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I Was An Idiot for Not Loving Shadow of the Colossus Before


Remember when your parents dropped the phrase “You will understand when you’re older?” or some variation of that. Sure, I hated it as much as the next teenager, but I can’t help but notice it’s true in many ways. The brain is a complex beast that likes to change and grow. Even into your twenties that brain is still developing news synapses and all that jazz. Well besides normal life stuff that brain growth often affects taste and appreciation for games. Some games are like fine wine and only get better with age.

I missed Shadow of the Colossus back when it came out because I didn’t have a Playstation at the time. Years later I tried it when it came to PS3 but it never clicked with me. Maybe it was the blown speaker that screamed whenever a Colossus came on screen, but I chalk it up to something more. Let’s be honest nobody wants to read about a blown speaker. Now that I’ve picked up a copy of the game and started giving it a real shot I noticed something about my last experience with it. I just was just not old enough to appreciate it. Not to say there is some magical age where games make more sense. Rather sometimes games just don’t click at certain times.

I held onto the game for years but finally sold it with my Playstation 3 (stupid rent payments).Fast-forward to me listening to a podcast talking about the game three years later. Now more than ever it sounds exactly like something I would appreciate. After tracking down a copy at a local used game store, I dusted off my PS2 and dived in. First of all playing the thing on a PS2 is interesting. It looks great, but it felt like the game was just begging to be on PS3 in the first place. Regardless the game grabbed me, and despite the complaints I had back in 2011 still being present, I now understand and appreciate all of those things.  

Reading multiple books by the same author is always fascinating to me. Seeing an author develop a style and a mark that sets their books apart from others is awesome. Sometimes you can even go through their timeline of work and see how certain stylistic choices and flairs develop. A great example of this is reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, and Tender is the Night. In Paradise, his style is much less developed, and the language is less musical. What is gained though is a clarity that doesn’t exist in his other novels. Gatsby strikes a great middle ground of still being a very concise story, but with language that flows like a song. Finally we get to Tender and the language goes too far in the other direction. The book is still fantastic, but it almost seems like he was up his own ass a little too much. If you haven’t read those then use Peter Jackson’s movies and you will see the same progression.

Games do the same thing. Playing Ico and Shadow even if only briefly shows the kind of style Team Ico exhibits. Both Wanderer and Ico move in a very distinct way. It feels less like typical videogame movement and more organic. They feel less like models moving across a plain and more like real people. It reminds me of Drake’s movement in Uncharted, though filtered through Studio Japan’s unique sensibilities. This always threw me off when I was younger, but now I totally appreciate that movement and what it lends to these games. The horse in Shadow does a similar thing. Going back to another example, Epona in Ocarina of time is directly controlled by the player when Link rides her. Move a certain direction and Epona will adjust just like any other character would. Agro doesn’t do this, she (he?) is never in your control. The player always controls the wanderer, and Agro simply reacts to Wanderer steering her (him?) in a direction. At first this can feel odd, but that simple element adds to the companionship the player feels to Agro. She isn’t just a tool used to  topple Colossi, rather she is another character inhabiting this all too lonely world. If she stops seconds before reaching the edge of a large cliff, or veers left to avoid a tree it feels like a second character who is concerned not only for Wanderer but also for herself. Sure, it can be jarring before the player is accustomed to it, but it adds so much more than direct control over Agro would.

These are only small aspects that otherwise make a tremendous game. SOTC does things that no other game has before, and few if any have done since. Sure one can argue Monster Hunter is also a game about fighting bosses, but SOTC is vastly different. Both share a sense of discovery that comes with studying boss patterns and learning how to overcome them. SOTC though doesn’t use the threat of death as a major deterrent. In fact I can’t remember ever dying more than once or twice. The bosses are less like large threats and more levels. In the same way a normal level is designed to teach and test the player on the mechanics of the game, Shadow uses the very act of scaling and stabbing a giant Colossus to death as its level design. Each creature is very different, and the player must use what they have learned before coupled with something new to defeat each creature. If they fall off or get stepped on once and awhile it serves as more of a learning tool and less like failure.

SOTC is also an open world game, but nothing like Witcher or Grand Theft Auto. Shadow is a mostly empty world. They throw a few lizards and birds for the player to shoot down, but otherwise the world is empty of anything besides the task at hand. In a modern game scene we would criticize an open world for being devoid of any NPC’s or extra activities; yet Shadow feels very refreshing. After putting many hours into Witcher 3’s many activities it felt so great to play an open world game that doesn’t have any of that. Instead the world serves to create an atmosphere. SOTC is a very lonely game. The way the environment seems to stretch on forever, yet Wanderer, Agro, and a few Colossi are the only living inhabitants. It feels so much larger than the player. So many video games make the protagonist the center of the world, or at least the center of what’s going on. That makes sense, and often adds to the feeling of empowerment many games revel in. Shadow again doesn’t do any of that. Wanderer jumps on his horse and the two ride towards the sun looking for their next target. The camera pulls back and angles in such a way that both characters take up very little  space in the bottom corner of the screen. Most of the space is dedicated to a landscape shot, sort of like a painting or an establishing shot from Lord of the Rings. It’s a very interesting effect, and pair that with the idea that every adversary in the game is huge and largely indifferent to the player’s presence it feels like suddenly this game isn’t about you. Sort of like a weird existential trip into gaming. SOTC more than any other game I’ve played makes me feel like my character is irrelevant, and the world would go on largely the same without him, albeit with a few more Colossi prowling around.

These are all things I never appreciated when I played the game a few years ago. Now, all that stuff makes more sense to me and suddenly this game is a masterpiece. I would even put this in my list of all time favourites, much like everyone else who loved it. I’m not saying every game will have this, but more than ever I’m interested in revisiting games that I didn’t get into before, and games I loved and see what holds up and what doesn’t. Going back to old games is much like going back to old movies. Sure the time they were made is going to greatly change how we experience them in the modern age. Some movies though remain timeless, and we can all look past their limitations and appreciate everything the movies set out to do. SOTC is that for me in games. Sure it has aged in terms of technology, but everything the game set out to do remains accomplished. It even feels fresh and new thanks to a big shift in the popularity in open world games today. Also, I was a big dumb idiot for not playing and enjoying it before.

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About SubparLobsterone of us since 5:49 PM on 09.13.2014

Hey guys!
Although I hail from the dubious land of Canada, I am currently residing in the States. I study English at a University, and spend all my other time playing games, reading books and comics, and watching movies (yeah I have a job but I'm not going to talk about that here). I love everything to do with Horror movies, games, books, and creepy imagery. I'm also a big fan of post-apocalyptic dudes driving cars in spiked underwear, and the classical musings of Billie Holiday and Animal Collective. Hit me up on Twitter if you ever want to chat, I would love to talk about just about anything!