Arguably one of the best games of the PS2 era, Shadow of the Colossus, has earned its place in the annals of gaming history. Short on dialogue or context, SotC does a ton of heavy lifting using game mechanics, visuals, and cutscenes.
Transitions from gameplay to cutscene and back are seamless. This often presents the player with an impressive introduction to the next colossi, then leaves them to scrambling to figure out how to prevail. It is a great mechanic for a game that’s all about trial and error and the rewards of taking risks.
The game’s final cutscene is its best, delivering a gut punch as it lays bare the consequences of the Traveler’s actions. As the game progresses, it becomes more apparent that the Traveler might not be working for the side of good; this sequence makes no bones about the fact that his selfish actions will only bring death and destruction.
And through the betrayal of the demonic force that the Traveler has entered into a sacred bond with, the player must now watch the payoff for all of their hard work. And, although what comes to fruition is not what was desired, it isn’t all for naught.
This all has the feel of a storybook, almost akin to a fairytale, and the art style informs this aesthetic. There is an elegant grace to the flow of the cut scene, with a healthy dose of melancholy, intrigue and a dash of spirituality. And the macabre organ soundtrack — this shit is Gothic and epic.
Add to all of this the sheer amount storytelling that happens in this cutscene. There hasn’t been such a large chunk of exposition since the opening sequence; this is a short film unto itself.
Controlling the beast — although sluggish and mired by a terrible camera position — is a nice touch to break up the cinematic. There is a lot going on — back stabs and revelations, evil incarnate reborn, and the subtle moment of recognition when the beast sees the dead beloved of the Traveler.
There is a great deal of bittersweet tragedy throughout Shadow of the Colossus, which culminates in these final moments. The loss of a trusted companion, destroyed creatures of unknown origin and whatever impact their absence will have, the downfall of the Traveler: all of this drives the final dagger ever deeper into the heart of the protagonist — and maybe even the player.
Sure, all is returned to a visible sense balance and peace, but at what cost?
As the Traveler tumbles to his final resting place and the evil is vanquished, what remains is a beautiful moment of tranquility and discovery. The young woman, now back from the dead, is left to never know what transpired a in that temple, the sacrifice and loss.
But as the young woman holds that baby, hope remains for these two lone survivors.