Here we are again, Lorequesters (all ten of you [as well as all my Spanish-speaking questers out of Argentina who probably can’t even read this but who seem to love my early Chivalry posts for some ungodly reason]) with the second Shadow of the Colossus entry, this time focusing on the setting of the game, the Forbidden Lands.
The Forbidden Lands is a large and multi-facet place, to be sure, with a variety of landscapes and fragments of civilization that it can still boast. So I think, in order to begin talking about the Lands, we need to examine the one source in the game that speaks on them. I’m speaking, of course, of Lord Emon who uses the opening narration to exposition the heck out of the Forbidden Lands by saying a lot about them… but ultimately saying a whole lot of nothing (on the surface).
“That place… began from the resonance of intersecting points… They are memories replaced by ens and naught and etched into stone. Blood, young sprouts, sky–and the one with the ability to control beings created from light… In that world, it is said that if one should wish it one can bring back the souls of the dead… But to trespass upon that land is strictly forbidden…”
Alright, so what in the world is Lord Bald talking about here? This is all of the exposition we get on the Forbidden Lands and it’s practically the first thing that happens in the game. Well, since this is all we have to go on, let’s break it down.
- “That place… began from the resonance of intersecting points…”
So clearly, the Forbidden Lands were created from the meeting of various “points.” But what those “points” are is much less clear. I see those points as simply being the intersecting of minds and thoughts, meaning it represents people and ideas coming together which, incidentally, is how all societies start. Although, it is interesting to note that, unless the naming committee for the Land was severely lacking in talent and brains, the place were likely not always called “The Forbidden Lands.” Meaning, when Emon says that “That place… began,” it could mean that what was once the Forbidden Lands was founded by those “intersecting points” or the lands became the Forbidden Lands and thus fell into ruins due to “intersecting points.”
I cannot say which one is right but for the sake of this string of thought, let’s go with the former. I might touch on the latter after a while though. Just for fun.
- “They are memories replaced by ens and naught and etched into stone…”
Firstly, if anybody can tell me what an “en” is, I will give them ten dollars. But ignoring that word entirely, seeing as how I have no idea what it means unfortunately, let’s look at the rest of that. The “they” in that sentence is interesting. I suspect it is referring back to the “intersecting points” from earlier, meaning that the points that once constructed the Forbidden Lands are less than even insubstantial memories. The word “naught” is attached to “ens” in the sentence so I think we can safely say that they are related and can see that the memories of the realm are replaced with “naught,” meaning nothing. The only remnants would be left behind, etched into stone. In other words, the lands are totally destroyed, abandoned, and only leave their legacy in stone. By that I would say that the sixteen idols in the Shrine of Worship and the mysterious symbols/alphabets would make the most sense for the remnants of the old society.
- “Blood, young sprouts, sky–and the one with the ability to control beings created from light…”
Those first four words seem rather vague but I think when you consider the whole of the Forbidden Lands and how little is left in it, it seems to make sense. “Blood,” probably symbolizes the Lands’ bloody past that resulted in its desolation as well the blood of the still-living life there such as the fish, hawks, tortoises, and animals in the Shrine’s secret garden. “Young sprouts,” likely symbolizes the slow return of life to the Lands (see the Forbidden Lands in the Past on this page for more info about the ecological damage) after its devastation. “Sky,” is rather obvious, seeing as how the sky was likely the only thing not totally ravaged by Dormin’s destruction seeing as how both land and water were damaged heavily, mostly by encroaching deserts. Finally, the “one with the ability to control…” is clearly Dormin, being the only other living, speaking thing in the Forbidden Lands and the “beings created from light,” are rather clearly the spirits of the dead that Dormin has power over.
To further prove this point about the “beings created from light,” the official UK version of TeamICO’s website states that, referring to the shadow creatures in Shadow of the Colossus, “Everything casts a shadow” and also that “when an entity exists beyond the mortal realm, a shadow is all men can see.” And if one thinks about it, shadows cannot exist without light to cast onto something. Therefore, if all we as players and all Wander sees is shadow in a human form, that must mean that the shadow’s genesis lays in light. For, without light, there would be no shadows. Emon does not say that Dormin controls beings “made of light,” but instead, “created by light,” meaning shadows. Probably.
