January 02, 2014

That's A Wrap: Shadow of the Colossus

warning: may contain spoilers

The beauty of Shadow of the Colossus is that it's an incredibly simple game. I remember the first time I played SotC on PS2, thinking, "it's gotta get more complicated soon," but it never does! This time around I played the HD remaster of SotC on the PS3 for the first time, as finding a copy for the PS2 can be pretty tricky these days. I have no idea what happened to my copy, but I played this game plenty back in the day.

I think many Colossus fans would argue that this game was ironically? waaay ahead of its time at release in 2005, on the Playstation 2, so playing it all straightened up on PS3 was quite the experience. I didn't notice any major changes in the game, except that the graphics are entirely cleaned up and of course, you get trophies. It really looks fantastic on the PS3 and the improved frame rate helps you get a better handle on the game - sometimes literally. The setting is still true to the game: a largely barren wasteland of ruins with patches of lush oasis… navigating this gorgeous, massive world is a joy.

In a strange contrast to the game's visual, the soundtrack is actually quite saturated. The music is played to you by a wonderful orchestra and the songs are rich and brilliant.

The game also has voice acting, which is varied and suitable, even though the entire game is conveyed to you through a made up language - an interesting choice - and may remind you of the game's spiritual companion, ICO.

The cast of SotC is simple as well; you begin with Wander, arguably the "hero," and use him to climb and takedown each colossus. With Wander is Argo, your faithful steed, who comes to your aid at but a whistle. Argo possesses no abilities except running and jumping, but he helps make your travels shorter and gives you some added height when you need it.
Mono is apparently the name of the maiden - I'm not sure if this is actually disclosed in the game but a simple google search sorts it. You learn virtually nothing about Mono, except that she was the victim of sacrifice and believed to be cursed. She, of course, lays dormant until the end of the game, and merely serves as your motivation.
Dormin is the scary voice with whom you make your deal (we're getting there…). All you learn before your journey is that he has the power to resurrect Mono, but at great cost to Wander. He does not have any physical appearance, you simply access him from a shrine in the middle of the forbidden land.
Lastly is Emon and his band of spell casting priests who appear at the end of the game to clear up some of the plot holes.

Wander… well, he wanders into the forbidden land in the hope that the rumored deity there will reunite a maiden with her soul after she is sacrificed. As Wander possesses the ancient sword (which he apparently stole), the powerful Dormin agrees to revive her if Wander will first destroy the various colossi that inhabit the land, which - it turns out - all harbor a piece of Dormin, preventing him from returning to his physical form. The rest of the game is quite simply you journeying to the corners of the forbidden land to take down said colossi, to slowly but surely reunite with your lady friend at any cost.
But you're not alone! In addition to the handy-dandy ancient sword that shows you the way via a neat hardware integration, in which the Dualshock 2/3 controller vibrates when you're pointed the right direction, you have your trusty four-legged friend Argo. Argo helps you navigate the huge land at a quicker pace and can sometimes help you defeat the trickier colossi.

SotC gameplay consists entirely of tracking down and defeating the 16 colossi. To do this, you first receive a clue from Dormin, consult your map and then set out from the temple with Argo into the forbidden land, using your sword - by pressing triangle* - which emits a bright beam of light, and when pointed in the direction of the colossus you are seeking, your Dualshock controller will vibrate - to locate the colossus.
Once you've found your target you're treated to a short cutscene and the battle begins. The colossi grow in challenge as the game progresses; the first is simply a matter or climbing and stabbing, while the later colossi require strategy, timing and puzzle solving. After that, it's just a matter of locating the glowing seal (sometimes two or three) and getting a few good, charged stabs in with your ancient sword, which must be equipped for the seal to reveal itself. Wander also comes equipped with a bow and arrows, which are sometimes necessary for you to conquer your colossus, but the sword must be used to eliminate the seals.
The glowing seal marks the weak spot on each colossus. You must stab this area to deplete the boss' health meter (top left).
Afterward, you're treated to another short scene in which vine-like shadows seem to possess Wander, and you wake up back at the temple to see the idol that symbolizes the colossus destroyed, and Dormin will greet you with another mission. Lather, since, repeat.
*I edited my controller map to suit me, and I can't recall if this is the default command or my choice. You are tutored in controls in the game though, so don't fret!

