Shadow of the Colossus

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Some mountains are scaled. Others are slain.
Promotional Tagline

Shadow of the Colossus, the prequel to Ico, is an action adventure game about hunting monsters which does away with conventional video game formulas to create an aesthetically breathtaking experience. It features a deliberately simplistic (and largely unexplained) story, where the intention is to have the player form their own story based on their own experiences. Because of this, the game is an interesting combination of minimalist storytelling and lush graphics, making it a celebrated example of Doing It for the Art.

A young man known as Wander enters a forbidden land, carrying with him the corpse of a girl Mono. He travels to the Shrine of Worship in search of Dormin, a mysterious god-like being who is said to have the power to bring people back from the dead.

Wander is greeted by the disembodied voice of Dormin, who confirms that his wish can be granted, but also warns that Wander would pay a terrible price in return. With that, Dormin tasks him with seeking out and slaying the sixteen Colossi that are to found throughout the forbidden land. When all sixteen of these giants have fallen, Mono will be resurrected.

Wander navigates the vast, empty land on his horse Agro. But before he can eliminate each Colossus, he must first locate them. All that aids him in accomplishing this task is his magic sword, which he can hold up to the light, resulting in a beam that points in the direction of the next battle. However, the light beam becomes increasingly less helpful as the game progresses, due to the fact that reaching the Colossi tends to involve taking long detours through shadowy mountain paths and dark valleys.

When the player engages in battle with a Colossus, he must defeat them by literally climbing up their fur and stone-covered bodies and finding their weak points. Reaching the weak points can be difficult, as the Colossi usually do everything in their power to shake the player off. Once a Colossus is defeated, the player is automatically transported back to the Shrine of Worship, and the process repeats itself... each time with some very, very subtle changes in Wander's looks.

Or, you can just spend the first ten+ hours exploring everything.

The game is unique in several ways:

  • The only enemies in the game are the Colossi. You can kill the local wildlife for a small permanent stamina bonus.
  • There are no towns or dungeons to explore, or other characters to interact with. It's explained that the land is cursed, and is implied to have had a previous civilization, what with all of the Benevolent Architecture.
  • All the player has with him are his bow and arrows and the magic sword. No other items exist in an initial playthrough, and he cannot upgrade his current ones (except for replay value in a New Game+). The player finishes the game in essentially the same state as when he started it.

The game is the second in the Team Ico Series, a set of thematically-connected games developed by Team Ico. In addition, it was paired with Ico for an Updated Rerelease in October 2011, and was remade in 2018 for the PlayStation 4. The third game in the series, The Last Guardian, which is about a little boy and his adventures with his pet griffin Colossus, was released in 2016.

Although unnamed in the actual game, sites claiming that Word of God has released a name list for the individual Colossi have been circulating said list. Please see the characters page for more details.