- “In that world, it is said that if one should wish it one can bring back the souls of the dead… But to trespass upon that land is strictly forbidden…”
Naturally, this is all fairly self-explanatory: “Don’t go there. Don’t wake up Dormin even though it can bring people back to life.” However, the reason why exactly Dormin was sealed away is a matter of much debate and speculation and will be talked about much more in depth on Dormin’s own page.
Forbidden Lands in the Present Day:
Pieces of Civilization:
Shrine of Worship: The largest single structure remaining in the Forbidden Lands. It holds the sixteen Colossus idols, the same idols which are destroyed when their Colossus forms are. It is also where Dormin is imprisoned, where Wander is brought back to after defeating every Colossus, where Mono is kept for the entirety of the game, and where the bridge to the Forbidden Lands ends, making it an unavoidable stop for those wanting to enter the Lands. It is also one of the most central (geographically speaking) landmarks, if not the central landmark in the Lands, again emphasizing its importance. Also, the bridge connecting the Shrine to the lands beyond is of course very important. The bridge’s architecture is very bizarre but may be reinforced with some kind of magic, hence why it came apart so smoothly from Emon’s spell at the end of the game. In short, its importance in the game cannot be overstated, therefore its importance to the past civilization of the Forbidden Lands likely cannot be overstated as well.
Cenobia’s City: (See, Cenobia) The largest truly urban area still left in the Forbidden Lands. And, that said, it’s a pretty pathetic one. Most of the buildings are covered with moss and some of the pillars have been toppled over. Even Cenobia’s Temple and the impressive-looking entranceway have suffered some kind of damage. Even so, the city is rather small and doesn’t seem like it could house a significant amount of people.
Argus’ Desert Fortress: (See, Argus) Arguably more impressive than Cenobia’s city, but ultimately being nothing more than a huge castle, the desert fortress is a linear monstrosity of stone that shows limited signs of decay, whether that is due to its size or position in arid landscape is unknown and probably irrelevant.
Kuromori’s Prison: (See, Kuromori) I will argue to the end (of my patience, probably) that Kuromori’s arena is actually a prison of sorts. The barred windows, the nature of Kuromori itself, the winding structure of the building, as well as the isolated area and moat surrounding the building leading down into the underground chamber makes me think of an enormous prison. Even so, it is slightly decayed and damaged.
Barba’s Catacombs: (See, Barba) Though the cave size itself is probably more impressive than the structures in it, Barba’s catacombs, complete with mechanical door, burial tombs, and a scaenae frons (a kind of backdrop used for dramatic performances that was especially popular during the Roman Empire) for some reason, shows that the people of the Forbidden Lands really doted on their dead. Given that the power of the dead plays a central role in the plot, that is hardly surprising.
Celosia’s Altar: (See, Celosia) Celosia’s altar is probably the single largest shrine minus the Shrine of Worship, making it worth notice. There are even areas that only Celosia can access and places where Wander is simply unable to get to that could expand the altar’s size even more. Regardless, the way the structure was built into the deep valley/crater shows that what Celosia was supposed to guard over was incredibly important.
Pelagia’s Lake: (See, Pelagia) Fitting for the Colossus representing human structures interacting with the water, Pelagia’s arena has a few architectural elements worth nothing. The aqueduct-like structure and relatively ornate shrines show that a lot of care went into the area and the fact that the structures managed to survive the stresses of time and water-based erosion says something for the care put into their creation as well.
Gaius’ Arena: (See, Gaius) Though the humankind contribution to this area as a whole is debatable, the metal disc positioned on the arena is undeniably made by human hands. The conspicuous nature of this object and the odd weakness that Gaius has to it makes me think that humans put the disc there for their own purposes and Gaius was never really meant to interact with it. I still put forth the idea that humans used that area to duel one another while the statue of Gaius simply observed them, silently judging.
