Is It Really So Bad?

Wander riding Agro, as seen in the 2018 remake of ‘Shadow of the Colossus’

While he still has tremendous (and almost foolish) ambition to heal the sacrificed maiden, he now does so through courage, not selfish pride; it seems that Wander really can feel more than hubris. We instead get a picture of a boyish warrior who is trying to take on the adult-sized challenges of death, loss, fear, pain and choice.

Over and over I have read the words, “He looks different.” Up until now I have avoided the subject because it has been such a point of discord among fans. However, since I have delved into so many other aspects of Shadow of the Colossus, ICO and The Last Guardian, I might as well hold my breath and dive in. What am I talking about? If the pictures haven’t yet given you a clue, I am about to discuss Wander’s change of face. No, Wander isn’t laid back on one day and harsh with his horse the next. Between the PS2/3 and PS4 versions of the game, the animators decided to give him a new look…

Facial comparison 1; sourced from IGN
Facial comparison 2; sourced from IGN

Between the PS2 original and PS3 remaster, Wander’s design is slightly anime. He is long, gaunt, lanky, and his features are very angular, an art-style easier to render with 2005-era graphics than something more realistic. Lord Emon’s rounder design, for instance, looked very basic compared to that of Wander or Mono, or even of Emon’s men. With the 2018 remake, however, every character was brought to life in stunning detail. But then we arrive at something different for Wander. Mono looks gorgeous. Emon has character. Agro couldn’t look better. But Wander’s face was altered; not just brought into the GCI of 2018 but, was given a completely new face. “How could BluePoint overlook something so crucial?” forums ask. While the design change is pretty shocking to many, I believe it wasn’t because of last-minute laziness.

Fumito Ueda, designer of the original Shadow, was discussing in an interview how he did not want to make his characters look anime in style when, every other Japanese videogame designer around him, was. He didn’t want them to be too realistic either so, he went for something in between, feeling he did not want to alienate players. Remember that list of changes Ueda submitted to BluePoint? While this is purely speculation, I think is it possible that Wander’s new design was one of the changes Ueda believed the game needed. Compared to Ico, Yorda, the Queen, Lord Emon, Emon’s men and Mono, PS2/3 Wander looks out of place. This may seem blasphemous to those who are long-time players of the original and remake. But this is because they are comparing the new design with a look that had become so iconic. Cannon, one could argue. This viewpoint is completely and wholly valid.

Track 42 The Farthest Land (Reprise), by Kō Ōtani.

Nevertheless, something tells me that Ueda may have been somewhat disappointed with Wander’s original face. The impression I got from reading Gliterberri’s translations of the Official Art and Guidebook was, the rest of the team wanted to make Wander “look cool.” Ueda obviously had oversight and control over the final product in every other topic discussed. But when it came to Wander’s design, I get the feeling that Ueda was slightly less involved. Maybe he let the team get their way to keep up morale?

Another reason why I believe Ueda may have been the cause behind Wander’s new face is because BluePoint mentions several times that they went back to the source material to recreate the game. They didn’t just use the original code and drawings for the Colossi, they also used Ueda’s own artwork for Emon, Mono and most importantly, Wander. Look to the image below. Do you see how his head and face look somewhat more like the Wander in the 2018 remake? He is not drawn lanky and angular. Rather, Wander’s new proportions faithfully breath life into Ueda’s own vision for the warrior. For fans who practically worship Ueda and his design choices, how come this is suddenly a problem?

Ueda’s concept for Wander; sourced from Gliterberri’s Game Translations

In the face of Wander’s old design (no pun intended), new Wander looks weird. But it is actually old Wander who is out of place, as awful as that might sound! Here is a screenshot I took where he somehow looks a tad more like his PS2/3 self:

The face is still rounder, but his eyes don’t look quite as sunken as they do in direct sunlight, making them more flush with the rest of his face. There is also something about their slant on either side of his nose that makes it look like they have more of an epicanthic fold. By comparison, here he is in brighter lighting:

With the exception that Wander’s hair being slightly longer in the 2005 original—a feature seen clearly in Ueda’s artwork—the proportions and overall shape of his body are more accurately reflected in the new Wander. There is only one thing I have against BluePoint’s change in design. It is not so much what he looks like but, the lack of his subtle facial animations once present in the original release. As long as you are not making him take up half the camera, it doesn’t matter. But the few times you do get a look, he seems a little stiff, particularly as he is running from the corpse of a fallen Colossus. I think this has a lot to do with fans’ shock at Wander’s new face. The combination of a changed design and the lack of subtle changes in expression can make for a hard bite to swallow. I think that if the animations had carried over, there would not have been such the negative response as we have today.

To end on a different note, I think it is good to consider what this design-change does for the story. While the original may still be the best design TeamICO could have gone with (despite its departure from Ueda’s concept sketches), Wander’s new face drives a better point home. Where old Wander left me feeling that he was too dark and moody, new Wander gave me a different perspective. For the first time I could actually sympathize for his loss. Before he looked too cool, too proud, and that gave me the impression that he had no concept of having to pay a price. It was as if he thought he was invincible and had no reason to care about the consequences, as if he could just shrug it off. This all changes in the remake. While he still has tremendous (and almost foolish) ambition to heal the sacrificed maiden, he now does so through courage, not selfish pride. This is another area where new Wander changes the story. In the original, the player gets the sense that Wander is actually becoming the ‘bad guy’ and, that he is selfishly murdering creatures to revive a girl who may not even know him. In the remake, however, it seems that Wander really can feel more than hubris. We get the picture of a boyish warrior who is trying to take on the adult-sized challenges of death, loss, fear, pain and choice. Though I still felt remorse for killing each Colossus, I saw a greater emphasis placed on Dormin’s abuse of Wander. I also got the impression that Mono was saddened by Wander’s choices, that she knew and loved him in return.

You are still committing a great wrong—the game’s beautiful score continually reminds you of this—but through Wander in the 2018 remake, we get to experience Shadow in a way that may be closer to the intended heart of its story.

Here is how to credit the images without attribution…

Unless credited otherwise, all PlayStation4 screenshots of “Shadow of the Colossus” and “The Last Guardian” (including header images) are my work.

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