‘Thy next foe is…’
Shadow of the Colossus is very much a fairy tale: it’s the story of a man named Wander, and his quest to resurrect the woman he loves. Stealing a sacred sword from his village, he flees with her to the Forbidden Land, a place where it is said lies the power to undo death. Within a great temple at the heart of the Forbidden land, an ancient god lies waiting. It offers Wander a task: to slay the sixteen Colossi, in exchange for the revival of his beloved.
The Colossi are spread across a vast waste; by holding your sword aloft, a guiding light shines forth to show the direction of the next foe, although the route to get there is rarely simple. It’s said that the journey is as important as the destination, and Shadow of the Colossus proves this wonderfully.
Going forth from the temple ‘hub’ of the game for the first time is almost dreamlike. The scenery is stark and beautiful, the desaturated colours and sweeping views remain stunning despite the slightly aged technology. The spreading desert before you is an eerie sight: it’s completely empty, the only signs of life are the rare lizard scuttling beneath a rock as you approach, and the hawks soaring high above you. One of the most marvellous things about these journeys is Wander’s horse, Agro: possibly the most real mount in any game. He’ll balk at cliffs, and steer himself down the obvious paths, requiring just an occasional tap of your heels to keep him moving, and because of this, your rides across the wasteland are a strangely soothing experience.
All journeys must end though, and as you draw near to the first Colossus, it’s clear Agro can accompany you no further; the light of your sword points to the top of a vertiginous cliff. The climb upwards is fraught with tension as you leap from ledge to ledge and shimmy along crevices in the rock, and it’s only made greater by the anticipation of what’s waiting at the summit.
Your first sight of a Colossus is something that will stay with you forever: a twelve story high behemoth of soil, grass and rock, jagged crenellations jutting from its back. As it looms above you, shining the light of your sword onto it will reveal glowing sigils, marking weak points on its massive body. Reaching these though, is no easy task. Grabbing a ledge formed at the back of the creature’s foot, you can strike at the weak spot upon its ankle, forcing it to its knees. When it staggers, there’s just enough time to grab its grassy beard and cling on as it throws its head back and roars in pain. The unique physics engine behind the game allows you to manœuvre across the Colossus with magnificent fluidity, running along its shoulders one moment, then holding tightly to its hair as it tosses its head to shake you loose. As the orchestral soundtrack swells and you make your way towards the giant’s forehead, it is an awe-inspiring spectacle unequalled in any game before or since; the sort of heroic battle usually relegated to a noninteractive cutscene. Finally, reaching the vulnerable spot, you plunge your sword in to the hilt. Black blood sprays forth, and the Colossus spasms in pain, before slowly falling with a thunderous rumble.
And that was only the first fight.
The Sixteen Colossi are widely varied, from the bipedal, club wielding Terrestris Veritas to the serpentine aquatic Draco Marinas, to the swooping, raptor-like Avis Predas. Each of them is a magnificent sight, their weird designs brought to life by the fantastic animations, and each of them is a fearsome struggle. They are the only enemies you will face, but the battles are unforgettable.
The stark contrast between the peaceful serenity of your journeys across the Forbidden Land, and the thunderous, epic violence of your battles with the Colossi bring home a sense of unparalleled scale; no other game would dare to have such a vast and empty world, nor have you face but sixteen foes, and no other game can equal the wonder of those rides or the drama of those clashes.
With each fight, Wander becomes more and more haggard and exhausted, and the journey to find the next Colossus lengthens. There’s no complex story behind it; he’s not going to save the world and no-one will call him a hero.
But for the sake of love, he’ll fight… and – because that’s the way the story goes – so will you.