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In an ancient time long past, a young man travels to the ends of the Earth, a place that is said to be forbidden to enter. He carries a young woman, who died from a terrible curse. He seeks the Dormin, a strange and God-like being that resides there. The Dormin is surprised that the man carries an ancient and magical sword, and speaks to the man. The man pleas for his help in bringing back the woman's cursed soul, however the being says it is the law of mortals that a dead soul cannot be brought back. He does say though, that if the man is willing to accept some heavy consequences, that there might be a way to revive her. But it will not be easy.
The hero must embark on a quest to slay the sixteen colossi, giant creatures that tower hundreds of feet above the Earth. Using his ancient sword and his horse Agro, he must travel across the immense landscape seeking the colossi to save his love. Taking the form of various animals or bipedal human-like creatures, these colossi are tough and fierce. Their skin is tougher than leather, and the armor they wear is literally rock. However, by using his ancient sword, the man can penetrate the weak spot on them and destroy the towering beings and free his love's soul.
Shadow of the Colossus is set in the same universe as ICO, and is a prequel to it. The entire game is dedicated to locating and fighting the sixteen colossi, which must be faced and defeated in a particular order. Finding the giant creatures is not always easy: the hero must mount his horse and ride through the world's vast landscapes, using his glowing sword as an indicator of the colossus' proximity. There are no enemies or hazards in the game world outside of the colossi battles. After a colossus has been found, a large-scale battle begins. Most of the colossi are huge, and much of the challenge in the battles lies in climbing on top of these creatures and staying there, while they are trying to shake the player character off. In a certain way the colossi function as hostile, moving platform stages.
The general goal in every battle is to reach the colossus' weakpoint and repeatedly stab it with the sword until he dies. Since the colossi vary greatly in shape, size, speed, intelligence, and attitude towards the hero, the player will have to adapt to different fighting styles and employ different tactics against them. Most of the battles involve extended platform action sequences, as the hero is trying to climb on the colossus and find its weak spot. Grabbing the creature's fur, timing the jumps, and getting in a good position to use the sword are often essential. Other tactics include fighting on horseback, using ranged attacks with the bow, luring the colossus into specific locations to use the environment against it, taking advantage of the terrain, etc. Environments in which battles take place are also varied, including mountains, deserts, lakes, ancient ruins, and others.