My Teenage Bible, Beautifully Revived After 12 Years
Shadow of the Colossus, an adventure game regarded as one of the PlayStation's masterpieces for its story and controls, received a full remake on February 8th, 2018 as part of the PlayStation 4 (PS4)'s lineup. Natalie.mu is doing a special feature to communicate the charms of this beautifully-reborn game, still loved around the world to this day.
Here, we have Kenshi Yonezu, who adores the games of game designer Fumito Ueda - not only Shadow of the Colossus, but Ico and The Last Guardian. He recalled memories of Shadow of the Colossus, a game which he says has greatly influenced his current work since his initial encounter with it in his teens, and gave his feelings on playing the PS4 remake.
Q. First of all, tell us about your encounter with Shadow of the Colossus.
A. A classmate of mine who liked games and music lent me Ico (an adventure game also worked on by SotC's Fumito Ueda) and said "it's fun, you should try it." That was my first experience with Fumito Ueda-san's works. Then in middle school, I heard the same team as Ico would be releasing Shadow of the Colossus, so I went with that same friend to buy the game on release day. I make music taking various influences from manga and anime, but Ico and Shadow of the Colossus also occupy an important corner of that.
Q. In what exact ways do you think you were influenced?
A. I think I was greatly influenced by the art design. That feeling of wandering a foreign land... I've had a strong attachment to fantasy worlds since I was a child. As I spent my days going to school, studying, coming home, eating, and sleeping... I had a great interest in exciting thoughts like "What if there really was a world like this?"
Q. You longed for other worlds far detached from your daily life.
A. I think the period from late grade school to middle school, as I was beginning to grow a sense of self, was a period where I first became conscious of things like loneliness. Just like anyone else, I came to feel those things, and that's the period in which I played Ico and SotC. And you could say these two games did a really good job of shooting through me at that time. The act of "abandoning something to adventure in another world, for the sake of someone precious" seemed like an incredibly noble thing to teenage me, who was feeling loneliness for the first time. Though these events were taking place in a totally different world, I felt "this is about me." That's why I think I liked them so much.
Q. Speaking of loneliness, Shadow of the Colossus has an extremely small number of characters compared to most games. It's not like you have allies; your only allies are yourself and someone precious to you.
A. Right, right. Even though you run around such a massive field, your only foes are the 16 colossi. It's a game where loneliness is always around you. Lonesomeness and solitude are at the root of Shadow of the Colossus. I think those aspects may have influenced my work as well.
Q. The PS2 version was released in 2005. So you would have been 14 at the time; do you remember when you got it?
A. I remember. The packaging was really elaborate, not often seen these days. The package was white and translucent, and the instruction manual, as they included in games back then, got me really excited. It was totally unlike a normal instruction manual. This is something I just realized talking about it now, but when I make my own CDs, I think "I want to make it feel cool when you pick it up," which may have been because of how I felt picking up Shadow of the Colossus. A few years ago, there was an Ico/SotC bundle with a booklet included, and I felt that the box for that was also very intricately designed.
Q. After reading the exciting instruction manual, how did you feel diving into the world of Shadow of the Colossus?
A. At the start, I was simply scared. A humongous colossus came at me with clear hostility, and even when I beat it and returned to the temple, Wander was surrounded by this black haze... Those were terrifying things to see.
Q. If you're projecting yourself onto Wander, it's all the scarier.
A. Right. But I strongly felt like I didn't want to stop in the middle of the story. When I play games, a lot of times I can tell the climax is coming and I don't want it to end, so I just end up quitting. Shadow of the Colossus has just the right sense of volume, and if you set out to do it, you can beat it in a day or two - and I felt like I had to take that approach of not stopping until I see the ending through.
Q. Your objective of defeating the 16 colossi is given to you at the beginning, so like it or not, you know the end is approaching by the number you've defeated.
A. And I had sort of a premonition from the start that no matter how you look at it, it wasn't going to have some sort of happy conclusion where everyone's satisfied. At the story progresses, even Wander's complexion worsens... Once you know there's no going back, you can only go forward. That's why I felt the story had to be brought to its conclusion.
Q. You say you've played various games. What crucial differences are there between other titles and Shadow of the Colossus?
A. It's not easily identifiable as game-like. It feels less like you're playing a game, and more like you're immersed in a story... This is a basic way of putting it, but it's remarkable that you can play it as a game while feeling like you're watching a movie. Other games have HP and MP and stuff on their screens, and all these gauges. It's like you're inside a cockpit, which is fine and all. But since Shadow of the Colossus strips away as much of that as possible, you can project your feelings onto the protagonist. The refined simplicity is so graceful; I think it's a truly beautiful game.
