Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Shadow of the Colossus: Post Mortem

The work of Fomito Ueada have influenced hundreds of indie developers over the past decade.  You can take a look at games like Journey, Papa and Yo, Monument Valley, and dozens of others and see the elements of the sleepy cult classic Ico and the blockbuster that is Shadow of the Colossus.  I never owned Shadow of the Colossus on PS2, due to a number of reasons.  With my love for Ico, it is a little weird that I never got the game and went through it without a moment's rest.  I knew from the word "go" that I would love this game, and it has not let me down.  Put in context of the year it was made, it did amazing things that we did not see implemented by western developers until well into the PS3 era.

The premise for this game is simple; you want to bring a young woman back to life that has been sacrificed for some reason that we are not told.  The main character, Wander, has taken an ancient blade to a forbidden area, and while there asks forbidden spirits to bring her back to life.  The spirits task Wander with killing 16 colossi that are represented by 16 statues that line the hall.  Each colossus is a level unto itself.  The methods to dispatch them is different with each, and the puzzles involved with figuring them out are mostly ingenious and intuitive.  The spirits will give you clues if you do not solve things for a while, but generally I find that with trial and error, you have more fun figuring it out.  In between fights, there are no other monsters or puzzles to figure out.  You are given this vast stretch of land with ruins and beautiful landscapes that are just there for you to discover on your own.  You may find yourself adding hours to your gameplay just exploring.

The graphics for the game have always been amazing, and the HD remake of it does not disappoint.  Because of the stylized artwork, nothing ever feels all that dated.  The plants, the sand, the water, all are done very beautifully.  There never needed to have large special effects because that is just not Team Ico's style.  Ueada pairs down the world to the most basics, but then adds beautiful little details into the world.  The horse, if left alone, will go and find water, or munch on the tallest grass in the area.  There are birds that soar through the air, and sometimes take an interest in following you.  The music, likewise, is paired down, leaving lots and lots of areas with no music at all, but there is still a soundtrack playing.  This soundtrack is that of nature.  A rustle of branches, a crunch of twig under foot, or the snort of a frustrated horse companion.  Even with no music, the world is alive with sound.

People may be let down by the small amount of story in Ueada's games, but I have always felt the entire world tells a story if you give it patience and curiosity.  In both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, we are given only enough to get our imaginations going.  We aren't told what the colossi are, we aren't told the relationship between the girl and Wander.  We are presented with ruined cities, dark spirits who tell no tales, and a world to explore.  The endings to the games are likewise vague, and generally if you have not played through Ico, you may be confused as to what a lot of it means.  There are still forum posts that have been going on since the turn of the millennium that discuss what these stories mean, and the vagueness is why there is such spirited discussion.  Never forget to watch and wait till the end of the credits on Ueada games, you get rewarded.

After all was said and done, I loved Shadow of the Colossus.  This series could have been Sony's Zelda equal if they had been able to keep focus with the team.  If I have complaints it is that a few bosses give you just enough guidance to steer you in the wrong direction.  On the opposite end, I do not like that you can't turn off the spirit's tips to defeating the colossi, as figuring out the game is the real fun for me.  People that use tips have the internet for spoiling things if they really wish.  Lastly, they do not tell you the "advanced" riding techniques to go with your horse, and I find that a real shame as I refused to look up things like that till I was done, and now I know there's a way to do quick stops, quick starts(omg I needed this one so bad) and 180 turns.

Shadow of the Colossus was great, every bit as great as people say.  There is a reason why it is a model for so many indie games, one of them being that Team Ico can't seem to get their shit together and make more games, but other reasons include that it exudes a simple style while being powerfully moving.  I want to go through and replay the colossi already and learn the better, quicker ways of beating them.  It is an urge to replay things that I have not had in a while.  There are just too many games to revisit some so soon, but with Shadow of the Colossi I will because it is immensely enjoyable to fight and defeat these creatures.

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