Save Shrines: These virtually identical and ambiguous shrines are scattered throughout the Forbidden Lands and, strangely, always have at least one white-tailed lizard somewhere on/around them. Given that they appear to be landmarks through the Lands, as evidenced by their names when the player saves at one of them, I would wager that the save shrines served as a kind of wayshrine for travelers of all descriptions.
Smaller Colossus Shrines: These would include the buildings that remain in Hydrus’, Valus’, Avions’, Phalanx’s area and so on. There is nothing particularly worth noting about any of these since they are either so decayed or so close to a Colossus’ realm that the only purpose they could serve would be for veneration for the gods that the Colossi would be to the people of the Forbidden Lands.
Remnants: The Forbidden Lands, as anybody who has played Shadow of the Colossus knows full well, are mostly empty. Despite the surprising amount of things I just listed above, almost none except for the first three are of truly significant size and virtually all of the pieces of civilization mentioned are experiencing some kind of decay or collapse and said pieces are oftentimes well-removed from virtually anything else nearby including harsh environments or other pieces of civilization.
Some of you may be wondering why Malus’ huge and labyrinthine arena is not on this list. Well firstly, it’s on its dedicated Colossus page. But also, I am only considering “civilization” to mean only areas of significant purpose in the eyes of a society. Kuromori’s prison may serve drastically different needs than Cenobia’s city, but they are still both important structures for civilization to thrive. Malus’ arena, along with the smaller shrines of many of the Colossi, are simply too manufactured and mono-purpose to fit in with the wider definition of “civilization” that I’m using.
Forbidden Lands in the Past:
In terms of the lost civilization of the Forbidden Lands, I feel that unfortunately almost all of it has been worn away by time, erosion, or Dormin’s rage.
One very important thing to stress about the Land’s geography is that it was probably much more lush with land that it was when Wander traveled through it. The Northern Span, for instance, appears to be much larger now than it was previously. Consider the areas surrounding the Northern Span, as in those that are just to its west and south. The lands to its south are near the Shrine of Worship and include regions such as the Autumnal Forest, which is perhaps one of the lushest areas in all of the Lands. To the Span’s west there is the Dried Marsh, so-named due to its past life as a marsh that was full of water and life but has since been rendered infertile and barren by the encroaching desert. Even Pelagia’s Misty Falls to the Span’s east show that life could have very well thrived in the expanse where the Northern Span now occupies. I would like to point out though, that if the Dried Marsh is called that, reflecting its present-day position, then there is no guarantee that Argus’ Desert Fortress was not always so arid geographically. Indeed, even Celosia’s close-by altar, though it is devoted to flames, has a significant pool of water near its entrance. Whether natural or used to inhibit Celosia from leaving its post (more of this on Celosia’s dedicated page), is up for debate but the fact that water exists in the desert at all is worth something. Additionally, there are pools of water along the western edge of the Span with tortoises around them. This might be a totally insignificant detail but if Basaran’s lakebed home could be totally ecologically devastated, perhaps its smaller tortoise cousin’s home suffered the same fate. Indeed, Basaran’s lakebed and the desolate areas surrounding Gaius’ arena and the nearby valleys may have suffered the same damage from Dormin’s influence.
However, it might be worth noting that the desertification of the Forbidden Lands is mostly confined to the central, north-central, and northwest areas. It is almost entirely clear that Dormin is a god of death, so Its influence on the land would likely be felt in those lands that It frequented the most, meaning places north of the Shrine of Worship. Now, Cenobia’s city, talked about more in depth on Celosia’s own page, is something worth considering about Dormin’s supposed northwestern-ward path (Dormin’s actions are talked about more on Its own page, too). Suffice to say, the fact that anything south, southwest, southeast, and east of the Shrine seems untouched by any of Dromin’s influence means that they were never visited by It. Phalanx’s desert, given Phalanx’s ability to tunnel under the sand, is almost a guarantee that it has always been there.
