Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Games and Love: Shadow of the Colossus

This is my first post for Critical Distance's Blogs of the Round Table for February. The theme for February is Love. For this post I will be talking about one of my favorite games of all time, Shadow of the Colossus.

[[spoiler warning for Shadow of the Colossus]]

It's no secret that I love Shadow of the Colossus. That game was an incredible experience for me, and I will never forget it. When I think about love being conveyed in a video game, I think about Shadow of the Colossus. I believe Shadow of the Colossus conveys love so strongly because it does so without words.

Mono, the girl
Shadow of the Colossus starts off as the story about a boy who steals a magic sword so that he may gain access to a strange land where he can resurrect a girl, whose name in Mono. We are never informed about the boy's relationship with the girl, but I'd assume that they were in love, given the apparently similarity in their age. Other possibilities are that they are siblings, possibly twins. But it's not the nature of their love that matters, it's the quality.

When the boy reaches the land he is told by a spectral voice that calls itself 'Dormin' that it can bring back his love, if the boy slays the sixteen colossi. Without hesitation and without question the boy embarks on this quest. As the game progresses, the boy becomes weary. He looks dirty, corrupted, and has a much more difficult time getting up after he is knocked to the ground, but still he presses on to resurrect his loved one. Eventually the quest consumes Wander, and he struggles for his life so that he may see her alive again. You truly know that he would do anything and everything in his power to bring Mono back, because he truly loves her.

And while the game is about the love a boy has for a girl and his struggle to bring her back, that's not the love that the game fosters. There is another love.

Agro, the horse
Agro is your trusty steed througout the journey. He carries you wherever you need to go, as far as he can. There are even several boss battles that could not be done without him there to help you. He's even different from horses in other games. He's more intelligent. When navigating through a narrow passage, you don't need to steer him, he'll avoid the sides and lead you through. As I played the game, I came to care deeply about Agro.

This connection that you have to Agro is facilitated by the game's controls. When you're controlling Wander, you just tilt the left analog stick in the direction that you want to go, as you do in any other video game. Agro doesn't control the same way. When you are riding Agro you use the X button to kick your heels and go forward and use the left analog stick to steer left or right. Many people complained about this control scheme, saying that it was awkward and made going long distances frustrating because you had to keep pressing the X button. But what this scheme does is it make you connect with Agro the way you would a real horse.

You, the player, have to form a physical connection to Agro. When I walk, I tell myself to walk and my body doesn't disobey me, unless I trip or something. Compelling and animal to move is a very different story, and Shadow of the Colossus forces you to communicate with the controller in much the same way that Wander must communicate with Agro. Then you add in Agro's very realistic rendering and animations and you have one fastastic video game horse that puts any incarnation of Epona to shame.

When you call out to Agro, Wander's tone is different depending upon how far away Agro is. If he's far enough away, the call is loud and almost sounds desperate. He's your only companion in this strange, harsh land, and you need him. You need him to survive. You need him to complete the mission.

I grew to love Agro. I could feel Wander's love for Agro, and I could feel Agro's love for Wander. Every time you defeat a colossus, Wander passes out and wakes up in the temple where the game begins, and every time Agro is there, coming back to find/meet you. He knows that you'll be there and travels back to the temple by himself so that he can be with you and help you on your journey.

Before the final boss, there is a bridge that you have to cross. As you run across it on Agro the bridge starts to crumble. You can't make Agro go fast enough and as you're just short of the end Agro throws Wander off of him so that you land on the other side and he...he falls into the gorge, plunging into the river below.

It was at that moment that my heart sank and I felt absolute rage. This last colossus was going to die so that Agro, my friend's sacrifice would not be in vain. After killing the last colossus and fulfilling some final scene responsibilities, Mono is alive in the temple. Then, at the front of the temple you hear it, the sound of a horse's hooves. Agro had somehow survived the fall into the river and made it all the way back to the temple one last time, limping, to be with you. Mono takes Agro and the two of them make their way to the top of the temple to presumably live out their days together.

That, dear readers, is a love greater than any that has ever been conveyed to me in a video game, and it's one I hope to never forget.