Tropes used in Shadow of the Colossus include:
  • After Boss Recovery: After defeating each Colossus, Wander is returned to the Shrine of Worship with his health meter fully restored. It also increases with each Colossus defeated.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • From Emon's perspective. Note how Emon prays for his atonement if he survived.
    • Most of the Colossi aren't in any position to come attack you; they mostly just react to your attacks and your invasion of their personal space. So it's understandable that each and every one has a slow-motion (the Colossi fall slowly since they're so huge) death scene with haunting music and the whole bag, to drive in what you've just done. Phalanx in particular is absolutely stunning. It makes no attempt to acknowledge you, much less attack you, which makes you feel even worse when you give it the death blow.
  • All There in the Script: His name is Wander, and her name is Mono, we only know this because of the credits. He does say her name after his vision of Mono's awakening though, albeit very quietly.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Everyone (well, except for the horse and the girl, and if you get into the Wild Mass Guessing about Ico, possibly the girl, too).
  • Ambiguous Situation: As with Alternative Character Interpretation, there is just so much left out of the plot that it's anybody's guess what is really going on. Hence the YMMV page.
  • Annoying Arrows: Although arrows are useful in attacking a weak point or getting their attention, the sword is the only thing that can kill the Colossi. Justified in that, well, they're really big, they're partly made of rock and stone, and (according to Dormin, at least), destiny says the Cool Sword is the only thing that can hurt them. Averted, however, once Wander's the one getting shot at. Even after transforming, he still drags his left leg.
  • Armor Is Useless: Most definitely averted. Wander can't penetrate any part of a Colossus that is covered in stone armor or thick hide. Instead, he has to find ways to get to their vital weak spots, which are invariably on the fur-covered parts of the Colossus's body. In fact, a couple of them are completely covered in armor, and the only way to beat them is to knock it off somehow.
  • Art Major Physics: The concept of the Colossi themselves requires a Willing Suspension of Disbelief, though since the world has fantastic and mystic elements in it, there is always the possibility that it is supported by supernatural means. See, for instance, Sand Is Water, Soft Water and Square-Cube Law.
    • Considering that they literally collapse into dust and dirt when you kill them, it's pretty much confirmed supernatural.
  • Beautiful Void: The minimalist design of the game combined with its emphasis on exploring creates a world that is not only large, but almost completely void of life.
  • Benevolent Architecture: Sometimes the geometrical arrangement of the geography seems a little too convenient for reaching certain colossi. A Justified Trope, however, since the location is one big ruin, so these structures had a purpose once. What exactly that purpose was, however, is another matter.
    • Actually, the Colossi themselves have a Benevolent Architecture: the stone parts are usually designed way too conveniently to be natural (especially blatant during the first, fourth and final Colossi)
  • Best Boss Ever: Phalanx, pictured above, is practically the fan favorite. Other highlights include Gaius, Avion, and Phaedra.
  • Big Badass Bird of Prey: One that seems to follow you at random times during your adventure. If you time it right, you can even catch a ride with it. There is also Avion, a Colossus designed like a large bird.
  • Bittersweet Ending: One interpretation of the ending: Mono is revived, so Wander succeeded in his quest. Agro, who was last seen falling into a ravine having saved Wander's life, is alive and reasonably well, and Wander himself is given a second chance at life. Lord Emon has destroyed/resealed Dormin and shattered the bridge to the Forbidden Lands, so no one can tresspass upon it, which presumably satisfies him, and Wander is indeed allowed a chance for atonement, as he privately wished. On the other hand, Wander had to go through severe traumatic experience, could have (possibly did) die during his possession by Dormin, and the three of them - Agro, Mono and Wander - are now stuck in the Forbidden Lands with no feasible means of escape and not very much in the way of food and water. And, of course, every last one of the colossi has been destroyed and left to decay. For an alternative interpretation, see Downer Ending below.
  • Black Magic
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: And embeds itself into a floor made of stone.
  • Book Ends: The first cinematic opens with dark skies and clouds, as an eagle flies into the shot over the mountains. After the credits, the eagle flies over the mountains, out of shot, and the last cinematic ends with clouds and dark skies.
  • Boss Battle: Well, yes.
  • Boss Game: There are no wild monsters to get in the way or slow you down. Just you, sixteen Colossi scattered across miles and miles of Scenery Porn, and a sword which points in their general direction.
  • Boss Room: A few Colossi can't be escaped from once they're engaged.
  • Boss Rush: Well... yeah. That's what the game is. However, there is a Time Attack Mode which tasks you with killing each colossus as fast as possible. Do well, and you unlock lots of goodies. See Time Limit Boss.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: Beat the game once or twice and collect enough silver lizard tails to improve your grip, and you can climb to a secret garden on top of Dormin's tower as seen in the ending. Eating the fruit on the trees there will eventually reduce your health and stamina to less than the player initially starts with though..