I’d also like to point out the wildlife in the Lands, namely, there’s not much: tortoises, fish, hawks, doves, and lizards with only various fruits from various trees being the only edible produce in the game. Of those four animals mentioned, it makes sense that they would have survived the Dormin cataclysm. Tortoises are simply physically tough and adaptable, hence why they are almost impossible to kill in-game and they can survive in small desert ponds in the Northern Span. Fish and hawks, being underwater and airborne respectively would logically be the creatures to avoid extension (or evacuation, given their untamed nature) due to their separation from humans and their mobility in their own environments. The doves seem to have a more symbolic message in the game, with a new one appearing around Mono for every new shadow around Wander after a Colossus is slain, but their existence probably follows the same logic as the hawks. Interesting though, there are deer and squirrels (I think that’s what they are?) at the top of the Shrine of Worship secret garden. Back on that “Blood, young sprouts, and sky,” line from earlier, it seems like the garden, given its secret nature and lush landscape, was a kind of hideaway for life native to the Lands that would shelter them from the Dormin cataclysm.
Speaking of the secret garden, the fruit up there is also incredibly noteworthy. It is the only fruit in the game to actually lower Wander’s health and stamina. Fumito Ueda, the game’s director is quoted in saying that, “The fruit in the ancient land was set to get you close to a non-human existence. The (secret garden’s) fruit was set to return you to a human one.” In other words, A: the fruits and white-tailed lizards of the Forbidden Lands are corrupted with Dormin’s influence, B: Dormin’s influence can make benifical things happen (even if they turn you into a demon) and C: No, Wander cannot really survive all those falls and all that punishment. That’s Dormin’s power running through him. Similarly, keep in mind that slaying a Colossus raises Wander’s maximum stamina and attack power. Meaning: more Dormin influence = more power.
The only other piece of geography that speaks to me in the Forbidden Lands that seems to allude to Dormin’s corrupting influence is the so-called Colossal Tree in the region Lair on the Mesa. It is a gargantuan dead tree off in an inaccessible area of the map. It is, by far, the largest single piece of organic life in the Forbidden Lands and it is very clearly the only one of its kind. While the size of this tree is certainly a bit odd, what interests me more is the cliff that appears directly underneath it. How on earth did a tree grow so large on, of all places, a cliff face? It would make much more sense for a tree to grow that enormous in an area more rich with nutrients like the Autumnal Forest (though a logical counterpoint would be nutrient competition from other trees in the area, but even so). I know I’m referring you readers to a lot of different pages, but I think I can talk about my suspected reasons for this bizarre landmark on the Dormin page. Dormin, being not only a god of death but supposedly one of life as well (Mono was brought back to life after all, though the logistics behind that are still a mite fuzzy), could have influenced the tree somehow to either kill it or make it grow so large. Dormin’s influence is obviously felt in the Land’s regular fruit trees, as we’ve seen. But why that one tree? And why is it so far away from the other ecological disaster areas in the north? Perhaps part of the cliff fell away at some point, which may explain why some roots just droop over the sides. Or maybe it was just there as a neat landmark. But this is Lorequest. I don’t accept such simple and logical answers!
So, that’s all for this Lorequest entry and I know it was a long one. But hey, the Forbidden Lands are huge and this was just appropriately-sized. Yeah, that’s what I’ll be calling overwriting for now on, “appropriately-sized.” Might I even dare to say that it’s “appropriately colossal?” No, I don’t think I do dare. Because the pun police will probably come track me down and feed my tongue to alligators. I may like to live dangerously but not that dangerously.
Next Entry: Colossus #1, Valus
And so ends the second installment of the Shadow of the Colossus Lorequest series. The next one will be focusing either on Dormin or I’ll start to get into the meat of the Colossi themselves and approach them individually. Time will tell, fate will spell, consistency and planning can go to hell!
Good luck, you brave writer folk!
1. All images from the Team ICO wiki.