The Essentials – Shadow Of The Colossus

by Kyle Hilliard on Mar 22, 2015 at 08:00 AM

For over a month now, Game Informer has been taking a look back at the video game industry's most important titles. Dubbed the Essentials, these games aren't just a ton of fun: Their quality, innovation, and industry influence make them must-play experiences for anyone who wants a greater appreciation of our interactive medium.

This weekend we're taking a look back at the game that took the idea of scale, world building, and emotional character interaction to a new level: Shadow of the Colossus.

Release Year: 2005
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Team Ico
Released For: PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3

Watch us play Shadow of the Colossus on a recent episode of Replay.

Whenever we get the opportunity to talk to a developer about their influences and favorite video game creators, Fumito Ueda is bound to be brought up in some way. He may not have as lengthy of a legacy as someone like Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, but Fumito Ueda’s work on Ico and Shadow of the Colossus showcased some of the best ways to present fantasy worlds, how character relationships can be fostered, and how large in scale boss battles could and should be.

The story of Shadow of the Colossus is a simple one: Players take on the role of Wander and enter a mysterious forbidden world in order to battle and destroy a collection of colossus creatures for the sake of a young woman named Mono. The reason these colossus creatures live in this wasteland, why this world is forbidden, and why Wander is so resolute in his journey are mostly left up to the players’ interpretation.

This is brilliant storytelling, and not just because a mystery is more compelling than an explanation. The ambiguity of the world, its inhabitants, and even your actions lets the player, who is actively participating in the experience, inject themselves into the game. You’re not passively watching a character try to solve a mystery – you, as Wander, are trying to figure out what is happening in the world and why you are doing what you are doing. It’s a way of telling a story that expertly uses the interactive medium of video games to a fantastic degree.

The actual gameplay portion of Shadow of the Colossus has Wander living up to his namesake and exploring a large barren world with his horse Agro in search of 16 gigantic colossus creatures that he must destroy. The world is beautiful even with now dated PlayStation 2 graphics. You could attribute the lack of wildlife or population of the open world to the limited capabilities of the PlayStation 2, and that may be true, but it ultimately favors the world’s atmosphere, lending it an air of disaster. Something is wrong with the world, and you get a pervading sense you are not supposed to be there. That unease permeates the entire game whether you are in mid-battle, or leisurely roaming the landscape.

Every encounter with a colossus is distinct and exciting. Some stand up as bipedal monsters while some gallop on four or more legs. Others must be defeated underwater, while a few are even capable of flight. Surveying fans of the game will often return a diverse selection of favorite colossus creatures as each one is carefully designed and paced to be interesting and fun in different ways. One of the most compelling aspects of taking out a colossus is it doesn’t feel like you’ve felled a monster – it feels like you’ve felled an ancient beast rudely awoken from slumber.

Hear one of the game's most memorable tracks.

The game’s soundtrack also stands out with pitch-perfect pacing and timing. Battling the colossus creatures is intense and the music only lends to the impossible scale of the monsters as they attempt to shake you from their bodies. But the music also expertly tones down when necessary, recognizing the need for quiet reflection after each battle and as you continue to map the world.

Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best examples of what a video game can accomplish with the overlap of gameplay and narrative. The two aspects complement one another expertly making Shadow of the Colossus one of the most memorable video games of its generation. Playing through the game is an experience you will retain. It will stay with you long after you’ve defeated the final colossus and discovered Wander and Mono’s fate.

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