Tag: Fantasy

Shadow of the Colossus review part 2: The Remake

Developer: Bluepoint Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Game played on: PS4

Release Date: February 6, 2018

0dd10d01-d59d-44aa-9869-ee6f68e903f8

When I heard that Shadow of the Colossus was getting a remake, I had a mixture of feelings. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I was wondering what they would exactly do with the game, what could they add to what was already great. Giving development over to Bluepoint Games was an excellent first step, as they have been responsible for the best HD remasters around, but they had never done a full scale remake before, especially of such a classic.

This game is the purest definition of the word remake. In fact I was kind of taken aback at the faithfulness of this game to the original. The plot is exactly as it was in the original, and the locations, colossi, and cutscenes have been perfectly recreated for the new console generation. I’ve even heard and read that the remake runs on the original’s source code. Bluepoint Games was truly dedicated to doing Shadow of the Colossus justice, and they did it.

The remake’s graphics are extremely impressive. The PS2 era textures, animations, lighting, and shading of the original are now replaced by state of the art levels of detail. Areas of the environment have a whole new level of depth added to them, such as fireflies in dark forests, whirlwinds in the desert, and many other little details that breathe life to the setting. The colossi now feel more alive than ever thanks to their added detail and new audio, and characters’ facial animations are now fully expressive. What Team Ico did in 2005 but were limited by the technology available to them, has now finally been realized by Bluepoint Games in 2018 because of these new graphical advances.

The lovely graphics are not all this remake has to offer. The two biggest issues of the original Shadow of the Colossus were the sluggish controls and the framerate, both of which have been improved upon tenfold here. Now the controls feel smooth and the framerate is entirely consistent with my playthrough not having a single dip the whole time. Agro also feels much easier to control, with her not having trouble navigating environments heavy with foliage or obstacles. I played it on a vanilla PS4 where the framerate is capped at 30fps. On a PS4 Pro the framerate can be capped at 60fps with a sacrifice to resolution. They even changed the control scheme to fit the layout of the PS4 controller, which while just after coming off of the original, I took some getting used to but managed to adapt and can say it is better than the original’s. However, if you still are having issues with the new controls, you can switch to the classic scheme in the menu.

I found the remake’s difficulty to be more balanced compared to the original’s. You are given a choice of difficulty upon your first playthrough in the remake, unlike the first where your first game will be a default setting of normal. I actually died in a battle with a colossi in the remake, and a second time because of a dumb mistake I made in the original as well. It was because I got greedy and reckless but nonetheless they still count, and I found myself in danger of dying more in the remake when fighting colossi. I would describe the original’s normal difficulty as “easy normal”, and the remake’s as “actually normal”. It’s not as forgiving and even forced a player like me who knew what to expect to stay cautious.

All of this praise stands, but I can’t say I find every change and refinement the remake brought to the table was always for the better. The biggest example that comes to mind is our protagonist Wander. While his personality and motivation remain completely the same as the original’s and the area for interpretation is still intact, for some reason there were some changes to his appearance that left me scratching my head. In the original Wander had the demeanor and appearance of a determined young man in his early twenties by my estimation. Here, Wander is more baby-faced and looks like a depressed sixteen year old. I can’t say whether or not this was deliberate choice or while his face was being redone a mistake was made. Also, in the original game, Wander’s skin would become greyer with each colossus he killed and his clothes would slowly become more tattered and damaged over the journey’s course. This was a clever way of illustrating how much time had passed and the toll taken on Wander. The remake keeps the changes to his skin color, albeit makes it more subtle than before, but completely does away with the clothing damage. It would’ve been better to keep it because of how it drives home the difficulty of Wander’s quest and the damage he’s taking.

The original game’s atmosphere has been lost in the transition to better graphical fidelity. The original game had to make clever use of fog to compensate for the low draw distance, so despite the original’s graphics aging, its atmosphere still puts it above many other games today. The remake just does not quite have that same feel. I also have divided feelings about the new save system. The game now auto saves instead of requiring your input, and you can manually save your game at anytime. That’s a good modern addition, but it’s deceitful. You can manually save your game from the menu, but if you quit and load your save back up, you won’t start from exactly where you left off. Instead, you start back at the nearest shrine you discovered. The original’s save system was at least honest and did a better job at immersing you in the world of the game. Lastly, the camera is still a problem. Again, you can work with it, but it’s a shame that this issue from the original was left unfixed here.

