Sunday, July 22, 2007

day late and a dollar short, vol. 3: shadow of the colossus

I know this has most likely been said before, on numerous websites, and in a much more timely manner, but here goes: Shadow of the Colossus is a flat-out moving experience that is, for the first time, bringing a moral quandary into my video gaming life.

meet our hero, colossus killer extraordinare

I know this game came out forever ago, I know everybody raved about it, but I do have a hard time pulling anything that isn't Guitar Hero or Winning Eleven out of my PS2, so grant me that. And I didn't want to do the game a disservice - I wanted to play this like one would pray at an altar, so it needed to be a special environment and a quiet, focused time.

for those that don't know, the game is an adventure-platformer that, in the strictest gaming terms, doesn't have levels, just massive, incredibly interesting and intricate boss fights. Cut scene, find the boss (including some adventuring on horseback across country and some light platforming to get to some of the bosses), figure out how to stab the boss' weak points, rinse, wash, repeat.

except the developers (who also made another art-house gamer favorite, Ico) do SO much more with the formula than that sounds. You play a warrior who is trying to revive his deceased princess and is listening to the voices at a holy shrine, who tell him to go slay colossus after colossus...presumably in order to revive her.

to kill, or not to kill, that is the question

herein lies the problem. This isn't going out to collect all seven tokens in order to revive her; you must actively slay these gigantic, screen-filling, peaceful colossi in order to make that Phoenix Down work on your girl. I'm three colossi in, and each has ended with my character climbing to the top of the colossus (who is rather eerily trying to shake you off the entire time; your character's grip meter is what makes this whole thing interesting, because you can't hold on forever) and stabbing it in a weak point atop its head.

I would do anything for love, but would I do that? Would you go toe-to-toe with a bear and stab it in its head? The bear is much smaller than the game's colossi, but you get the point I'm trying to make...

...especially when that sort of thought process is backed up by what happens to your character after each colossus dies: a guilt trip. Not only does the thing breathe its last in a wonderfully epic manner, a sort of series of black tentacles of the thing's soul reach out and take your body over, you see tunnel vision, get the option to save, and your character black-out returns to the main shrine, where a few shadows stand over his passed-out ass. Last time after I saved, it was three - the number of colossi I'd slain.

I was told after this game came out that my friend Peter went on a binge, played all the way through it in a day, and saved right at the last boss, trying to decide whether he wanted to go on or not. I don't remember if he finished off his save or not, but he had one of those moments where his conscience took over.

I absolutely love that a few games are doing this now. More need to. Shadow of the Colossus is so simple in terms of gameplay (though the colossi are all fun to figure out the "trick" to, and just as fun to actually battle); fighting the most recent one, I could feel my mind switch from itchy-finger gamer mode to "oh my god what am I doing" story mode. It hurt, and it was very engaging.

I like that sort of engaging.

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