Controls in SotC are by far the game's worst quality.
The jump button also serves as your command to climb onto Argo, and you have to be lined up just so in order for it to succeed. It always takes me a few tries to finally climb aboard. In some scenarios, time is of the essence, so this control fumble gets to be extremely frustrating.
Additionally, while riding Argo you're faced with some pretty awful camera work. The camera will almost always pull away to an awkward angle and you will fight it while steering Argo which is also a pretty laborious task.
Other than that, the controls, like the rest of the game, are exceedingly simple. Your buttons are used to jump, attack, use the ancient sword's light beam and summon Argo. Your left stick controls Wander while your right controls the atrocious camera. You use one side of your D-pad to equip a different weapon (sword, bow or bare hand) and you access your handy map via the start button. Lastly, you use R1 to hold onto things. This is by far the most important command in the game as most of it is spent climbing things… like the colossi. Your ability to hang on is indicated by a pink circle at the bottom-right of the screen, above your health meter and adjacent to the equipment symbol. This circle shrinks as Wander loses grip. Of course, once the circle disappears, Wander is no long able to hold on and you will fall and oftentimes lose a ton of health. The same pink circle is used briefly to help you gauge your attack "charge". Basically, the longer you are able to hold your sword over a colossus' seal before finally piercing it, the more powerful the attack. The circle will host a white ring within it while your attack is charging, and once it has encompassed the entire pink circle, you are able to release your most powerful stab. This activity is hindered by the colossus' movements, and they will make every effort to shake you off before you are able to stab them.
All in all, I'm saddened that the HD remake of SotC didn't include some control revamping, but like all games, you get used to it with time and in the end, it's a tiny blemish on an otherwise amazing game.

Once you are acquainted with the controls, the game is manageable on normal mode, and you have no choice in the matter until you've beaten then game at which point hard mode is unlocked. As I said before, the colossi grow in challenge and sometimes it takes a little extra time to figure out how to approach the task at hand, but I consider this expected difficulty, considering the design of the game. If you're a pro strategist, the real challenge of the game lies in locating the colossi, and silly things like climbing onto Argo.

It took me a little less than 8 hours to beat SotC, but we must take into account that I've played this game countless times before and I remember a great deal of it. For someone playing for the first time, I would expect it take you at least 10 hours or more without a guide. Personally I think playing this game for the first time with a guide or walkthrough would be sacrilege, and would totally negate the enjoyment of the game and the satisfaction you get after defeating your foes.

In case it wasn't iterated clearly throughout this blog, SotC is a very minimalist game. If you're the kind of gamer who enjoys complex dungeons, a multitude of battles and grinding, complicated gameplay or complex narratives with an abundance of dialogue, this is not the game for you. If however you're in need of a break from these things, SotC is a fantastic, beautiful, SIMPLE game to chew up a few hours of your time. The challenge lies in discovering the colossi and investigating ways to defeat them. It's not your typical "top shelf game," but what it does offer, it offers some of the best. I adore this game and will replay it over and over again.

  • The game offers plenty of things for you to do… after you beat it. You can unlock hard mode and time attack mode - which warrants you new items, making the game much more interesting.
  • There are a number of "secrets" and easter eggs to be found in the game, if you're willing to put in the time. These include things like giving Argo a makeover (unconfirmed in PS3 version). 
  • In addition to the game asking you to save after each colossus, there are save points scattered throughout the land, which are a good idea if you've been exploring for long periods of time. They take the shape of what my friend calls "vending machines." You will be shown how to use one in the early game tutorials, so keep an eye out for curious shrines in your travels!
  • If you should happen across a fruitful tree or unsuspecting white lizard… eat it.
  • If you're feeling the itch to conquer a colossus a second time, revisit its pile-of-ruins in the same place you found it previously. You can pray to the rubble, allowing you to battle the colossus once more!

1 comment:

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