So does the Shadow of the Colossus remake reach the heights of or even surpass the original? No it does not. Is it still an excellent game, a near perfect remake, and a great way to introduce a new generation to a classic? Yes it is. Whatever issues I had with the remake’s changes, Bluepoint managed to get the one thing down that was absolutely necessary: its heart. The remake was not just some easy cash grab, but a labor of love from people who clearly hold the original near and dear. I still suggest you play the original and then move on to this, but if you can’t play the original, then the remake is your perfect chance to experience one of gaming’s highlights.

Score: 9/10

Advertisements

Shadow of the Colossus review part 1: The Original

Developer: Team Ico

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Game played on: PS2

Release Date: October 18, 2005

63158_front

This game’s intro is a cutscene of a young man riding on horseback across various environments to a far off, ancient land while carrying the body of a young woman. All the while a serene yet melancholic music track plays the whole time. This is how Shadow of the Colossus, one of the greatest games ever created begins.

Shadow of the Colossus has an extremely simple, yet layered and deep plot. You play as Wander, a young man armed with a sword, a bow and arrows, and accompanied only by his horse Agro, who is trying to revive a girl named Mono. To do that, he makes a deal with an entity named Dormin: If he slays 16 giants known as colossi, she will be revived. That’s it. That is the majority of the information you are given regarding the plot of the game. As it goes on, you are given a few more details that I won’t spoil, but for the most part the game keeps things as vague as it possibly can. This leaves the plot and the motivations of Wander completely up to your interpretation. I have always interpreted the plot of the game as that of a Greek tragedy. Play the game and you’ll see why, but as Wander goes on with his quest, it becomes clear he is making a horrible mistake, but his determination to bring Mono back blinds him to that.

The gameplay is also pretty simplistic, but with room for exploration. While taking place in a large open world, there are no side quests or side characters to interact with. You search for the colossi you have to kill, you kill it, and repeat the process. That might sound repetitive on the surface, but the game’s execution of the concept makes it anything but. Wander is not some badass hero, but is actually rather weak. Try swinging his sword when not fighting a colossi, and his swing is clumsy and shows a lack of experience. The battles with the colossi are not straightforward affairs, but require strategy and careful thinking. The colossi have various weakpoints on their bodies that you have to find and stab with your sword in order to take away their health and kill them, and that requires you to grab onto the giants’ fur, and climb up them while they try to shake you off. You have a stamina meter that goes down the longer you hold on and the harder they shake, so you have to act fast.

The colossi themselves are easily some of the greatest bosses ever conceived in gaming. While some are more interesting than others and have more engaging battles, they all have creative designs and the majority of them absolutely tower over you. The third, fifth, and thirteenth colossi are by far my three favorites because of the solutions required to get onto them and attack their vitals, and their designs. The only disappointing colossi are the ones that aren’t really that colossal at all. It just feels out of place in a game about a tiny human going up against gigantic beasts.

This game is over a decade old, and it is still near flawless on its technical aspects. Loading times are almost nonexistent, and when they do appear, they’re quick and painless. While there is some texture pop in, it usually happens at long distances and the game makes up for its outdated textures with amazing atmosphere. The open world has this weird fog effect when looking in the distance that serves to hide some of the forming textures, and the only sound while traveling the world are the sounds of the wind and your horse’s hooves hitting the ground. The audio of this game is excellent even after all these years. The two things that take some getting used to are the controls and camera. They’re very obtuse but as you play they become easier to handle, and by the end I was having next to no issues. This is especially true with Agro. While Agro is the greatest horse sidekick in video games, you don’t really control her so much as you control Wander riding her. This makes using her something of a chore and even more so in areas with a lot of foliage or rocks. Last thing to note is in my just over six hours of playtime, I died only once from falling off a ledge. This was my second time playing the game so while I did know what to expect, I remember from my first time that the game was never particularly difficult.

Shadow of the Colossus’ music is yet again another great hallmark in gaming history. Every track hits you straight in the gut, inspiring everything from sadness to triumph. The tracks that play during the colossi battles will get you pumped for each fight, giving you the feeling that as puny compared to those giants as you are, you can beat them. There has yet to be anything else like it and I doubt there ever will be.

Lastly, Shadow of the Colossus succeeds in subtle worldbuilding and developing a mysterious lore. Throughout the forbidden land there are ruins and other signs that there was once life, but are now mysteriously abandoned. Questions such as the old inhabitants of this land, the colossi’s origins, and what exactly Dormin is are never answered. You have to come up with your own explanation.

Shadow of the Colossus is nothing short of a masterpiece that has yet to be replicated. Even with some minor technical issues, the game’s execution of what it strives to achieve completely elevates it above them. It is a game everyone should play, and with the remake out I’m glad more people can. Alas, I wish more could play it in its original state, or even from the HD remaster of last console generation. I intend to review the remake to compare it to the original game. Regardless, standing on its own, the original Shadow of the Colossus is one of the greatest games of all time.

