Shadow of the Colossus
Developer: Bluepoint Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Copy Purchased By Reviewer
The first time I played Shadow of the Colossus was one of the earliest video game memories I have. I can’t remember exactly when it was; it was one of those memories so tenuous you’re not sure if it even happened. It can’t have been much longer than a year or two after the game’s release in 2005, though.
I would’ve been around 10 years old. I was a really nerdy kid, more in tune with my personality than the years that would follow, but it still didn’t earn me any friends. At that age my favorite outfit was an oversized, short-sleeved, light blue, silk button-up shirt with two large dragons emblematized on it (likely influenced by my father’s love of dragons) and a pair of corduroys. My favorite books were the Fullmetal Alchemist light novels and you better believe I gave a presentation accompanied with a diorama on them.
I wasn’t an unhappy kid, that would come later. I simply didn’t understand it wasn’t acceptable to be friendless at that age. When I went to a classmate’s birthday party at the bowling alley because he invited the whole class, I didn’t know that it was a courtesy, that I shouldn’t really go because I had never spoken to him before. When a kid there who was actually the birthday boy’s friend asked me what I was doing there, I replied with a genuine “what do you mean?”
The Cool Kid
Meanwhile, Shadow of the Colossus was the coolest kid in school.
It would’ve talked to everyone during lunch and always would’ve been picked first for team sports in gym. Sure, it moved a little funny and its eyes occasionally got caught on geometry, but man it had style.
The camera angles, variety of its landscapes, vastness, sense of scale, and don’t even get me started on that story. It made you think it was simple, but you knew there was more to it.
It was a masterpiece. Just about everyone loved it, including me.
Hanging With Popular People
I used to sleep over at my aunt’s house sometimes. My cousin owned a PS2 that was kept in the basement and all of what would grow to be some of my favorite games: Kingdom Hearts, Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, and of course, Shadow of the Colossus.
I would always wake up much earlier than him and felt uncomfortable playing without his permission, so I would mosy around for hours waiting for him. When I wouldn’t ask if I could watch him play World of Warcraft, I would ask about the PlayStation 2.
He never said no to the PlayStation 2.
I had never seen anything like Shadow of the Colossus, nobody had. I didn’t even fully understand what I was experiencing and still loved it.
I don’t remember what I felt playing it for the first time, I just know that I had fun. That is, until I ran into Dirge.
Anyone who’s played Shadow of the Colossus knows that it's a bit puzzle-y. Each colossus has a weak point called a sigil somewhere on its body that you have to find and figure out how to reach. Dirge, the 10th colossus, was simply too much for my mind and heart to take.
It lay in a desolate cave with a floor made of sand. Like a snake stalking its prey, it burst out from underneath once the protagonist, Wander, makes his way into the center of the cave. An orchestra ramped up and you had to react quickly. There was no way to beat Dirge without your horse, Agro, it simply moved too fast. Beating it involved galloping away at full speed with Dirge at your heels and shooting an arrow backwards into its eye, causing it to slam into a wall and reveal its sigil. Alas, I was never able to figure this out under pressure, and Shadow of the Colossus and I wouldn’t see each other again for a while.
Revisiting an Old Acquaintance
I successfully survived high school. I made it through years of minor bullying, unrequited love, and again a pretty low quantity of friends. At some point during middle school I decided that if I ever wanted to make friends, I obviously had to start acting like a different person. And you know what, it actually (sort of) worked!
I didn’t actually like any of my friends, though. How could I? My relationships were based on faking that I had things in common with people I had nothing in common with. Plus, faking it still didn’t prevent me from crushing mega hard on this girl who had no feelings for me. She was cool with being friends and telling me all of her wonderful explorations into the world of high school sex, though. Safe to say, I was a pretty sad boy.
Around junior year I decided that I was being an idiot and started being more true to myself. I lost a lot of “friends,” but man I was happier.
Turns out I was basically the same person going into my second experience with Shadow of the Colossus as the first.
It was a day like any other my freshman year of college. I actually had free time back then, so I perused for some PlayStation 2 classics on my PlayStation 3. Lo and behold, there was Shadow of the Colossus for $10. I immediately bought it and started playing not long after.
