Man Versus Shadow of the Colossus, Part 5
Colossus Fourteen (Thursday, 12/25)
Christmas morning. My back is sore from three straight nights on my Jennifer Convertibles pull-out. My dad fixes bacon and eggs for me. They're leaving this morning, making the five-hour drive upstate to my brother's house. I help them haul all their junk back down to their van -- the annual Reloading of the Van. Then they depart, honking as they drive in the direction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. They honk again. Then the van disappears.
There used to be a good deli here. They made the best Cuban sandwich in all of Colossus Land. It's gone now. I hear they're putting in one of those KFC/Pizza Hut combination places now, which upsets me. How things change...
I feel, as I always do, like I've survived something, endured a Herculean trial of some sort. I'm supposed to join them the next day upstate to see my brother, his wife and my niece, but for now, I'm grateful for the quiet, grateful to have my apartment back. I've got three more Colossi to contend with, and if memory serves me, these final three are all stubborn bastards.
The fourteenth Colossus, unfortunately, is the most redundant Colossus in the game. He's basically Colossus No. 11 (aka the rock-bull) in a more open environment. And, unfortunately, he's more of an annoyance than anything. I scale a very tall pillar. He rams into the pillar. The pillar falls, creating a bridge/path to the next pillar that I must climb. He rams this one, too; the pillar falls, etc. This Colossus is the most rote Colossus in the game; this battle simply requires you to do all the right things at all the right times.
Once I reach the final pillar, rock-bull No. 2 topples it over, causing it to open a hole into another previously walled-off part of the level. I scale a nearby platform in this section, then pepper rock-bull No. 2 with arrows to get him nice and angry. He rams the platform's support, causing the entire thing to collapse on top of the dopey creature. The creature's soft spot is revealed. I quickly climb on top of him while he's still dazed. Stab, stab, stab, and it's so long, redundant Colossus.
Colossus Fifteen (Friday, 12/26)
I pack my PS2 into my overnight bag. For the second time in two weeks, I head to Penn Station. My goal is to beat 16 Colossi in 16 days, and in order to complete this plan, I'll need to bring my PS2 along with me.
Penn Station between Christmas and New Year's is a madhouse. I've seen animals running free in there (not wild; someone's beagle had gotten off its leash). I've seen homeless people sleeping in their own pee.
I board my train, and we begin to chug north. Five hours later, my parents pick me up at the Rome train station -- "Long time, no see," Dad says -- and they drive me over the snow-covered roads to my brother's house.
The weather is positively brutal. Blowing snow; sub-zero temperatures; limited visibility. The same weather that Buffalo gets always travels east, creating what's known as the snowbelt across New York State. My brother lives in the snowbelt. His house is huge and beautiful, with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the river behind his house. Just before the sun goes down, I spot movement in the trees. "It's a deer," my brother says.
We stand at the window and watch it. Something is wrong with it. Its back leg is wounded. It's limping. The deer stumbles and falls face-first into the snow, before climbing back to its feet. "Maybe I should call Roger and have him come over and shoot it," my brother says.
My brother knows hunters. He himself has hunted on several occasions.
My mother balks. "Don't call Roger," she says. "Just leave it alone."
"It's not humane to leave it out there like that," my father says.
The four o'clock football game comes on. We all get distracted. As the light fades from the sky, I notice that my mother is still staring out the window, her arms folded.
After dinner, once everyone has gone to bed, I connect the PS2 to the living room television. The penultimate Colossus is a huge, lumbering beast who menaces me with a giant, crude club. While trying to stomp on me, the Colossus inadvertently steps on a nearby platform, conveniently elevating me to a height I need to reach the upper levels of the surrounding structure. He spots me on this higher level, hauls back his club, and takes a swing at me, inadvertently causing an avalanche of rocks that I can now climb to reach a still higher level. I climb two more sets of stairs, and suddenly, I'm high above the Colossus' head. I position myself in the center of a bridge that arcs over the entire area, and when the Colossus approaches, I make a leap onto his hairy shoulder, and grab hold with the R1 button.
The penultimate Colossus is one of the finest in the game. He lives in some old coliseum ruins, and, like the first Colossus, he carries a big club. (Jones actually did the Colossus-killing here).
He's unhappy to have me as a passenger, and as I climb to his head, he shakes his head furiously, hoping to get me off.
After a few stabs, the tattoo on the top of his head fades, yet only half of his health is gone. I realize there must be another unseen weak point somewhere on his body. After some experimentation, I locate it: It's on the inside of his right hand, on the palm.
I have no idea how I'm going to get at the weak point, until he swings wildly at me, misses, and his clenched fist sits for a brief moment. Here's my chance. I climb into the palm and go to work. Stab, stab, stab. His health is falling steadily. With one final stab, the game goes silent for a moment. The sad music kicks in. The Colossus topples.
My brother's house is quiet and dark around me. Wind presses against the windows, howling in the eaves. I think of the limping deer, still out there in the darkness.
Colossus Sixteen (Saturday, 12/27; Sunday 12/28; Monday 12/29)
We exchange gifts and eat a ham together. Later in the afternoon, my parents take me back to the Rome train station. The train roars into the station, engine roaring, bells clanging, snow blowing everywhere, the weight of it causing my shins to shiver. For a brief moment I study the train, looking for a hairy patch, wondering if there's a place I latch on.
