games of all time. It is a beautiful masterpiece that I will constantly revisit for years to come.

The entire game is gorgeous, but the specific sequence when Agro falls from the bridge is what I will remember the most and is a true testament to the power of pure visual storytelling. It is a haunting scene that will always remain one of the greatest videogame moments of all time.

The Memory Card Save Files

Chad Concelmo,
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