    • There's also the Sword of the Sun, which produces a beam even when in a dark area. Sounds useful, but it can only be unlocked on hard mode, which can only be unlocked by beating the whole game on normal mode first. So you can only obtain this sword that helps you find the Colossi once you've already been to them all and know where they are.
  • Call Receival Area: The Forbidden Lands. Wander was forbidden to go there by Emon, and when he does go there, Dormin gives him the quest that makes up the entire game.
  • Came for The X Stayed For The Y: Came for the colossus battles, while the plot, music and Scenery Porn just made those battles even more amazing.
  • Camera Lock On
  • Camera Screw: Happens whenever a solid object, like the wall or a Colossus' thrashing limb, is behind Wander and won't let you see what's going on.
  • Colossus Climb: The Trope Namer. Part of the challenge involves getting a Colossus or yourself into position so that this can be started, and then locating its weak point while climbing it. Funnily enough, not every Colossus is a tower sized being. The smaller, tank-sized ones move ridiculously fast and are (relatively) aggressive on sight.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Against any Colossi that can use projectiles, cover of any sort is acceptable. Since the setting is mostly stone, it's reasonable.
    • Except against the twelfth Colossus, where you can hide a foot underwater to avoid… lightning balls.
  • Continuity Nod: A few listed below.
    • At the end of the game, a child is born with two horns.
    • If you ride along the south-western coast, you can end up on the beach from Ico's ending sequence.
    • One of the bonus weapons from the time attacks is the sword from Ico's finale.
    • Some of the ruins resemble those found around the Castle In The Mist.
    • Shadowy human-shaped creatures, like those fought in Ico, can be seen at several points in the game.
    • Word of God also confirms the fictional language spoken is the same one from Ico, and that Wander is the progenitor of the line of horned boys.
  • Controllable Helplessness: Twice during the ending sequence. The second one theoretically could be escaped from, but there are invisible walls at the edge and no apparent outside.
    • The player also retains control of Wander in the brief moment between slaying a Colossus and being impaled by the evil black tentacles that emerge from its corpse. Needless to say, it's not possible to outrun them.
  • Cruelty Is the Only Option: You have to murder each Colossus to proceed, and then cry out in pain.
  • Cutscene Drop: After striking the final blow into a Colossus, a cutscene begins which shows their demise. Usually, this isn't too far away from where the actual blow was dealt and you won't notice it, but it becomes obvious against certain foes like Avion and Celosia. Even more so, when you return to find the body later, don't expect it to be in the same place where you saw it fall, or even in the same position.
  • Damage Discrimination: Arrow shots that were eating away at the Colossus' health bar will suddenly cease being effective, requiring you to go in there with your sword and finish the job.
  • Deconstruction Game: This game's main focus is Boss Battles, presented in a way that will make you feel not triumphant, but upset, about your "victory" over these giants. For example, remember all those video games that play victorious music as you happily defeat a boss? Compare that to the music that plays when you defeat a Colossus.
  • Downer Ending: Another possible interpretation of the ending: not only are you a baby, but you've trapped your love in the valley (presumably) forever. And it's also implied that the valley is uninhabitable. The Colossi and Dormin are dead, you've doomed yourself, your loved one and your beloved horse to imprisonment in the wastelands, and, if you believe Emon is the villain, then the main villain effectively got away after nearly killing you. Keep in mind though, this game takes minimalist storytelling to its logical extreme, so pretty much nothing has been or can be confirmed about the ending, except some Word of God that the horned boys from Ico are descended from Wander.
  • Dummied Out: The "dam". No one knows why it's there or what it would have been for. In its present form, it doesn't even have collision data (meaning you can't stand on it), and it's only accessible through hacking and a lot of patience.
    • And for that matter, the entire east section of the map, that will remain covered by clouds. There is a bridge over the 12th Colossus area that could have been an access to it, but there is no way to get up there.
    • This video shows that at one time, the area above the secret garden was intended to be accessible.
  • Empty Room Psych: Pretty much completely averted, since none of the bonus items or powerups are found by wandering around (rather by beating specific challenges) or other plot related NPC's or items anywhere in the game. Essentially, the whole game is a love letter to Scenery Porn. There is the secret garden, which is very hard to reach and at first glance appears to contain nothing but poisonous fruit. If you search long and hard, though, you discover that it really does contain nothing else.
    • Some players, desperate to find something new, will invoke this trope on themselves simply by getting hyped up over finding a particularly interesting rock formation or an out-of-the-way cliff ledge. Needless to say, there's never anything there.
  • Everything Fades: Averted with the Colossi. Once you've killed them, their bodies will turn to stone and lie exactly where they fell for the rest of the game. If you're curious, or have a lot of time on your hands, you can go back to their arenas and take a look at the remains. Played straight with the arrows: fire above a certain quantity of arrows and the remaining ones disappear.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: The price Wander pays for going against Emon and Dormin's warnings is Demonic Possession. Both Dormin and Emon warned that bad things would happen if he insisted on going through with the forbidden spell to revive Mono. That said, it might have been less Evil Is Not a Toy and more The Forbidden Power Of Reviving A Dead Person By Killing Ancient Hallowed Creatures And Harnessing Their Spirits Is Not A Toy, especially when you remember that the mysterious entity helping you ends up possessing you as a side effect.
