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Shadow of the Colossus is a critically acclaimed action-adventure game for the Playstation 2. The game has received high praise from many video game publications including but not limited to 1UP, Eurogamer, GameSpot, Game Trailers, and Playstation Magazine. It frequently ranks high on lists of Top PS2 games of all time including topping the list of IGN’s Top 100 PS2 Games. In October of this year the game will turn 10 years old and will likely be looked back at as an innovator of gameplay and design. The game is viewed by gamers and critics alike as a work of art in the gaming medium and is widely considered a masterpiece.
That said I hate Shadow of the Colossus.
Well, maybe not HATE, it but I did not really enjoy this game.
Disclaimer: I did not play this game upon release. The game had already been released on the next generation PS3 in a HD Remastered collection by the time I got around to it. I’ll elaborate on this point more later.
Now, before you crucify me for blasphemy, I’m not saying Shadow of the Colossus is a bad game. Shadow of the Colossus is a great game. I’d even go as far as calling it a phenomenal game. But a shining masterpiece? Never. Much less one of the greatest games of all time. I’ve listed the 4 reasons for my dislike of the game below.
I start with the one flaw that even lovers of the game can agree on. The controls are extremely clunky and clumsy. It’s immediately evident once the game relinquishes control over to the player. The character feels heavy in comparison to other characters of the genre like Nathan Drake of the Uncharted series or Link of the Zelda series. The slow responsiveness shows especially when attempting simple tasks like mounting the horse and turning it to the direction you wish to go. Considering how important it is for the player to be precise in their actions when trying to topple these magnificent bosses this can create a very frustrating experience.
Not to say that this game is unplayable. It’s a high learning curve that the player learns as they battle each of the colossi if they choose to stick with it. I attribute the slower game mechanics to the developers going for a more realistic approach so while I was absolutely frustrated at parts of the game I can appreciate their efforts in creating a sense of struggle during the boss fights. Nevertheless had the combination of controls and camera flowed better, we the audience would have been part of a much greater experience.
2.) Lack of Narrative
I’ve heard many people describe this game as having an emotional thought provoking narrative. I can’t disagree more.
Our tale begins with a man named Wander who enters a forbidden land to revive a woman named Mono. He brings her to a temple in this land where he is given instructions by an ominous voice. The voice, an entity named Dormin, tells Wander it is possible to revive her if he destroys the 16 colossi that inhabit the land. It is from this point the game begins and Wander and his only companion, Agro the horse, start their journey.
When we’re first introduced to these characters we know nothing about them. Who is this woman? A sister? A lover? The relationship between the two is never elaborated on. The game gives us no reason to care about saving this woman except to advance the story. Traditionally in storytelling if the author just throws us in the middle of the action we learn over time, through proper story development, the reasons and motivations behind each character.
That never happens in the game.
No backstory ever materializes. We begin and end the story knowing no more or no less than what we started with. Without even a glimpse of the character’s past or personality’s we are given nothing to create an emotional attachment to these characters and without an emotional connection to our characters, making progress in the story starts to become more of a chore than an enjoyable experience.
For the majority of the game, the gameplay goes as follows:
You’re given the location of a colossus. You go defeat it. You appear back at the temple. Repeat.
This works the first few times it happens. On your first encounter with a colossus the game’s intention is for the player to be awestruck and in amazement of the creature and environment. I feel it succeeds in that regard. Much of the game’s praise went to the world the developers created. The world is admittedly an immersive and impressive environment. However I did feel that the game relied too heavily on taking in the game’s atmosphere as part of its overall experience.
The repetitiveness did not lie in the battle with the bosses, but the time spent between those battles. When you’re not in battle you’re traveling to go to the next battle. This can get tiring over time as you have to cover immense amounts of land to get to the next colossus. Upon beating a colossus you’re transported back to where you started your journey and immediately start another dredging trek to the next colossus. This mindless cycle repeats until after having four colossi left where we’re finally treated with a tiny cutscene advancing the plot, the ONLY plot advancement up until that point in the game. But alas, after that cutscene the cycle repeats itself again and again until you beat the final colossus. Being rewarded so little for doing so much, I found myself forcing myself to complete the next task rather than being excited about it.
This reason comes with no fault at all to the game and falls solely on me. I did not get a chance to experience this game until years after it’s initial release. By then Shadow of the Colossus was labeled all the great things I had mentioned earlier. I’ve played many incredible games in my time, old and new, and there were many times I felt a strong emotional investment in a game’s narrative. So strong I would study the game’s lore long after I completed the game, look into theories about the game, have deep discussions with my peers about the game’s themes and such; pretty much do anything to add to my overall experience of the game. Seeing this game being recognized as a video game masterpiece I went into it expecting way too much. I was expecting to be blown away. I was expecting this game to tug at my heartstrings in a way no other game has.
I never got that feeling. Not even close.
My disappointment in not getting the experience I was expecting is the single biggest reason I did not enjoy the game.
You can argue I missed the initial luster the game had when it was first released but I still think the younger me would feel that this game was okay at best. By the time this game was released I’ve experienced the pains of Final Fantasy VII, the wonder of Ocarina of Time, the suspense of Metal Gear Solid, among other classics. In my eyes this game pales in comparison.
At it’s core, Shadow of the Colossus is still a great game. The complexity of each colossus battle and the challenge they bring are worthy of the high praise. However my positives end there. Without a gripping narrative to attach myself to, coupled with the shoddy controls and awful camera angles, this game can’t and won’t ever be a classic in my eyes.
What do you think? Do I have a point? Am I insane? Do you think I’m stupid and have terrible taste? Let’s discuss! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below with your responses!
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