Shadow of the Colossus turns 15 - article

Shadow of the Colossus turns 15 - article
A galloping horseman on a steed raises his sword to the sky. The blade captures the sunlight, the reflected ray marks the path to be taken and leads into a dark fairy tale forest, beyond an infinite prairie. The fog turns the horizon gray, the crevasses follow one another under the arches of ancient abandoned buildings. Absolute silence, until something moves. Centuries-old trees, lizards and clear ponds tremble at the breath of enormous creatures, asleep in the mountains.

But the atmosphere of Shadow of the Colossus, which first appeared in 2005 on Playstation 2, cannot be captured by these simple words. Anyone who has played it knows: Fumito Ueda's masterpiece is a video game made up of impressive images. Poised between life and death, an Orpheus tries to bring his Eurydice to life. The opening words? Essential. Our lone traveler, Wander, is convinced by the mysterious Dormin to embark on a bloody enterprise. To save his beloved Mono, he must defeat sixteen giants.

Wander will wake them up, one after another. He will see them rise and darken the sun with their dizzying stature, as he searches for weak spots to bring them down. The giants will break the rocks, shake the earth, brush the clouds, shake the body with thick hair like lichens and brown algae. They will be furious, impassable. There are handholds in their armor, with towers, balustrades and hewn stones. Climbing, Wander will kill them, in gushes of tar-colored blood. It would seem like a victory, but it's the end. In the absence of the shadow of the colossus, an evil, archaic and ferocious shadow will rise again.

The Agro horse is now iconic, second only to the legendary Epona, of The Legend of Zelda. The ICO Team managed to build a beautiful and suffering world, anticipating the great expanses of the open world. The verdant panoramas of the titles with the greatest aesthetic impact on the market, look at the giant from the corner of the eye. Endless bridges, nameless soaring castles, dark lands, windy deserts. If we think of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Journey, it is clear that the seeds of a subtle and delicate world building have paid off.

The NICO project, which later became Shadow of the Colossus, was born as a spiritual sequel to that other masterpiece called (precisely) ICO, from 2001. The breathtaking architecture, the mystical language of the characters, the naturalness have in common of commands, fragments of lore. If in ICO the exploration is limited and distinctly puzzle, with crates to move and switches to operate, this time the areas expand and the enigma mixes with the anatomy of the giants, to be studied to understand which tricks to use to defeat all the Boss.

One of the reasons for the fascination of Shadow of the Colossus lies in the symbolism that surrounds it. In medieval times, every element of the world was an immediate means to read the will of God: from the forest that surrounded a village to the shape of the animals, nothing was accidental. Ueda's work manages to recreate this sacredness, pushes the player to read every detail as he would read a Dante allegory: the few animals mirror the giants, the Shrine of the Cult (starting point of the expeditions) recalls Babel, every gesture has something of unspoken, a surplus of meaning that suggests that the game code itself has a mystical will.

This content is hosted on an external platform, which will only display it if you accept targeting cookies. Please enable cookies to view. Manage cookie settings The kingdom in which Wander moves, however large, is sealed by inscrutable barriers, just as the giants are held back, in the land that hosts them, by an invisible chain. And paradoxically, this limit (the boundaries of the game) seems to have a higher reason. The simplicity and repetition of events, in a cycle of killing and awakening in the Shrine, is both a ploy to create a reference point for the player, but also a way to hint at the fate of the protagonist's actions.

Emotionally, we are faced with a work that undermines the canons of action-adventure. The death of the giants is represented as an ungodly, unjust, gratuitous act. Their strength is not driven by fantasy canvas rage, which could move a demon, but by pure pain. Faced with such intense pathos, it is no wonder that in a 2007 film (Reign Over Me, by Mike Binder), Shadow of the Colossus is used as a metaphor for the difficulties caused by depression, the inner struggle to defeat a shapeless darkness.

The work on the gameplay is anything but simple. Each colossus is not only anatomically complex. It is a real enigma to interpret, which also has a behavior to read in order not to fall, die or lose an advantageous position. The arena itself, different for each enemy, has unique characteristics and can take some time before it becomes fully familiar. An explanatory case is Avion, a volatile colossus that lurks on the columns scattered over a lake: once hit with an arrow, swooping down, it will take Wander to high altitude, where the second phase of the puzzle begins, a high-speed fight.

The wonderful remake of Bluepoint, 2018, further defines the aesthetics of the giants. For all these reasons, Shadow of the Colossus is the milestone that you will never tire of citing when someone questions the artistry of video games. It uses a language considered literary, it is visually stunning, nothing is left to chance and boasts a masterful soundtrack, signed by Kow Otani. The Opened Way, for example, is one of the most iconic pieces, accompanying many of the battles and simultaneously representing the end of a struggle and the culmination of a tiring climb made up of unexpected openings.

Speaking of heirs, such a narrative can be found in the FromSoftware titles. The comparison is not a stretch, as it is no coincidence that Bluepoint Games, which in 2018 curated the remake of Shadow of the Colossus, is the studio working on the remake of Demon's Souls. Images, atmosphere, labyrinthine architecture, symbolism and allegories are the weapons that Hidetaka Miyazaki has unleashed to conquer the most adventurous players. Dialogues, plots, plots, are condensed in a few lines and a few details scattered with skill and apparent simplicity.

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If Shadow of the Colossus is not a genre in itself, but is simply something unique, it is because the gameplay is naturally connected to its mythology, its monsters to take down. Someone has tried to replicate the charm, but it will never be the same. An example? Praey for the Gods, by the indie trio No Matter Studios: is an early access game from 2019, where primitive mastodons roam in a glacial scenario. There are survival elements, but at the core we are faced with an attempt to emulate the solemnity of the matrix. The result, despite being valuable, can only be derivative, and inevitably devoid of the aura that permeates Ueda's masterpieces.

The shadow cast by Ueda over the entire industry is really that of a colossus. And not at all distant, as could be the case of a shadow cast by a cloud, a form without substance. Thanks to the timeless atmospheres, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian make up a trilogy that should not be missing in a gamer's case. Thankfully, between 2011 remasters and 2018 remakes, they're easy to find. Giants, after all, cannot hide easily.

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