    • On the flipside, both Wander and Dormin were also in danger at that time. Wander was being killed by Emon, and Dormin was at risk of losing Their human vessel, so maybe the Demonic Possession was a necessary stepping in to prevent Emon from ruining everything. In any case, They said They were "borrowing" Wander's body. They didn't say it was permanent, and who knows what might have happened next if Emon hadn't dropped the sword in the pool and had Dormin's spirit sucked in.
  • Fictionary: The language spoken in the game is said to be composed by some amalgam of Backwards Japanese, English and Latin.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Wander wants to harness Dormin's ability to resurrect the dead by killing each and every Colossus. He gets a lot more than he had bargained for.
  • Gotta Kill Em All
  • Grey and Grey Morality: No one's morality can really be defined as good or evil in this game.
  • Heart Container: The fruit and white lizard tails which you can gather/hunt for, which increase your life and your stamina, respectively. Finding them without a guide though is an exercise in frustration unless you unlock certain items in time attack... and even with knowing their general area thanks to said item, it can be frustrating to actually find them.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: You're the final boss, and invincible for all intents. But you can't win.
  • Insurmountable Waist High Fence: There are occasionally ledges which, by rights, Wander should physically be able to jump onto or climb, but for some reason he can't do so.
  • Invisible Wall: Even if it is a bit more subtle than an outright wall. If you manage to climb the shrine, you can actually walk the bridge that links it to the mainland. When you get at the other side, you find an open exit, try to proceed… and are pushed back by a strong wind coming from outside. This may be justified if this is Dormin's doing (if They don't want Wander to go before having slayed all the colossi), but it's really just a way to say "sorry, but the map stops here, what did you expect?".
  • Ironic Echo: That song that plays when a Colossus dies? It plays when Wander is sucked into Emon's spell.
  • Lead the Target: A useful tactic when fighting the Colossi is to aim your arrows slightly ahead of where the target is going to be.
  • Light'Em Up: Aside from literally leading Wander to the Colossi and their weak spots, the sword seems to actually kick up dust/burn whenever there's an object where the light happens to gather. Since there's no discernible sun in the sky, this may be (at least partially) Dormin's ability/presence.
  • Luck-Based Mission: The Time Attack as a whole can fall into this. While fighting each Colossus the second time is not too difficult (give or take your own personal Goddamned Boss), doing it against a timer may force you to abandon an otherwise workable, if time-consuming, strategy in favour of a quicker one, hence a lot of trial and error and hoping that the Colossus will get into the right position quickly. Unfortunately, the Colossus A Is won't always do what you want them to do, leading to a lot of time lost and much frustration.
  • Meaningful Name: Every character. Dormin's is described below and is also close to dormir, the French/Spanish/Portuguese word for being asleep. Wander's name is obvious. Mono comes from the prefix meaning "single" or "alone", meaningful when you consider the ending. Agro's name doesn't seem to come from anything meaningful, although it does mean fuss or bother in the Ido language. The All There in the Manual/Word of God names from the Colossi are usually rooted in some sort of mythology.
    • Dormin is also Nimrod backwards. Nimrod killed a bull and wore its horns on his head in order to strike fear into his enemies, and he was also murdered and cut into several pieces. Both of which tie into the story of Dormin.
  • Menu Time Lockout: After beating Time Attack Mode, you get goodies which an be accessed in the pause menu. At any point during the game, you can switch between them instantly.
  • Minimalism: Both in storytelling and game design.
  • Moe Anthropomorphism: Colossal Girls.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: This Penny Arcade commentary describes most poetically the "emotional ravaging" that this game will put you through.
  • No Arc in Archery: Wander's arrows do fly in an arch, but only if they're rapidly fired without properly tensing the bow. Holding down the aim button will straighten the trajectory so that the arrow aims for the crosshairs the player can see onscreen.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: Doesn't matter what height Wander falls from, if he can grab a ledge or a vine on the way down, he'll be perfectly fine. In fact, even if he doesn't grab something, he'll still take less damage than a real fall would've done. This reaches its peak during the last Colossus, where a fall from a Colossus like a skyscraper is eased if you only grab one of the lower ledges at the last second. There are certain situations where this is averted, mainly outside of the Colossus battles.
    • Er... you do die if you fall from too high up without grabbing any ledges. For example, if you try reaching the second Colossus faster by jumping straight from the bridge down to the beach. Try and hit the water instead; however, you'll live.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Defeat a Colossus, and you won't have to worry about walking all the way back to the Shrine of Worship... Wander will be knocked unconscious by dark threads and will wake up back at the shrine.
  • One-Hit Kill: Some Colossus attacks become this in Hard Mode.