Everything felt...similar. I knew it looked slightly better than my memories of the original, but besides that and a few minor control updates, it was all familiar territory. It seemed I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t changed much in all those years.
We both had one significant change, however. Shadow of the Colossus changed a core mechanic of itself like I did. It changed how colossi shaking affects Wander’s balance, I became more aware; I had a better idea of myself and the world around me. (As much as an 18 year old could. It’s relative okay?) More importantly, I had the capacity to beat Dirge.
Valus, Quadratus, Gaius, Phaedra, Avion, Barba, Hydrus, Kuromori, and Basaran all fell before me. Like revisiting a pool after growing a few feet, none of them filled me with the same anxiety they used to.
It was time. I confidently strode to the center of that cave and watched as my old foe arose from the sand. I dashed to Agro as quick as I could, spurring her into full speed. After being thrown from her back a few times, I eventually deciphered that Dirge’s eyes are big and glowy; that means something in video games right? After fumbling with trying to press six different buttons at once and getting flung from Agro a few more times, I nailed Dirge right in the pupil, exacting my revenge.
The rest of the game honestly felt pretty easy in comparison. I proceeded to play through a few more times over the course of several months, making sure to complete every time attack challenge and climb up to the secret garden.
I finally understood what everyone had experienced. The soundtrack, quiet treks to colossi, it was alluring in every way. Then, disaster struck.
During a bed bug incident a couple years back my PlayStation 3 was compromised. I was left with no other option but tossing it in a dumpster. I thought I would never play Shadow of the Colossus again.
And then E3 2017 happened.
The Final Chapter
I’m now in my final semester of college. School has always felt safe to me. Sure it’s been annoying, but it’s also been a linear path for me to follow so I wouldn’t get lost. I’ve always known where to go. With graduation looming, that footpath is gradually becoming wider. I can see the end of it now, and it opens up into an extensive countryside with no clear directions, just open land to wander.
The imagery of my life during school being the bridge to the Forbidden Lands is painfully clear. I wonder how Wander felt crossing that bridge. Was he afraid because he didn’t know what to expect at its end? Or was he simply exhilarated to get off the damned thing and have some freedom? If he’s anything like me, there was an equal amount of both.
I was pumped when that E3 trailer dropped last year. And then I forgot about it for half a year. That’s what happens when you have responsibilities. But when I remembered it was coming out a few weeks ago I got re-pumped again!
And I haven’t been disappointed.
My experience with Bluepoint Games’s remaster of Shadow of the Colossus has felt a lot like what I imagine high school reunions feel like. Before the title screen appears, a short cutscene plays of Wander’s journey into the Forbidden Lands. It’s clear that Shadow of the Colossus was trying to show off a little bit with the way everything was shot, almost as if saying “Hey, look what I can do with this hardware, nobody can do this.” It’s like it was stomping around in its new light-up Sketchers. That feel definitely remains, but now it’s more like it’s pulling up in an expensive car, model spouse on its arm, saying “Hey, remember me? Look at me now.”
A big, luminescent full moon previously hidden by clouds, meekly peeking out to offer some light and panning shots of forests illuminated by distinct rays from a bright rising sun, this is what the new Shadow of the Colossus has to offer. It’s not showing anything new or different, just a better version of what I’ve always known.
Right off the bat I fiddled around with the main menu to see what else it had to offer me. It’s all standard stuff, a photo gallery and camera mode. The camera mode is utterly fantastic. For a game that basically had a built-in camera mode with all of its cinematic angles, the ability to actually stop the game and frame these picturesque moments is natural. Like all camera modes it takes a bit of getting used to. Also added are a series of filters you can apply for the entire game. Wanna see what soaring through the sky on the wings of a gargantuan bird looks like at night? Now you can.
I wasn’t sure what was going to be changed beyond the visual upgrades and some control alterations, if anything. I kept cross referencing cutscenes to make sure no new lines of dialogue or background details had been added and I think I can safely say it’s all the same, besides the addition of a new collectible.