Q. I think it's also remarkable for its sorrowful and beautiful story.
A. Indeed. The ending was especially impactful.
Q. The PS4 release of Shadow of the Colossus is a full remake done from scratch. The graphics are quite staggering.
A. It's become outrageously pretty. Like a different game entirely. In terms of "it's like watching a movie," I believe the PS4 remake has further added to that aspect. The first thing that surprised me when I played it was Wander's face. To be frank, Wander's face in the PS2 version is rough and abstract, and I felt I could immerse myself in that. Whereas in the remake, his features are more clear and human, exuding a sense of "this is Wander."
Q. It's not only Wander's face; the colossus fur, the texture of stone walls, all these details feel more clear than before.
A. The colossus fur is all fluffy, and adds to them feeling like animals. The colossi are generally objects of fear, but because of the feeling that there's life within them, you feel really bad for them stabbing your sword into their bodies. That feeling when you deal the final blow to the colossus, yet think it's somehow tragic, which was present in the PS2 version, was strengthened by the increased sense of these colossi being some sort of living creature.
Q. Also, did you try the "photo mode" feature added in this version, which lets you capture scenes as if you're actually taking a photo?
A. Yes. It was amazing.
Q. Having the zoom and filter functions is also nice.
A. It felt like a worthwhile feature to have because of how pretty it's become.
Q. Shadow of the Colossus is notable for how each colossus has weakpoints in different places and different tricks to beating them, with brute force not being enough to defeat your foes. Of the 16 colossi, which ones did you like or left an impression?
A. I really like the shape of the third colossus, who also appears on the PS4 version's cover. The passage of time is a scary thing; even though I'd beaten the game in the past, I was no longer sure how to defeat the third colossus, and spent a while trying to figure it out.
Q. Were there any others who left an impression?
A. Fighting the catfish-like colossus in the water was scary. Also, the bird-like fifth, the eighth, and the thirteenth were all difficult. Managing to find the way to fight them, and the music changing the moment you pull it off - you feel really good in that moment. I would sometimes play it with my friend, and I remember it was fun searching for the way to do it while going "maybe I'm supposed to do this with it?"
Q. You also do illustrations, so were you influenced by Shadow of the Colossus in character design or the like?
A. I think the nuances of my illustrations were extremely influenced. I draw boys with horns fairly often, which I think is due to the boy protagonist of Ico.
Q. Your illustrations often connect with the style of your songs, so is it also an influence in your compositions?
A. I was a drawing kid to start with, so even in music, I often create a situation first, then expand it into a song. In that sense, there are definitely songs that have been born from primal imagery within me, such as the worlds of Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. And as far as the music used in the games, I listened to the Ico soundtrack over and over. Its melodies sung by a boy soprano have an exotic feeling. Perhaps those things are reflected in parts of my songs.
Q. Your latest single Lemon was written as the theme song for the death-focused TV drama Unnatural, and is a song that gives off a smell of death. I wondered if that might be in line with Shadow of the Colossus's style...
A. Lemon was very much made with death as a theme, so in that sense, perhaps there are connections with the death-scented Shadow of the Colossus. Not only are you the only living human in this huge field, as you adventure, you find empty places with signs of there having been civilization there; I think these things highlight death, in a way.
Q. You've played the PS4 remake, but you said you haven't beaten the story yet. Did you feel like you wanted to reach the end again?
A. Of course, I want to see it to the end.
Q. I'm sure there are people experiencing Shadow of the Colossus for the first time through this PS4 remake. How would you describe its charm to those people?
A. The very least I can say is, I think it's a game that people who like my music will like. Because it's my bible, one of the things at my roots, and deeply influenced me, and is in a place not far off from my music. So if you've ever once thought my music was good, I think there's nothing to lose trying it. Also, I think people who feel lonesomeness in their heart should try it. This game is packed with those sorts of things, so I think you'll be able to empathize with them.
Q. How would you recommend it for people who have already played it?
A. I don't think it's necessarily true that "the prettier it is, the better it is," that's putting the cart before the horse. If you ask me whether taking old films and songs and removing the static to remaster them makes them more wonderful, there are times when that's just not the case. But even considering those things about this Shadow of the Colossus PS4 remake, I feel the staff brought their love, and successfully remade it in a beautiful way. So I'd certainly like people to experience this reborn Shadow of the Colossus.
Q. This remake was worked on by the same people who did the PS3 remaster, Bluepoint Games. It seems they're strongly attached to this title, and paid utmost respect to the elements of the original game as they put forth ideas and added new features.
A. I suppose so. It's a dearly-adored game. Shadow of the Colossus is a really universal work that isn't washed away by time. This 13-year-old work hasn't faded one bit, no doubt because of its refined simplicity. As a fan, I hope it'll continue to be loved for many decades to come.