A Boy, His Horse, His Sword, and 50 Foot Monsters: The Music of Shadow of the Colossus

Gamer Grooves

As always, a friendly reminder that this post may contain spoilers

Shadow of the Colossus probably has one of my favorite game ideas of all time. It’s a game where you ride on your horse to boss battles… and that’s it. I love boss battles, and I love huge bosses as well, so it should be no surprise that a game like this grab my ear. Shadow of the Colossus is also part platformer and part puzzle game. As easy as it would be to simply climb up each colossus and stab them in the head 16 times in a row, it certainly wouldn’t be as entertaining. So each battle is a puzzle, using the surroundings and sometimes the help of the boss to reach its weak point. The story is simple with a small twist: Wander (the main character) wants to bring his girlfriend back to life, and to do so he must obey an evil spirit named Dormin who demands that Wander must kill 16 colossi to have his wish granted. You seek them out in their respective domains as you go on your quest to return your love to the world of the living.

Obviously, the soundtrack to this game is unbelievably good. It was composed by Kow Otani, who also composed songs for a few Gamera films. Clearly, he knows how to compose for giant creatures. The soundtrack, ‘Roar of the Earth’, won Electronic Gamer Monthly’s ‘Soundtrack of the Year’ award for a very good reason. It’s an atmospheric soundtrack to be sure, with music generally only being played in cut-scenes or the battles themselves. As usual, I’ll pick out of a few of the tracks.


The Opened Way

This is the song that plays on some colossi when you get onto them. Since they are so huge, getting onto the colossus is usually half to three quarters of the battle. The soundtrack switches gears when you get on a colossus to denote the change in mood. The Opened Way reinforces the size and strength of the colossus you’re fighting. It still sounds like a struggle, but the music creates a small window of determination and grit that Wander will use to overcome this huge obstacle.

I’ve heard a lot of remixes from Shadow of the Colossus, and The Opened Way is probably the most remixed song. I think the reason it sticks so well in the minds of others is because it’s the song that plays when you get on the first colossus of the game. He’s not too complicated to maneuver around as you get your bearings in the new environment, so it’s easier to listen and appreciate the music at the forefront of your mind. Later songs are great as well, but The Opened Way sets the tone early on, letting you know that the huge club-wielding giant is just the beginning.


I most associate Counterattack with the colossi named Phalanx (pictured in the video above). He’s a sky serpent that you have to shoot the air bubbles off of to make him lower his wings. When he lowers them, you ride up with your horse, climb onto his wing, and wait for Phalanx to lift them. Phalanx never directly attacks Wander, so it’s curious as to why this music was chosen. Counterattack played once before in the soundtrack as the theme of Dirge, the sand serpent. In that fight, Dirge was constantly chasing after you, and the song is aptly named because you are counter-attacking.

Incoming Crazy Theory Time!!!

Phalanx is the 13th colossus out of 16, so by the time you fight him, you are nearing the end of your journey. When you finally get onto Phalanx, you’re frustrated and want to waste no time in the matter of killing him. Counterattack, in my opinion, brings out the fierceness in Wander, whose struggle for victory pushes him hard. The boss, as I mentioned before, never attacks you, so the way I see it is that Wander is quickly becoming more uncaring about the kind of colossus he has to kill. He will kill every colossus he has to regardless of how peaceful they are because he wishes to bring his loved one back to life. To me, it’s like Counterattack is the theme of Wander’s brutal nature.

It’s also very atmospheric; as you run on the back of Phalanx, there is a clear feeling of wind rushing across his back, making it a bit harder to keep your balance while you traverse him.

Gate Watcher of the Ruins

Gate Watcher of the Ruins is the theme of the 15th Colossus, Argus. The title of Gate Watcher is definitely a good name for this dude. He’s a massive and aggressive colossus with a giant stone blade. Compared to the colossi before him, he provides the greatest challenge that you face in the game. He’s aggressive, smart, and likes to shake more than any boss in the game, which stops you from being able to attack him effectively. I’d venture that this boss is tougher than the final boss (but that’s a different story altogether).

The music makes it clear that Argus as not just another creature for you to slay. He wants to kill you very badly, and has a bunch of different stomps and slams to help that cause. I can close my eyes and hear his massive feet stomp against the ground, causing shockwaves to knock me down if I’m too close (too close to a giant being a relative term). You may want him to use a certain attack that you can twist to your advantage, but he may have no intention of cooperating with you. The theme sounds like one for another sentient being rather than one of a mindless and instinctual creature; a being who is evil and actively conceiving various ways to kill you better. His spot as the 15th colossus is well earned, and when I hear this music, I become uneasy because I know it means my confrontation with him is right around the corner.

Demise of the Ritual

By the time this music plays, you’ve reached the final colossus. Malus (once again pictured in the song) is more building than creature. He towers (heh) above you blasting you with homing laser rocket-type attacks as you make your approach. You should check out Rainymood.com as something to accompany this song because it has the thundering rain that accents the battle. At this point in the game, Wander’s clothes are in tatters, his horse has fallen down a cliff, and he has taken in so many dark spirits from the colossi he’s killed that he looks to be in terrible shape. So the song tells the story of the fight, much like Gwyn in Dark Souls.

There is no triumphant sound to be had here. Wander is committed to this mission and will see it through to the end. His body is near broken, but the end waits right there atop the platform on the other end of the war-torn battlefield. The field itself most likely formed from numerous attempts to defeat Malus, with all those attempts ending in utter defeat (this includes barricades and trenches set up, which Wander will use to cover his advance). I think the song helps tell the story of Malus as well as of the battle. There is no inherent anger or aggression in Malus, and because he doesn’t move, he has no reason to fuss (unless you’re on his head). He calmly lifts up his arm and points a finger at you to fire his blasts, and since he has such a high ground, there is no effort involved in aiming. Demise of the Ritual tells the tale of a desperate man (boy in the beginning, man after all this) on a desperate quest, while telling of the ageless entity that has become so accustomed to total destruction that he has no real issue with you, but will still eliminate you because it is his solemn duty. This is a clash between a creature of pure emotion and drive and a being of cold and focused duty, a clash that produces no real winner.


Shadow of the Colossus was released on the PS2, released again as a greatest hits, and then released as a compilation on the PS3 with its spiritual prequel, Ico. I think of it as a rite of pilgrimage that everyone should partake in whether or not they like it at the end. It’s a one of a kind experience, so it should be treated as such. Sit down, turn on the console, and drink in the lonely and solemn world of Shadow of the Colossus.

See you tomorrow!


Shadow of the Colossus cover

About Alex McVeigh 28 Articles
Alex has been a nerd for as long as he can remember. Every normal conversation he has had could be matched 1 for 1 with a conversation about why Scrooge McDuck is obviously richer than Edward Cullens' Dad and here's why. He can talk about and play video games for hours only to conclude with "anyone wanna play some magic?