[illustration by Fox Fields]
Sure, you could say I felt “conflicted.” That’s what our Sr. Hardware Editor, John Yan, asked me. “Do you feel conflicted, Randy?” Conflicted about what I’d just done? About killing that massive, beautiful creature? Yes. I felt conflicted. But I didn't feel conflicted for the reasons I thought I would. Not exactly.
This is my first time playing Shadow of the Colossus. I stood here, next to that fallen colossus, a moment of silence after the ‘shink’ of my blade dealing the death blow. The colossus fell so slowly. It was enormous. It was like attacking a building. A hairy building. Face like a baboon. Swinging around a club the size of a semi truck. It had beautiful blue eyes, though. They had a gorgeous blue light that you just don’t find in nature. There was something of the supernatural in that colossus. I mean, aside from the fact that it was a colossus. Then, as I’d initiated the fight, its beautiful blue eyes turned orange. I knew I was in trouble then. But even as it pursued me, I couldn’t stop looking at the creature. There was a daunting weight to its movements. A majesty to its bearing. It wasn’t particularly graceful, no, but it was calm. Strong. It was the king of this hill and had been so for a long, long time.
Then I came along.
Of course I feel bad for killing my first colossus. I’d made a pact with disembodied godlike voices. Back in the temple over there. I was being hasty when I made the bargain, I’ll admit. Bring the woman back to life, I pleaded with the godlike voices. I’ll do whatever it takes. I made my selfish motives perfectly clear. I’d made a deal with those devils (?), and I’m guessing there’ll be a heavy price to pay. I have no idea what the cost will be. Won’t know until I get up to the cash register with my shopping cart filled with this one enormous purchase. But I apparently have to bring this woman back. The one I brought here through a long, meandering, treacherous intro video. She’s why I’m here in the first place.
My sword is my compass. I draw the sword, hold it up to the sun, and it points me in the direction of a colossus. I scanned the horizon until the bright beams narrowed to a laserpoint on which direction to take. I called my horse. “Agro,” I said. The horse stood at a respectful distance. “Agro,” I said again. It might’ve looked at me. Then the horse vaguely trotted my direction. Mounting Agro, I took the temple steps down to the plains and headed to where the light had pointed me to, a mile away.
I rode out to that colossus’ territory, and taunted it, whistling furiously for its attention, then fired arrows into its back when nothing else worked. I brought it to its knees when I drove my sword into its calf muscle. A spray of black blood shot out. Just an enormous black geyser. Like I’d struck oil. Then I climbed further up its enormous back, being tired from my grip on its hair, even my pointer finger being tired from holding down the trigger to keep a firm grip on the colossus. It tried to shake me off, like the rodent I was. Then, when I’d reached the flat top of its skull, I killed it. I’d repeatedly, and with extreme prejudice, drove my sword into its brain, over and over, until it died.
The oily black color of its blood was somehow more shocking to me than red. Black means something in Shadow of the Colossus. I can’t fully decipher what it means. But it’s black for a reason. It’s blood was black. The smoky tentacles that came out of it after it died were black. The spooky spirit standing over me in the temple—not the same thing as the disembodied voices that gave me this colossi-killing mission in the temple—were black. I don’t know. That black figure standing over me after I woke back up, is that the real shadow of the colossus? Could be. I have questions.
The biggest reason why I’m conflicted, though? I never thought it would be this easy. It was too easy taking that first colossus down. That’s my problem. I’m not saying that because I’m the Best Gamer Ever. For the sake of argument, I’m pretty average. But it was nothing—it took nothing—to kill that thing. The hunting, the climbing, the stabbing. All of it was too easy.
If that colossus had put up a better fight. If it had been harder to climb. If it had been tougher to hold onto. If it had taken more stabs of my longsword. If any of those things had come into play, then, perhaps, I wouldn’t feel as conflicted about what I’d done. Again, yes, sure, I do feel like something is amiss. I’ve perhaps done a bad thing. So far, though, I’m not 100 percent sure if I feel bad because I feel bad, or because over the last 12 years or so, the prevailing culture pre-informed me that I should feel bad about killing a colossus. The power of suggestion is tangible here. But I don’t want to force an opposite reaction out of myself either. I don’t want to be cold, callous, and calculating about colossus murder just because heard I should feel sad and I'm pushing myself in the other direction.
Look, I get it that it was my first colossus. You can’t start with your hardest boss fight and expect players to learn anything valuable. You have to ramp up in difficulty. That’s true for almost any video game you make. But it still felt different here. I haven’t felt so overpowered so early in a game before. And I’m not overpowered because I’ve gone up 40 levels and filled out 75 percent of a skill tree. It was just me, my sword, and my grip. It should’ve been a harder fight. As I tackle the next colossi, I expect the fights to get harder. I will die. I’ll get thrown from a colossus’ back and onto the cold, hard ground. I’ll get stomped underfoot. It'll smash me with enormous boat-sized objects. All of that. But this first fight hasn’t given me hope as much as it’s given me overconfidence. And a feeling that these colossi are more like touchy domesticated cattle than anything I typically associated with end bosses in a video game.
Where do we go now? Well, judging from the temple full of colossus statues, I’m one down, fifteen to go. It’s a tall order. Will I feel badly about killing them all? Or will repetition make the task easier, both mentally and emotionally, the more I do it? “You always remember your first one,” Yan told me. Maybe he’s right. Maybe it does get easier after the first time. Maybe colossus #15 and #16 will be reduced to a spreadsheet of stats in my head, and the journey will have meant little to me.
But I doubt that. The horse rides across the plains, the blinding sun behind the clouds, and the narrow passages to boss fight arenas are keeping my open-world-aesthetic needs well met. And while the prospect of killing 16 increasingly difficult colossi sounds daunting, well, I know how to handle that. You eat the elephant one bite at a time. It’ll be a guilty pleasure.