You’re probably wondering,
“Forbidden land? Dead people? Giant stone monsters? What is the story in this game?” Well I’m glad you asked!
Despite what most people might think story in games is really important! Even if they can be paper thin most of the time. (Sometimes those are the best ones!) Without some kind of narrative or overarching plot the actions that you do in the game have no meaning. But in some cases that’s the point.
Shadow of the Colossus does something very different with its story. It doesn’t really tell you anything. Everyone in the game about five characters total, (That’s counting the horse) knows more than you do. Like a historian, you are given pieces of information, and left to put them together in the way that makes the most sense. That being said, almost nothing is explained in the game and that was on purpose. The majority of the story has been pieced together by the players, who were given just enough information from the game.
Let me explain…
The majority of the story happens at the beginning and end of the game, everything else in the middle is left up to you to do the detective work.
A brief summary
The game opens with a red haired boy riding a horse way too big for him. He has something with him, you don’t know what. He enters an ancient temple… After descending a massive staircase he removes the burden he has been carrying… and reveals it to be a girl, a dead one at that. He places her on an altar covered in bright light… a small exposition occurs and shadowy figures emerge from the ground. Then, the boy removes his sword and the figures dissipate, in response a light erupts from the ceiling and a voice speaks to him. After a conversation it is revealed that the light is a being named Dormin, who can control the dead. The boy wants the girl returned to life. Dormin says he will return her to life, if the boy can destroy the sixteen colossi in the land. He agrees to Dormin’s request, in response Dormin tells him…
“The price you pay may be heavy indeed.”
Alternatively, just watch this!
Aaaand that’s about all you get, until the end of the game. Pretty good set up right?
As the game progresses and you kill more and more of the sixteen colossi you can tell that things are not as they seem. Every time a Colossus dies, you can see black tendrils erupt from the creature’s stony body. These tendrils trash around wildly and force themselves into your body, causing you to black out. You always wake up back in the temple, at the center of the hall, directly beneath Dormin’s portal.
(Death and tendrils at 6:30-ish)
For every Colossus you kill, a spirit can be seen standing over you unconscious body before the respective idol is destroyed; disappearing just before you regain consciousness. At the same time, for each of the shadows that haunt the boy (referred to as Wander, but never in game.) a white dove, almost ethereal in nature surrounds the girl (referred to as Mono, also never in game.).
I didn’t notice this my first time through, but as the game progresses Wander’s features become more and more corrupted as the you kill the Colossi. It is a very drastic change by the end of the game, despite being very hard to notice without knowing about it. I didn’t notice at all until the end of the game when you see Wander’s face up close.
Shadow of the Colossus is a game that shows, but doesn’t tell.
In Shadow of the Colossus you are never told why, however you are shown.
I once heard a comic book artist and writer talk about how it is important in visual story telling to sometimes stop, and show the reader/viewer instead of telling them. It allows them to draw their own conclusions and adds richness to the story. The viewer isn’t spoon fed information.
And that’s one of the reason’s this game is so memorable, you have to figure everything out for yourself.
If you’re interested, here is the ending sequence. But be warned… it’s long!
How about that ending, huh?
More on Shadow of the Colossus to come.