This one is beautiful. And it's harmless. But you have to kill it anyway.
Back in New York, it's Judgment Day: I've arrived at the 16th and final Colossus. The first problem I have is finding the damn thing. I spend 45 minutes galloping in the wrong direction, walking along mountainsides, hoping a hole will magically open up somewhere.
Finally, I figure out where I need to go. I cross a bridge, and as I do, Agro slips, falls, and plummets hundreds of feet to the water below.
My eyes are hot with tears. The sadness is too much. I don't understand why I feel this way. Agro is gone. After dutifully taking me to all the locations I asked him to take me, after coming when I whistled for him for the past 16 days, Agro is gone.
I feel a chill of loneliness now. I'm on the far side of a vast expanse. The bridge behind me is out. I can only go forward now. As the man/boy peers over the edge into the canyon that Agro has disappeared into, his ragged cape flapping, I realize that I'm completely alone now.
I locate the Colossus. He's a monolithic thing that appears to be some sort of evil giant bell made of cast iron. He's got horns on his head. And, as soon as he detects my presence, he shoots at me, quickly depleting my health.
I'm dead. Despair is setting in.
I try again. I make my way across a field, using the surrounding barriers as cover. I locate an opening in the ground, and follow the underground passageway. When I surface, I'm remarkably closer to the Colossus. I follow another series of barriers, careful to dodge his volleys. I navigate another underground passageway. And when I surface this time, I'm directly underneath him.
I begin to climb.
I find a vulnerable spot on his back and stab it. He reaches behind for the spot, and when he does, I leap into his hand. Once in his hand, I climb his forearm. I find a second vulnerable spot at the elbow. I'm trying to reach it, but suddenly my grip meter is depleted. I'm falling. I'm back on the ground again.
I climb again, trying to keep my spirits up. But I fall again at the same exact place. I fall a third time. A fourth time. A fifth time. A voice in my head says, "See? This is why you quit playing this game four years ago. This last Colossus is too damn hard."
I decide to take a break. My plan is to leave the PS2 powered up so that I can take random cracks at this Colossus whenever I feel like it throughout the day, but as I'm shutting down the TV, I'm not thinking, and I shut down the PS2 involuntarily.
My screams, I'm told, were heard as far away as Staten Island.
That's it. I quit. I stop for the day.
I'm so angry, I can't even go back to the game the next day. I begin to regret this whole endeavor. What an idiot I am for even thinking this was a good idea.
The following morning, I fix coffee and decide to at least get the man/boy through the gauntlet portion of the battle at the beginning. I do so. And once I do, with a little momentum behind me, I begin to climb.
I reach the elbow this time. I stab the second weak point. The Colossus' right hand swings over towards me now, and when it does, I climb aboard. I stab the hand, and when the Colossus brings the hand to his face to inspect it, I whip out my bow and fire an arrow into his left shoulder, which is conveniently covered with hair/fur. When he feels pain in this shoulder, he reaches for the shoulder with his right hand. I leap onto the hair/fur, and begin to climb towards his head.
My heart is going now. This is it. At least, I hope this is it.
The blue tattoo on his head is glowing light bright, blue neon. I go to work on it, picking my moments, resting when I need to rest and stabbing when I need to stab.
Suddenly, it's over. It's over. Instead of toppling, this Colossus sort of collapses in on itself, piece by piece. There's nothing remotely sad about this final Colossus.
I've finished a battle that's I've been wanting to finish for nearly four years now.
I've done it. It's over.
The ending does much in the way of tying up all the game's loose ends. A crew of horsemen from the man/boy's village arrives at the temple. They admonish him for stealing the butter knife/sword from the village, and for violating the shrine. They try to kill him. But suddenly, the man/boy is old. His hair is a purplish gray now. His face is wrinkled. One of the men stabs him. The man/boy doesn't die. He pulls the sword out of himself, then somehow transforms into the huge shadowy creature named Dormin. (Dormin, if I'm understanding this correctly, was an evil spirit who was previously split into 16 pieces -- the sixteen Colossi -- and locked away in this tomb.)
But the man/boy has united the 16 pieces again. He himself is transformed into Dormin. Suddenly, I'm Dormin, and Dormin is impossible to control. The villagers escape and seal him inside the tomb. Dormin is sucked into a hole in the floor. Then, the princess/dead girl comes back to life. And Agro returns. He survived, but he now has a noticeable limp. The princess and Agro find a little baby. (Don't worry; I'm lost too.) And the three of them wind up in an area that looks like something from Ico. Roll credits.
The narrative, of course, is confusing and unsatisfying. But I don't care. What stays with me from those 18 days, and what appealed to me long before I'd even played the game (way back in 2003, when I initially heard about it), is the simplicity of the premise.
It's so pure. It's so uncluttered. It doesn't try to be anything more than it is. It's both epic and humble. And it's that purity, that simplicity, that gives Shadow of the Colossus its gravity; it's that purity and simplicity that allows it -- like the best art -- to become a metaphor that feels simultaneously like it's everyone's story and your story at the same time. It is at once impersonal and personal. And that makes Shadow of the Colossus -- an absolute must-own, must-have, must-play -- the very rarest of videogames.