I’m not entirely sure when it started to happen. It might have been the Yeti, or it might have been the giant serpent that rested peacefully beneath the surface of the water logged cavern I eventually killed it in. All I know is when I finally land my arrow in the monster’s weak spot there is no elation and no real sense of victory. I retrieve my arrow and the light show begins, the creature that I choose to call monster is left prone and lifeless and I slowly leave the room. It doesn’t feel right to run from the scene despite my desire to do just that.
This isn’t a game mechanic, something that is forced upon me as a player, it’s just the way my behaviour has changed since I started to play. Titan Souls is a unique game, one that provides a series of lethal puzzles that you need to figure out. It pits you and all your strengths and frailties against a boss with startlingly similar strengths and frailties. Both can die in one shot, both can kill in one shot. You are armed with a bow and a single arrow that you can fire and then retrieve, by either moving over it or calling it back to you. Boss attacks vary from thrown snowballs to electricity to a whirling dervish of limbs that scatter across the screen in their attempts to end your life.
There are more similarities in how the two take damage , depending on how you look at your character. Most people will see a small childlike person in a vast arena taking on a massive boss with a small weak spot. They will not understand that the entire arena, all the empty space…that is your character. The small childlike hero with the bow is little more than a weak spot that can move across the surface of the character you play. It is the one place you can be hit that will kill you and the one place from which you can launch an attack. Victory or defeat lies in your ability to manipulate the boss and resist its attempts to manipulate you. Careful positioning is the key to victory. It’s not so much a fight as a puzzle, a puzzle you are forced to solve or have your failure met with lethal consequence.
It all adds up to provide me with the strangest feeling I have gotten from a game since playing Shadow of the Colossus, remorse. When you walk into any Titan’s area it will not instantly attack you, rather it will sit patiently and wait for you to initiate combat. You are both the trespasser and the aggressor here and the game, at this point in my playing of it, has not offered any condemnation for my acts. This is something I have heaped upon myself.
It is compounded by the relentless nature of the bosses attacks should I fall in battle. They do not stop their onslaught after I am dead. Instead they keep hammering at my fallen body as if to punctuate the fact that it was I, not they, who started the fight. It was I who roused them from peaceful slumber and brought my violence into their world. It was I who sought to test myself against them and in my failure I invited their wrath and absolved them from the consequences of their furious self-defence. The contradiction between their peaceful nature before I attack and the brutality they visit upon me after I am dead implies that I have insulted them gravely…and slowly I begin to understand why.
After I am dead I will respawn at a nearby checkpoint and try again. No matter how many times I fall in battle I shall return, this is not a luxury that my opponents have. They have one life and one life only. Once my arrow finally pierces their weak spot, and the colour fades from their private world they will remain forever lifeless in the game. To revisit the room I fought them in is to revisit my shame at having fought them at all, their lifeless form a stark reminder that I place the preservation of myself above the preservation of them. And so I begin to wonder who the villain of the piece is. Not the monstrous Titans, whose outward appearance is so often at odds with their inner calm and peaceful nature until my first attack. And despite my dislike of the interruptions and violence that I bring them it is not I, the slayer of these Titans. Instead my mind turns to the architect who built this place, this interconnecting world of caverns and doors. How neat they were in their cruelty to place each creature in it’s own little room and then plant me among them like an unwelcome weed in an otherwise peaceful garden. Who is this person who granted these Titans the gift of solitude and then placed amongst them an unrelenting monster with nothing else to do but kill?
I have seen no sign of this sick puppeteer, nor have I discovered a clue as to their identity or agenda. Yet, I take my time as I travel between areas and I search high and low for some snippet of information that may alleviate my guilt. I wish for a goal beyond the simple, relentless pursuit of moving forward. I wish for a way to rebel against the grand designs of whatever or whomever has placed me here. Mostly I wish to find my own room or cavern and hunker down there, to find my peace and guard it jealously until the day that someone comes to rouse me from my slumber.