  • One Hundred Percent Completion: The Updated Rerelease Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection for the Play Station 3 has trophies that requires you to do absolutely everything you can think of. This includes, but not limited to, climbing to the top of the tower, obtaining every item, and maxing out the health and grip bars.
  • Oxygen Meter: Your stamina meter doubles as an oxygen meter. If it ran out, you would simply let go of whatever you were holding and return to the surface
  • Platform Battle: Many Colossus Climbs cannot be initiated without taking advantage of the scenery in some way. Considering how huge the Colossi are, this often involves getting dangerously high, and falling will likely injure Wander (not to mention frustrate a few players).
  • Real Is Brown: Quite possibly the Trope Codifier; although the brown and gray were fully aesthetic choices, rather than an attempt at being more "realistic".
  • Ruins for Ruins Sake: It's never made clear what purpose exactly the ruins serve, or how they were built. All part of the "storytelling" in the game where they have left it almost all up to the player.
  • Save Game Limits: On his quest, Wander can only save his progress by two methods. There are temples scattered across the land where he can pray: these are save points for the player. Reload the game after saving, and Wander will be found sleeping at the foot of the temple. The other method is to kill a Colossus and wait for the screen to go dark before being prompted.
  • Save the Princess: Massively deconstructed. The entire tragedy of the game stems from the futility of saving Mono, and the ignoble sacrifices your character makes in order to succeed. It seems those responsible for Mono's fate want her to stay dead, going all the way to the Forbidden Land in droves to stop whatever Wander might pull off.
  • Scenery Porn: The lush detail added to every canyon, every field, every forest and lake, can only be explained by Doing It for the Art. It has been described on this wiki as 'a love letter to Scenery Porn'. The remastered, high definition release is even more glorious.
  • Soft Water: Those of us enjoying the stunningly realistic animations of Wander might wince whenever he falls from several stories into a pool of water and doesn't lose any life from it. While he does survive falls from several stories anyway, due to being either Badass Abnormal or otherwise Made of Iron, at least he can lose health if he does fall onto a hard surface. Thankfully, it does make fighting the third, fifth, seventh and twelfth Colossi a little easier should you find yourself falling off things a lot. And, well, if you love the Doing It for the Art style, the Colossi are more than ample distractions.
  • Sound-Coded for Your Convenience: A Colossus generally has two types of music play during its boss fight: the initial theme, which is what you start hearing, and the 'victory is at hand' music, which usually plays once you've done something crucial and victory is at hand.
  • Spikes of Villainy: On the back when Dormin manifests, though they also look kind of like tendrils.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Ico.
  • Sword Sparks: They fly off when Wander uses his sword to strike a hard surface, such as a rock. Or the side of his horse.
  • Take It to the Bridge: A two kilometers long bridge (at a guess). Without Agro, it takes a good ten minutes to cross it.
  • Take Your Time: Ignore the fact that a Knight Templar is on his way to purge your demons or that you have to kill all the Colossi to revive Mono. You're not required to do these things right away. In fact, even if you tried, it would take ages just to do one battle.
  • Trick Arrow: If you play Time Attack Mode, you can get upgrades for your bow, including whistling arrows and explosive arrows.
  • Updated Rerelease: After seeing how the first two God of War games were getting a hi-def upgrade for a PlayStation 3 re-release, Team ICO hinted that they'd like to do the same for both Ico and Colossus, but may not because of the cost and effort involved. At least, that was initially: TGS10 has now confirmed an Ico and Shadow of the Colossus HD Compilation remake with 3D, upped frame-rate, and widescreen. And The Fandom Rejoiced.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Those white doves that appear around Mono, probably symbolizing her innocence and purity? You've shot those suckers dead haven't you? Just admit it.
  • Walk It Off: Other than the save shrines, there's no real way to heal other than to wait as your lifebar slowly grows back. Standing still or crouching helps it speed up, but in battle, this also leaves you in danger if you hang about too long in the open.
  • Wasted Song: In general, there are a lot of very nice songs on the soundtrack that are very short and only play about once in the entire game. Certain parts of certain songs are never heard in-game, and others like "Marshlands", "Roar of the Earth" (which is the subtitle of the Soundtrack) and "Sky Burial" aren't even featured in the game at all.
  • What the Hell, Player?: You're free to slash or shoot Agro. The poor horse will spook and run away from you, and is very likely to react like this for a long time afterwards whenever you draw your sword.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: There's miles of beautiful territory and scenery, but there are only a few things to do:
    • Find the Colossi; much like the fights, getting to the encounter is almost like a stretched out platforming puzzle.
    • Eat fruit to extend your life bar.
    • Kill white-tailed geckos and eat their tails for more stamina.
    • Try to ride a bird by jumping off Agro and grabbing it.
    • Find a deep lake and ride a fish by the tail.
    • Tour the map and rid yourself of those obstructive clouds on the map.
    • Slay colossi and advance the story.
    • Get creative with your eight-fingered to-do list.
  • You Bastard: Many players feel sorry for the Colossi, some to the point of not wanting to finish the game.