While it doesn’t deal with heavy psychological themes, Shadow of the Colossus is another beautifully empty game that instead imbues a feeling of the mythical. It is the 2005 spiritual successor to Team ICO’s first game, Ico. While that game was a dreamlike, dialogue-free puzzle game about a boy and a girl, this game is about an androgynous youngster named Wander who brings his deceased lover to a cursed land. Here, he calls upon the power of a mysterious god named Dormin, who makes a deal with him: if he can find and slay 16 colossi spread around the cursed land, he will bring Wander’s lover back to life.
What follows is essentially 16 astonishing boss fights. The colossi are massive, lumbering and beautiful, and there is an ongoing question of whether they are inherently evil or whether you are unnecessarily disturbing their peace. Each fight is a puzzle in itself, with you needing to figure out how to clamber your way onto their enormous frames, and how to find and manoeuvre your way to their weak points. Each fight feels dramatic and intense, but they all feel significant.
This significance is accomplished by the large gaps of time between fights. The land you travel through is desolate, deserted and empty. No music plays as you travel, so you are left alone with your thoughts, your horse and the abandoned ruins that disparately dot the landscape. As such, the game meditatively moves between an emotionally charged climaxes and an unsettling calm, with a feeling of impending doom that increases with every colossus you slay.
Both of these games were released within five years of each other, but both feel like they were considerably ahead of their time. They are lonely, but they are unmatched in their themes, their emotional beauty, and how intelligently they treat the player. Less really is more.