Wander: A One of a Kind Character
An under appreciated character in a highly praised game
For a game I haven’t played in years, I think about Shadow of the Colossus a lot. Shadow of the Colossus gets nearly universal praise for its story, gameplay and visual style. However, I don’t think its main character gets enough attention, even if part of what makes Wander great is the story he’s involved in.
There isn’t a lot of player choice in Shadow of the Colossus. The Colossi must be defeated in a set order with little deviation on how to do so. Equipment and weapons can change combat in additional playthroughs, but this doesn’t change all that much. Similarly there is a massive world to explore, but not counting killing the colossi, there is little to do in it aside from collecting lizard tails and fruit for small stat boosts. Therefore much of who Wander is as a character is tied to his vague backstory. So much of who Wander is as a character is up to the player to decide. Other games have more gameplay choices or even character creation, but a lot of Wander’s depth comes from what the player thinks his backstory is. Depending on how vague aspects of Shadow of the Colossus are interpreted Wander can be seen as a villain, hero, or antihero, and each makes for a compelling character. There are a lot of possibilities for what occurred before and after the events of Shadow of the Colossus, but three main scenarios would dictate Wander’s morality. Wander can be seen as a villain if Mono was wicked before her sacrifice, and/or becomes the queen in Ico. Wander can be seen as an antihero if he is aware of Dormin’s plan, but will take the risk to bring back Mono whose cursed fate was simply that she would cause the horned humans to appear in Ico. Finally he can be seen as a hero if Mono was wrongfully sacrificed, and he was unclear of Dormin’s intentions. Wander can also be given depth by hypothesizing what Mono’s relationship to Wander is in conjunction with any of these scenarios. Considering this the player can interpret Wander and many other characters how they like—but few people would if the game’s world wasn’t so interesting. While these aspects of Wander’s character are speculated based on possible events that take place before or after Shadow of the Colossus, other interesting aspects are shown in the game itself.
At first Wander seems like a pretty generic video game main character in many ways. He’s a male character using violence to save a female character against all odds. However Wander is more unique than he first seems once the game’s combat is considered. Many lead video game characters are portrayed as underdogs in combat, despite having or learning powerful combat abilities in their games. Aside from some more health and grip-strength, Wander, more or less, starts and finishes the first Shadow of the Colossus play-through without turning into some great warrior, and he wasn’t much of a warrior to begin with. For someone who kills massive bosses, he isn’t musclebound like Kratos from the God of War series. Even his ability with a sword is unimpressive. When he swings his sword it looks clumsy and untrained, if he doesn’t charge a stab long enough, it bounces off the targeted colossi’s skin. The fact that he can even hurt colossi comes down to the sword being magic instead of his skill being a skilled swordsmen. Moreover, dialogue explains that he stole the sword, furthering the notion that he is unfamiliar with that type of weapon. The skill Wander lacks with a sword, he makes up for with his archery and horsemanship. Wander rides and fires arrows atop Agro with considerable skill. So while Wander likely was no warrior, he was likely a great hunter. Yet arrows do little actual damage to colossi, so his skill with a bow does not detract from his appearance as an underdog against colossi. Wander is only a threat to the colossi when he plans out strategies on how to kill them, this continues the notion of wander as an experienced hunter. The final thing that makes Wander unique, especially at the time of Shadow of the Colossus’ release is Wander’s stamina limit. Stamina bars are common in games, but using it mainly for climbing instead of combat is rare. Furthermore it’s such a well-suited ability for Wander given his slighter build mentioned earlier. Finally it’s also fitting in theme as Wander can’t let go of Mono emotionally, so he physically won’t let go of Colossi until he’s killed them to bring Mono back.
To summarize, I feel that while Shadow of the Colossus gets and deserves a lot of praise, Wander is overlooked as a great character. The ambiguous origin and fates of characters within Shadow of the Colossus allows Wander’s morality to be subjective, and his physical appearance and skill set subvert expectations of typical male heroes. These factors make Wander one of the most compelling and unique characters in video games.