Score: 10/10

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time review

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Game played on: 3DS

Released: November 23, 1998/ June 19, 2011 (Ocarina of Time 3D)

ocarina_of_time_ft-img

So this is it, the game considered by many to be the greatest ever created. It revolutionized 3D gaming and its influence is still felt to this day. I’m glad to have finally gotten it out of my backlog, even if it is not in its original form. I don’t regret the time I spent playing Ocarina, in fact I think it’s a very good game, but not certainly not the best game ever.

This is the very first Zelda game I have ever played from beginning to end. I have not played the 2D Zelda games and I don’t care about them. Ocarina of Time tells the story of a young boy named Link (but you can change his name to any one you want), who is destined to save the land of Hyrule and the princess Zelda from the ambitions of the evil Ganondorf. With help from his fairy sidekick Navi, Link’s quest will take him to places from villages where the children never become adults to dark, forbidden dungeons full of booby traps and monsters, and even across time itself.

A simple story right? Yes. However, that is as much its greatest strength as it is its greatest weakness. Ocarina of Time’s story and plot harken back to classic fairy tales and fantasy books we all know and love. A young peasant boy with a great destiny, the quest to save a young princess and the land from great evil, strange fantasy creatures and monsters, etc. The simplicity of the premise lends weight to some truly emotional story moments. As you travel back as an adult to locations you visited and helped as a child, you are confronted with these lands having become ruined or corrupted by Ganondorf and his evil rule. Characters that once knew you no longer recognize you at first, and sometimes never do. It explores themes of how much crueler the world can be as an adult, when everything seemed so much more happy and innocent as a child. All of these very good qualities aside, it is a pretty simple plot. If you have any knowledge of fairy tales, you’ll likely be able to predict where it will go, and there’s only one major twist in the game which given its age you might already know. The side characters are also mainly forgettable. You will meet them, they’ll serve their role for the story, and then be forgotten about to move on to the next plot point. Your fairy companion Navi has a bad reputation even amongst this game’s biggest fans, but I didn’t find her to be that annoying, and she has genuinely useful advice for you throughout the game.

The gameplay mainly revolves around exploring dungeons, solving puzzles, and combating enemies. The dungeons are all varied in their visual and level design, and each has a different atmosphere. However they also vary greatly in quality, with some being entertainingly challenging, and others just being obnoxiously hard for no reason. The infamous Water Temple is considered the prime example of the latter, but honestly I don’t think it’s that difficult, in fact once you figure out how it works you can solve it fairly easily, and switching between required items is a lot less tedious thanks to the 3DS remaster’s new features. The temple immediately after it I think is a lot more annoying just because it throws so much at you. The best temple in the game I feel is the Forest Temple, because of its place in the story, the boss, and the resolution at the end.

Enemies will have either weaknesses that Link can exploit with the right weapon and timing, or he can just hack away at the simpler ones with his sword. This really gets taken to an extreme level in the boss fights. They will have one, very specific weakness that you have to exploit over and over again until they finally go down using a special item found in their respective dungeon. Once you figure it out and can predict their move sets, they won’t be any trouble whatsoever save for their high damage output. They all have designs that are creative and fit the environment that they inhabit.

Ocarina of Time’s gameplay is held back the most by its focus on keeping everything varied in the moment rather than overtime. Items that you find in dungeons rarely, but not always have any usage outside of them, and despite the overworld of the game being fairly large, there isn’t really much to do save for the odd minigame and the game’s very few sidequests. The only sidequests I pursued were one which will get you the most powerful sword in the whole game, and even that is mostly just fetch quests mixed with time trials, and the other that will get you a bigger wallet to carry money in.

What manages to carry Ocarina of Time to the finish line is its atmosphere and music. You genuinely feel immersed in this fantasy land that is counting on you alone to save it. Link is perfect for this, having zero personality and existing solely for players to project themselves into, to the point where Link doesn’t even have to be his name. Lastly, even decades later, Ocarina of Time’s music is still amongst the finest ever crafted in gaming.
There is nothing really bad to say about Ocarina of Time on a technical level other than the framerate dropping a few times during more intense moments. It was glitch free and while a bit dated, the character and background models are not ugly or aged too badly. I played the 3DS remaster of this game, which updated the graphics to be more bearable, has better controls, and generally feels nicer to play.

Sorry but the greatest game of all time Ocarina of Time is not. It’s still very good, but even with the remaster’s graphical improvements and better controls, age still has exposed this game’s flaws. Other games have come out afterwards that are more worthy of “greatest of all time” status than Ocarina.

Score: 7/10