Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shadow of the Colossus: Argo

I finally managed to track down a copy of Shadow of the Colossus not too long ago, and I have finally beat it. Despite the games short length, I think that it is a real masterpiece of a game. Shadow of the Colossus is such a success because it manages to create powerful experiences and evoke strong emotions in those who play it. Since, I have already discussed fighting the Colossi before, this time I will talk about perhaps the most compelling character in the game: the hero's horse, Argo.

Even though Argo is merely a horse, and thus has no dialogue, he is nonetheless a character that I became attached to over the course of the game. Argo is the hero's, and thus the player's, constant companion throughout the course of the game. In particular, almost the entire entire exploration and journeying aspect of the game takes place from Argo's back. While the player often has to leave Argo behind in order to actually confront the Colossi, Argo does play a pivotal role in several of the game's epic battles. Furthermore, Argo is really the only friendly character the player has to interact with in the game, since the only other characters are Dormin, who is really only an ominous disembodied voice, and the hero's deceased love. As such, Argo's unwavering loyalty to the hero is the only thing that breaks up the quiet solitude of the game.

What really distinguishes Argo is that he is not just a vehicle for the hero to ride around on; Argo was created to be a character for the player to interact with. Argo doesn't just sit around waiting for the player, he often wanders off on his own, generally following the player around if you walk around on foot. Furthermore, once you saddle up, Argo proves to be realistically stubborn. I found that I had to be persistent and keep prodding Argo to get him to turn and run like I wanted him to. While Argo's tendancy to be difficult to control was annoying at first, I quickly got used to it and in the long run it made him a very realistic character. Pretty soon, I even discovered that I could use his intelligence to my advantage, since Argo was perfectly capable of navigating narrow canyon roads and such without any guidance from me other than an occasional reminder to keep running fast.

This characteristic of Argo's ended up being critical during the fight against the tenth colossus. In that battle, I needed to lure the fast-moving Colossus to pursue me as I fled away from it on horseback, at which point I could turn around in the saddle and fire an arrow at it's weakpoint. At first though, I kept aborting my attacks in order to guide Argo and make turns to avoid running into walls. As such, I had trouble making well-aimed shots, and I couldn't hit the enemy's weakpoint. I was only able to persevere in that battle when I came to the realization that I had to stop treating Argo like a vehicle under my control and I started to actually put my faith in him. So, I readied the bow and stopped worrying about trying to guide Argo around obstacles. Argo rewarded my faith several times over. Not only could Argo avoid obstacles and running into walls without my guidance, but he ended up being much better at dodging the attacks of the enemy colossus without my input. With Argo keeping us away from the enemy on his own, I was able to focus all of my attention on making my arrows hit their mark. Shortly thereafter, I started to make real headway in that battle. That was the point in the game where I fully stopped looking at Argo as tool in my arsenal for fighting the Colossi, and I started to see Argo as my partner.

By the end of the game, I had really grown attached to Argo. That is why the scene where he sacrifices himself and falls off a crumbling bridge t his apparent so that the hero could face the final colossus felt like a cheap gut-punch. During the game's ending, probably the most emotional part for me was seeing Argo walking back up the outer steps of the shrine like he always did. I was both very glad to see that he had survived the fall, and felt bad seeing him limping with a wounded leg. In the end, the fate of a horse overshadowed all of the other crazy things that happened during that ending. I suppose that is prook that the creators of Shadow of the Colossus made an amazing character.

I definitely wouldn't mind seeing more horses in future videogames act more like Argo. Maybe Epona could learn a thing or two.

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