Narrative in Video Games #14: Shadow of the Colossus

When it comes to the topic of video games as an art form, few studios are as frequently cited as Team Ico. For as lauded as the team has been, however, their output has been anything but prolific, consisting only of 2001’s cult hit Ico and 2005’s Shadow of the Colossus, commonly regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. With The Last Guardian’s release finally cresting the horizon, let’s take a look back at their magnum opus: Shadow of the Colossus.

Shadow of the Colossus tells the story of Wander, a young man who travels to a forbidden land in order to resurrect a girl named Mono. There he meets the mysterious entity Dormin, who tasks Wander with slaying sixteen colossi in exchange for his services. The narrative expands a bit more towards the end, but the cast is kept small and the story simple in order to keep the game’s themes in razor sharp focus.

Wander finds most colossi peaceful and docile, only attacking to defend themselves after you’ve started stabbing their weak spots. Par for the course so far, but after every battle a dark energy enters Wander’s body causing it to increasingly deteriorate. Coupled with Dormin’s unclear reasoning for why the colossi need to be slain, a sense that Wander may be following the wrong path begins to emerge. It’s clear he believes the ends justify the means, but just how far is he willing to go?

It is often said that those who fight monsters should be wary not to become the monsters themselves and Wander’s story fits this axiom to a T. As increasingly many colossi are sacrificed in the name of a single girl, can Wander, and by extension the player, truly justify their actions? It’s this moral ambiguity at the core of Shadow of the Colossus that proves that even a journey down the wrong path can be a journey worth taking.

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