So the only significant differences are the visuals and a little bit of control alteration. Don’t people get mad when developers do that? Why aren’t more people mad about this?
Well, this isn’t your typical HD remake. Bluepoint really revisualized everything from the ground up instead of just slapping a layer of HD on it like paint.
The lighting has been completely rehauled. Instead of a static sky that provides (mostly drab) lighting based on where you are on the map, there’s now dynamic lighting that changes depending on the positioning of clouds. Given how much time you spend galloping across the map in this game, this is a super neat and absolutely gorgeous feature. Depending on where you go there can also be quite a few trees, allowing for some really beautiful god ray effects.
I wasn’t aware of this change until I saw it myself. I had spoken to Dormin and gotten my quest. I knew exactly where to go, what to do. But on my way to Valus, things changed. The experience I had known so well for so long was fundamentally the same in that I knew I wouldn’t get lost, but it felt completely different. It was like I knew everything about who Shadow of the Colossus was, and still is, but seeing from afar now, it couldn’t help but feel different.
As I started climbing my way up a rock face to reach Valus, I started noticing the funny way Shadow of the Colossus moved and that clunky eye that always got caught on things. At its core it’s still itself, despite the control changes it’s presenting to everyone.
Not only that, but it feels more like what it was trying to be now than it used to. Most people who know Shadow of the Colossus are familiar with the motif that maybe Wander isn’t the good guy here, and maybe hunting these creatures who would do you no harm if you didn’t antagonize them or encroach on their space isn’t something a hero would do.
I never really got this feeling from the past two versions. The colossi always struck me as being more of stone and earth than animal. There were a few exceptions, but generally I didn’t feel remorse for my actions. Now, you ask? Now I feel remorse.
I ran towards Valus as I’ve done plenty of times before, whistling to get his attention. But as I went to scale him I noticed a few things. First, he looks way bigger now, somehow everything does in this remaster. I felt more puny and helpless than I ever did on the PlayStation 3, almost as if I was 10 years old again in my aunt’s basement. Second, that muddy texture that covered his body, what I’m used to climbing on, it sure looks a lot like fur now. It actually moves in the wind! Regardless, I still must do what I must do. I climb up to the back of his calf, posture up, and give him everything I’ve got. Instead of the typical monstrous grunt I’ve gotten as a response in the past I get something higher pitched, almost like a yelp.
There are a couple of other neat little improvements to colossi and their patterns that have been made to reduce the frustration sometimes caused by the camera and controls. It no longer feels like making a mistake is the end of the world or that fixing it will be more trouble than it’s worth. It no longer feels like I should just give up.
Since my second encounter with Shadow of the Colossus, I’ve learned a great deal about control in that I don’t have as much as I used to think. I’m not powerless to influence my future, but there are some things that are just going to happen and getting mad at them won’t change anything. I’m going to continue changing and producing new iterations of myself. Hopefully most will be improvements, but we all know that doesn’t always happen.
This is where I hope Shadow of the Colossus and I part ways. I don’t want to continue seeing new versions of it, because eventually the progress it makes won’t be what I once saw.
Overall this is still the same game. The primary difference is still just a graphical upgrade, no matter how nice it may be. People have plenty of justification to be upset with the torrent of HD remakes lately, but the justification they have doesn’t seem to apply here. And that’s because I accept Shadow of the Colossus the way I accept myself.
No matter how much I may change in life, at my core I will always remain the same person. When I first played Shadow of the Colossus I was a nerdy, lonely, but happy kid. I accepted myself. Things have changed, sure. I don’t wear corduroys and oversized, short-sleeved, light blue, silk button-up shirt with two large dragons emblematized on it. But there’s no pretending, I’m still a big nerd who sometimes feels lonely, and I accept that that’s who I am. I’ve held onto obsolete things like Shadow of the Colossus holds onto its shrines because they’re a part of me. I no longer mask superficial changes as becoming a different person.
Since I was 10 years old, I’ve made efforts to wholeheartedly better myself while keeping what makes me, me. And that’s something I’ll always share with my dear old friend. Cheers to you, Shadow of the Colossus, it was nice seeing you again.